Jaider Esbell performing at the exhibition "Presentation: Ruku" at Galeria Millan, in São Paulo. Photo: Renata Chebel / Millan Gallery

CHow can a tree be a shaman? This is one of the reflections that the artist and curator Jaider Esbell seeks to arouse in Presentation : Ruku. Bringing together around 60 works – including paintings, objects and drawings – in Millan Gallery, the solo exhibition puts jenipapo in focus, invites the public to dialogue with the knowledge that involves the plant and the indigenous cultures that disseminate them, and goes beyond a merely ethnographic proposal.

Presentation : Ruku part of the most recent research of the indigenous of the Makuxi ethnicity. “My master and I were researching genipap [also known as ruku] before she passed away from Covid-19. The tree is common in much of the Brazilian territory and has medicinal properties. In addition, it generates the most popular paint used for body painting”, he says. Based on these studies, Jaider decided to experiment with other supports for this paint: no longer the body, but canvas and fabric.

The artist believes that the show can be a starting point to establish dialogues with our now, talking about territory, identity and tradition within the contemporary context, also creating a connection between the different realities that coexist in this current world. 

View of Jaider Esbell's solo exhibition “Presentation: Ruku”, on display at Galeria Millan. Photo: Felipe Berndt / Galeria Millan

Introducing traditions 

As the exhibition's title suggests, the collection of works exhibited in the Millan Annex seeks to present ruku. The plant is seen by several indigenous ethnic groups as a shaman tree, for its medicinal, protection and healing potential – physical and spiritual. “She is a shaman in her own right, but she needs a mediator to create a connection with us, she needs the artist to connect her to these apparently separate worlds”, says Jaider. And he jokes: “The tree is not going to get up, walk away and say 'I am a shaman, I have content', it needs people who at least know its trajectory to present it”. 

However, forFor many it is still difficult to understand how a plant can be seen this way. “For these people, it is just a tree, which can bear maximum fruit, shade and firewood. I believe that saying that ruku is a shaman is a way of inviting people to go beyond the white walls full of works that we have in the gallery.” Thus, it suggests an opening to the knowledge of native peoples.  

The proposal to share this knowledge appears in continuity with the artist's recent studies on the txaism. "taxi, roughly speaking, is a greeting to welcome a person into your family. By welcoming, you open your world to her, share her space, her life, her pains and joys. These sharings are often done around work and in the form of medicines. Presentation : Ruku does not stop being a txaism also, because it is the opening of a medicine, and it is an invitation for the other – the white person – to dialogue with us and we dialogue with them”, he explains. 

Introducing identities

This takes us to a second layer of understanding the show.. Jenipapo is popularly known for providing a paint used in body painting, as a form of expression and protection. “When we apply it to our own bodies, we are also embodying a message: whether we are in mourning, at war, or at a party – and if we are at a party, inform us if we are single, married, the region where we live, etc. .”, he explains. If Jaider presents the tree through art, it is through the ink generated by its fruit that genipap presents the artist and some of the facets of his culture. 

The title of the show, then, also refers to another presentation, linked to “our need to present ourselves as native peoples, enjoying and occupying these prominent places of the arts, circulating through these spaces of central powers”, shares the artist. 

“The conversation of intergalactic entities to decide the universal future of humanity”, Jaider Esbell, 2021. Photo: Courtesy Galeria Millan and artist

To reinforce this idea, Jaider is also the curator of the show, with the assistance of the anthropologist Paula Berbert, with whom he has worked for years. “The fact that I assume the curatorship ends up being a political issue as well, to build a leading role. It is very important that indigenous peoples play a leading role in these art spaces that were previously unthinkable and unthinkable for us – and still are, because there is still a prejudiced question about the possibility of an Indian doing work and not just artifacts”, he says. And he adds: “This is a way, in the field of practical research, to build media evidence and generate precedents for us to encourage ourselves as peoples and as artists, so that we know that we can fully enjoy the structures of the world”.

Through the curatorship, Jaider manages to better expose the different concepts that permeate the works to the public. An essential care, in his view, because “it is It is undeniable that there is a much greater exposure of indigenous diversity today, and it is positive, but it is also delicate and even dangerous”. For him, there is still a risk of indigenous artists being taken out of the picture by the dominant art system. “That is why we have been working very carefully to not let the subject fall into fashion, not to let art institutions continue with a merely ethnographic function, which is simply to go to the villages, get a headdress and exhibit without saying what this headdress is. , what it is for, how it was made, on what occasion it should be used. Because with this vision you disconnect the realities once again and make a fetish that reproduces stereotypes again.”

Thus, Presentation : Ruku seeks to be more than an introduction, configuring itself as an invitation to dialogue and to a new way of seeing the world and relating to it, especially during and after this critical moment. As Jaider Esbell concludes: “Since before time became time, plants have shared the mastery of life among themselves: they are doors to portals of more mysteries. Today in crisis, humans that we find ourselves, we still have, perhaps, the last chances to connect to the whole. A thicket of weeds, however small the branch, contains all the antidote to the poison that is the megalopolis. This shouldn't even be a secret, although it still is – segregation.”

Presentation : Ruku
Millan Annex: Rua Fradique Coutinho, 1416, São Paulo, SP
The exhibition will be on display until April 10, 2021*
Monday to Friday, 10 am to 19 pm, Saturday, 11 am to 15 pm

*The exhibition is temporarily closed, following the health protocols established by the Government of São Paulo as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

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