Ti'Iwan Couchili, French Guiana, Otsenene, Ma'ekom | Amazon Biennial
Ti'Iwan Couchili, French Guiana, Otsenene, Ma'ekom, 2016, making reference to the suicides of the indigenous people. Photos: Nailana Thiely/Bienal das Amazônias collection

Created by Lívia Condurú, in partnership with curators Sandra Benites, Keyna Eleison and Vania Leal – and with the curatorial assistance of the “multiples of thought”, by Ana Clara Simões Lopes and Débora Oliveira – the first Amazon Biennial It took place between August and November 2023, in the city of Belém, Pará, on the banks of the Guamá River.

A true meeting of strong women, with different identities and knowledge, gave birth to a project that took its name from the Tupi language, Sapukai, which in Portuguese we can translate as cry, shout, work by addition and not by extraction, expansion and embrace .

A dialogue between the management, curators, artists and producers, operated a collective force and created associations respecting the voice of a huge number of peculiar gestures coming from various places, sometimes never revealed from Brazil. Basically, the exhibition awakens the desire to dive into this world, populated by ancient ancestors and trees. Belém is bathed by rivers, and the permanent wind alleviates the heat in the region.
One of the concepts that supported the Biennale is the fact that the Amazon is known for its large forest areas and its diverse fauna and flora, but it is the presence of water – coming from the rains and its extensive river network – that circumvents the imaginary of the region. Hence the title of the first edition, Bubuia: waters as a source of imaginations and desires, which celebrates the ethical and cultural relationship between waters and the bodies that move in them.

Bubuia is directly inspired by dibubuism created and defended by the philosopher and professor João de Jesus Paes Loureiro, born in Abaetetuba, a city in Pará [Read, in this edition, the full exclusive interview with Paes Loureiro]. Floating on the water, says the exhibition's curatorial text, symbolizes “a combination of movement and inertia in favor of pleasure, reflection and integration with the environment, and says a lot about the perseverance and resistance of those who inhabit the region. It is a certain calculated predisposition towards becoming and letting it come, which is established as knowledge of the constituent heritage of riverside caboclo knowledge, transmitted orally in a character of resistance, imbued by knowledge arising from the relationship with nature and related among their equals .”

And the curatorial text continues: […] “In the midst of the drastic planetary climate crisis and the growing ideological antagonisms that are spreading throughout Brazil and the world, announcing the multiplicity of desires as the field of forces that surrounds bodies in Amazonian territory is, first of all, above all, a proposal to establish relational spaces that take into account the human experience accumulated within it, its humanism, its social imaginary. spaces of self-recognition, celebration and, above all, spaces of struggle, resistance and re-existence for the pleasure of being plural. In this way, the curatorial core of the Biennale seeks to establish possible approximations not only between the nine countries that delimit the biome and water territory of the Amazon River and the nine Brazilian states understood as Legal Amazon, but also aims to include the many multifaceted and invisible Amazons that populate the contemporary imagination, beyond its physical, social and geographic limits.”

Some of the curatorial axes that organize the exhibition were inspired by legends and words from the region, such as Fontes Vitais Cambiantes, which was based on research into the origins and principles of the Amazon River and its movement. The curatorial text says: “From the source to the mouth. So we arrived in Apurimac, a Peruvian region where there is one of the springs. and, based on the research of this place, the expansion of Apurimac; its concept and narratives. The word designates a region of Peru where sayhuite is located, an archaeological site considered a center of religious worship for the Inca people, noted for its particular attention and dedication to water. In Quechua, apu refers to the gods, sages and also the mountains. Apurimac, in turn, designates the “speaking god”, something that can be understood as a kind of oracle observed and heard by the Andean peoples who inhabit the region. Apurímac is also the name of a river, one of the sources of the Amazon River. In the Andean worldview, this river that originates in the middle of the mountains flows to the Amazon plain (it will flow to the Marajó, on the northern Brazilian coast of Pará. It flows into the Atlantic Ocean between the states of Pará and Amapá) and returns to the Andes below the Earth. It was believed that at night the sun set beneath the earth, traveling in underground canals and drinking the excess water so that Apurimac would not overflow during its return journey.”

Another relevant axis is that of Split as a contract, which arises from the awareness of the curation of pacts and structures (social, economic, racial) that govern our existence and how, based on this, forms of rupture or resistance can be found. Or even Clima(x) T(r)emor, which “arises from the affirmation and desire of the impossibility of totality. It is an axis that accepts the idea that it is impossible to account for a “whole”, especially because the idea of ​​a whole, when applied to the Amazon, does not fit, due to countless narratives from different peoples who inhabit the fields, the side roads, forests, waters and other territories of a complex and dynamic environment, which is part of Brazilian territory.

Again, according to the curatorial text, “these are lives and realities that require constant reflections on ethnicities, fauna, mineral wealth, among many dynamics of knowledge and practices of the forest's medicinal plants and, significantly, the environmental balance of the planet. Rhythms coming from border influences that mix with the creativity of each place, dance, voices, shamans and thoughts that don't let us be in the same place. Listening to Afro-indigenous, caiçara, riverside, settled, indigenous, quilombola intellectual variants of listening and silence. And, in this dynamic, we recognize that the attempt to account for the totality is overwhelming and violent, as well as completely exhausting and unnecessary.”
The Lives Languages ​​axis recognizes the different truths, lives and languages ​​proposed by different worldviews. Finally, there is the Encounters of Desires axis.
The Biennale manifesto argues: “Amazon […] is also a global commodity in the time of the Anthropocene and the climate crisis. The Amazon, which was once an Edenic paradise, is still considered by many who believe it to be the lungs of the world. This imaginary mostly emerges from the external scenario, often distorted and exoticized, after all, everything that refers to the Amazon gains globalized and expanded dimensions. But something is real, the Amazon is the fundamental key to the survival of humanity in the contemporary world.”

Conversation with Lívia Condurú
Creator and executive director of the Bienal das Amazônias, Lívia Condurú has a master's degree in Arts from the Federal University of Pará, where she developed research on public policies for culture in the north of Brazil, and has worked for two decades as a cultural producer in the Amazon.

arte!✱ – Is the idea of ​​holding an Amazon Biennial recent? Supported to some extent by the national and international debate?

The Biennale has been a desire of mine as a producer since the beginning of my professional life, in the early 2000s. Over the years it took shape and became more focused on my main area of ​​activity as an executive producer, in the visual arts, and in 2011 it gained the name and format it has today. Since then, it has been improved until it was included in the Rouanet Law in 2019.

The main objective has always been to create a platform for debate, construction and strengthening of the Amazon territory, based on our contemporary art production. A biennial that aims to be a platform for many voices, local ones in particular, to express their views on what it means to be an Amazonian. The name Bienal das Amazônias has already emerged as a provocation, as there is a biome, plus infinite cultures and ways of understanding the territory under the nickname Amazonia.

Furthermore, it is crucial that we do not always need to go to what we understand as an axis, to be validated as artists, thinkers, creators. It is urgent to change the movement of the wheel. The Amazon does not need to be saved by anyone, it needs to have due attention and investment so that all those who make it up feel strengthened in their inventiveness and methodologies and can keep the forest standing, based on the possibility of allowing their inhabitants live with dignity.

arte!✱ – When was the project approved? Did the initial budget cover the expenses?

The Amazon Biennial, as an incentivized project, was approved at the beginning of 2020, and its first fundraising took place at the end of this same fiscal year. Due to the pandemic and all the difficulties imposed by the then Federal Government, we ended up planning its holding for the year 2022. Until that moment we would hold the Biennale in various cultural facilities in the State and the municipality, and we would build 20 public works that, to In addition to debating the uses we make of the city of Belém, I would link these different buildings. However, for administrative reasons, we ended up moving our project to 2023 and, as a result, the Government of the State of Pará informed us that we would no longer have the agendas for the museum spaces that we had agreed upon. So, we ended up thrown, so to speak, into the need to create a new cultural apparatus that could handle what we were institutionally proposing.

If politically our institutional core is based on strengthening the territory based on the people that make it up, why distance ourselves from the people? Furthermore, we are an institution because that is the modus operandi of existing/resisting in (and to) the market, but to what extent do we need another art institution? With the problem of no longer having the previously delimited spaces, and with all these questions, I started looking for a non-institutional place that would house the 1st edition of the Bienal das Amazônias.
The building finally chosen, measuring almost eight thousand square meters, was once home to the oldest department store in the city of Belém, Y.Yamada, long closed, in the city's commercial center, and came to crown our beliefs as a Biennial of the Amazons. But not every coronation is simple. The building needed several renovations, we had to redo its electrical and hydraulic structure, create a fire system, build rooms, bathrooms, accessibility system, refrigeration system, all of this in addition to assembling the exhibition project, in exactly 43 days. All this with the budget designed in 2019, raised in subsequent years and without any financial help from the municipal and state entities that gained so much from the Biennale. So, of course, we had financial problems and only now will we be able to resolve all the costs.

It is very important for the Bienal das Amazônias, for me as its creator, and for all the professionals who embraced this project, that it takes place in a popular place. Art is above all a political act. We need to equip our population, and what stronger means than art to do so? We need to requalify our shopping center, but to do this it is urgent that we not gentrify it, that everyone who makes it a reality today, stays there. Many questions.

arte!✱ – The Biennale was a public success

Due to the herculean work made possible thanks to the collective, the Biennale was a success and with this we will be able to maintain the building as the institution's headquarters, so the next edition of the Bienal das Amazônias in 2025 will take place there, too, as well as various programs in the year 2024.

In 2024, in addition to the activities we will carry out in our headquarters building, we will travel with clippings from this first edition to the cities of Manaus (AM), Macapá (AP), São Luis (MA), Canaã dos Carajás (PA) and Marabá ( SHOVEL). Just as we will travel by means of a work boat to up to 30 cities that do not have cultural facilities and that are on the banks of Amazon rivers. The itinerary begins to circulate in April, and the work boat will be inaugurated in May and begin sailing in June.

Ti'Iwan Couchili, French Guiana, Otsenene, Ma'ekom, 2016
Ti'Iwan Couchili, French Guiana, Otsenene, Ma'ekom, 2016, making reference to the suicides of the indigenous people

arte!✱ – How did you assemble this warrior team? Did you already know its members or did they emerge after research?

The Amazon Biennial is a women's project, above all. Yasmina Reggad and I started this drawing back in 2011, a lot of people from my team of producers at the time helped with this drawing. Time passed and I began to meet professionals and partners. The only people we researched, evaluated, were the curators. Yasmina and I spent a lot of time thinking that we wanted it to be collective, for them to be women and for each one to carry a world within themselves, and we achieved it. Along the way, people arrived, believing and I was only able to hold the Bienal das Amazônias because these people who are the Biennale today, believed in my dream and started dreaming their own dreams based on my dream. The Amazon Biennial is a desire to build a new possibility of collectivity, or at least a rescue of being collective, of being a village. Luckily, and I had a lot of it, despite all the regrets, the obstacles, the different disbelief in us, affection made it possible for us to resist and make it happen. We survived, it was beautiful, but equally difficult.

arte!✱ – It was a success, but there was no clear support from regional and national media… why?

I assume I can't say if we clearly didn't have support from the media. We were few, with no budget and what we achieved I believe was enough. Brazil tends not to pay attention to what is not in place, to those who are not part of the mainstream, in addition to the fact that Brazil on the axis, does not take us very seriously, so I think what happened is what normally happens with all those who produce on the margins, on the edges which, by the way, is the vast majority of Brazilian territory. ✱

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