"Refuge" (2020), Arissana Pataxó. "A work that refers to mourning, but also to struggle, because even in the midst of the chaos of deaths and suffering of mourning, many peoples were affected by conflicts and tensions due to the struggle for territory. exit, looking for a refuge", he says. Photo: Courtesy of the artist/Disclosure

Athreats of territorial invasion, deforestation and exploitation of environmental resources are just some of the many conflicts listed in the Mapping of Indigenous Rights Violations in Northeast Brazil. Research is one of the components of another sky, project that unites art with studies of political ecology and anthropology to bring the Brazilian indigenous struggle into focus. Conducted by a networked organization, it is linked to professors and students from the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia (UFRB), State University of Bahia (Uneb) and the University of Sussex in Great Britain.

An interactive map full of symbols that refer to indigenous graphics is our first contact with the project, when we enter the virtual environment where it is exposed. Created by the artist and designer Denilson Baniwa, the drawings designate different types of conflict, and allow us to specifically locate the battles experienced by the populations of each territory. Alongside them, small images allow us to see another aspect of these same locations: art. It is by clicking on each of these photographs that we are redirected to the works that make up the exhibition. another sky.

“Where there is conflict, there is also art. Indigenous territories are territories of war against conquest, of anti-colonial resistance, of retakes, of reoccupations, of creation and recreation of worlds, of art”, point out the coordinators in the description of the online platform. And so it happens. For the artist and teacher Glicéria Tupinambá, this relationship established between art and the struggle for territory is one of the great differentials of the initiative. “The view from the outside is usually only for the beautiful, for indigenous art. But that way they don't understand what conflicts influence or end this beauty.” 

Jurema Machado, Felipe Tuxá and Felipe Milanez, teachers and coordinators of the project, say that this was one of the biggest concerns during the elaboration of the site. It was important for visitors to go beyond contemplating the works and understand the contexts surrounding these artists, especially at the present time. “You look at the artwork and you have access to a narrative of great pain, a narrative of Covid-19 within an extremely conflicted context that did not start with the pandemic and will not end with it. You see the exhibition and then you close the site, go on with your life. But those conflicts did not stop happening”, explains Felipe Tuxá. Therefore, the coordinators thought it was important to unite the images of the works with their explanations and relate them to the tensions and the moment of the pandemic. For Glicéria, this is what gives the project even more strength, because it is through art that he manages to give more visibility to the causes portrayed there: “Art has a more accessible language, so it reaches another context, another group, the another look”. 

Between academia and political action

However, it was not with art that another sky began. Even long before the result that we see today, a group of professors managed to finance a research in an international network by the British Academy: the “Sustainable” Development and Atmospheres of Violence, coordinated by Felipe Milanez (UFBA) and Mary Menton (University of Sussex). In discussions within the project, the idea of Mapping of Indigenous Rights Violations in Northeast Brazil, currently funded by the University of Sussex, in Great Britain, and coordinated by Felipe Cruz Tuxá (Uneb), Felipe Milanez (UFBA), Jurema Machado (UFRB) and Mary Menton (University of Sussex). “When we were at the height of mapping, we were crossed by Covid-19”, says Machado. 

The initiative then grew. At first, they started to develop a new front, an emergency research plan to investigate the impacts of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples. But for those involved, something was even clearer at this moment, the conflicts, coupled with the neglect of indigenous populations in the coronavirus pandemic, had (and still has) a name: genocide. The moment intensified the need to make the violence suffered visible and they worked in this direction. However, one point was not covered by the project: “We needed to think: in the midst of a process of genocide, how are indigenous peoples going to get out of this and rebuild themselves?”, shares Felipe Milanez. “It would not be possible to work thinking about an alternative that would not be in dialogue with the arts. So we started to work with artists from indigenous communities as interlocutors, as people with a thought of fighting this genocide, with a vision of other worlds, of another sky”, he concludes. 

From this dialogue, the exhibition that names the interdisciplinary project was born. Fifteen artists of different ethnicities were invited to participate and received a prize of 2 thousand reais for their productions. “We wanted to have people who are known and recognized as artists, as well as artists who are seen in their communities as those people who are very special at making things enchant.” Today, the exhibition features Arissana Pataxó, Eduarda Yacunã Tuxá, Glicéria Tupinambá, Olinda Yawar Tupinambá, Edivan Fulni-ô, Leide Pankararu, Lindaura Xukuru-Kariri, Ziel Karapotó, Benício Pitaguary, Reginaldo Kanindé, Arawi Suruí, Irekran Kayapó, Kryt Gavião akratikatejê, Isael Maxakali e Ailton krenak; and brings diverse works, with songs, drawings, videos, sacred robes, poems, ceramics, among others, walking between artistic, political and spiritual expressions, crossing these spheres and sewing them into a single expression.  

Between art and war

“It's very poignant that it's not just an artistic expressive thing. I think it has much more than that dimension. It has this dimension of war, it is this dimension of struggle, it is this dimension of everyday life that is repeated in the pandemic, day after day of quarantine”, says Felipe Tuxá. And he highlights: “It is not possible to think about Covid in an indigenous world without thinking about self-determination, sovereignty of territories and extrapolating all these limits of the classic format of what is considered art”.   

As the professor explains, when we think about the conflicts experienced by indigenous populations, territories become central – they are a common unit both in the struggles with miners, deforestation, and the pandemic. “One thing that is important to note is that the conflicts we map come mainly from the struggle for land, from the willingness of indigenous peoples to never abandon their territories. So if you notice, the works also have a lot to do with that”, explains Jurema Machado. The exhibition, in a way, reflects and intensifies this search for another heaven – more accurate in indigenous realities and less genocidal – over these same lands.

“I think there is no such thing as an exhibition of indigenous art, made by an indigenous person, out of context. From the moment we put on an exhibition, we are already fighting against a society that thinks we cannot be artists”, says Benício, a participant in the exhibition and a youth leader of the Pitaguary people. For him, art joins the fight directly. “I think it's important to show that indigenous people are present and occupying these spaces. Art is more of a means of being occupying, resisting and fighting,” he explains. 

But another aspect of another sky corroborates this occupation. All the scholarship-research students involved in the academic proposals are of indigenous ethnicity. “In the last ten years, we have noticed a lot of indigenous students entering universities, but I, particularly, saw students there, but I did not see them in research groups, with scientific initiation scholarships, for example”, says Jurema Machado. Felipe Tuxa sings in the choir. “In general, we go through a very strong process of marginalization at the university and a logic that tries to define what are the places planned for us there”, says the university professor, who joined the university in 2005, being one of the first within affirmative policies. But he explains that the decision to opt for only indigenous fellows is more complex than it seems. 

“No Giro do Maracá”, by Benício Pitaguary. “The maraca is like a universe inside a gourd, and the seeds like the planets and stars. When we spin the maraca, we are shaking this universe and generating energy. So, for us, the maraca is an artifact of great power, because it has this ability to ward off bad energies and summon good spirits. I wanted to represent that in this moment of a pandemic, what unites indigenous peoples are the prayers of this maraca tour ”, he says. Photo: Courtesy of the artist/Disclosure

“We do this not only because it is a project about indigenous people, but because we understand the potential for an indigenous person to speak about their own reality. Nobody is creating anything new, we are just adapting these tools that were so exclusionary in the past and still are. We see it as a power to create another kind of knowledge,” he says. Felipe Milanez explains that in the proposal presented to the University of Sussex, the choice of indigenous scholarship holders was not an affirmative policy, but a methodological choice, a proposal to add a new form of knowledge and another quality of view to the project. Alongside non-scholarship collaborators (between indigenous and non-indigenous), students were responsible for mapping violations of community rights, talking with leaders of different peoples, with contacts they already had in the regions and, sometimes, with anthropologists who work in the areas. In addition, they made contact with other villages to understand the impacts of Covid on different ethnicities. Always in collective activities, “because we, indigenous peoples, always think and work collectively. This collectivity is what strengthens us to always follow”, explains Daniela, a monitor at the Jenipapo-Kanindé Indigenous Museum, from her people, a graduate student in the Museology course at UFRB and a member of the Collective of Indigenous Students at the university.

“I think this is a very important point, in the sense of giving autonomy to indigenous peoples to do their own research and arts the way we think it should be done, not in a colonial way”, points out Benício Pitaguary. “Many times we are just subjects of study. Today, with all our knowledge outside and inside the villages, we know that we can be the agents of our own history”, says Daniela Jenipapo-Kanindé. And she adds: “This experience made me understand that it is we who have to tell the true story of our peoples and not just hear them from other non-indigenous researchers. We know the pain, because we often go through similar situations, and that gives us the freedom to count more accurately.”

For Raquel Jenipapo-Kanindé, a graduate student in Social Work at UFRB and a member of the identity collective at the university, the participation of indigenous people both in the exhibition and in the data collection is essential to strengthen the struggle for territories. “This project is also a confrontation, because from the moment we record and study it, we create our own strategies so that we can meet the white men, the people who want to take our land, our waters and our forests” .

Frame from the film “Equilíbrio”, by Olinda Yawar Tupinambá. “Balance focuses on environmental issues and how civilization has used the planet in a hostile and disharmonious way. 'Equilíbrio' is a warning of the spirit of the forests to humanity”, says the journalist, filmmaker, performer and environmental activist. Photo: reproduction

To another sky, a look over the earth

It is in this exchange between artists and researchers; between academia, politics and art that outline the possibilities of making the struggles and expressiveness visible. But another sky remains open. Today, the mapping covers some of the violations in the area where the support me (northeast, Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais territories), in addition to the south and southeast of Pará. The perspective is to expand: “It is important precisely to bring to light all the violations that these peoples have been suffering, because many communities are often made invisible by the violators themselves. They try to silence our people”, says Daniela Jenipapo Kanindé. 

Interested? Access the project by clicking here.

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