Earlier this summer I travelled to Brazil to visit indigenous Xingu villages in the Amazon rainforest. I was invited by an organisation called People's Palace Projects, who work directly with the Amazon's indigenous communities to help protect the forest and the people that have called it their home for thousands of years. It wasn't easy to get there- we took a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia, followed by a 17 hour coach journey to a farming town called Canarana, then a 8 hour car journey, and finally a short boat ride and another 30 minutes in a car.
Before we entered the rainforest, we drove through 5 hours of dusty, dry farmland that is now used to raise cattle, grow soy, and harvest corn. All of this land had once been dense, green rainforest. As far as you could see, there were fields and fields of desolate red soil that gave me the feeling that this is what the end of the world could look like.
As we approached the first of the villages, I saw a number of thatched, domed structures that I soon discovered were houses the villagers lived in. Each house had two small doorways, one on either side, but no other openings, so inside was cool and dark. It was technically winter, and it was around 35 degrees, so it made sense that these houses were designed to stay cool inside. We were initially greeted by around 20 people, and slowly began to meet the majority of the 250 people that lived in the village. Over the next 10 days we made friends, slept in hammocks in the houses of the families that greeted us, and washed twice daily in the river with them. We ate food that had been caught fresh from the river or had been grown in the forest, and we woke up when it got light, and got ready for bed when it got dark. It was a way of life that made me feel more in touch with nature than I ever have- there was something nourishing about being away from skyscrapers and LED screens. When night came, the sky was the most unbelievable light show I have ever seen- the entire Milky Way was lit up like a luminous river.
Before we started our journey, I had packed my bag with some art materials, and I held several art workshops with the villages’ children. It is always enjoyable seeing the amazing power that art has to connect people, no matter where you are from in the world and what language you speak. For a couple of hours the kids got stuck in, drawing their houses, each other, and the animals in the forest around them. We were able to communicate without a common language.
It was fantastic to learn about the communities’ artistic traditions. One river had natural clay at the bottom of it, so the villagers closest to this river are able to make ceramics. We were shown beautiful sculptures of jaguars, anteaters, turtles, and other animals you could find in the forest, as well as a range of more unusual creatures that we were told are spirits that protect the forest. Special ceremonies, such as the ‘Quarup’ that we were lucky enough to witness, are also marked by people painting their bodies with red and black paint that is made by grinding up seeds and mixing it with a type of oil, extracted from a fruit. Witnessing these historic artistic traditions and learning the stories behind them was one of the most unique experiences I have had in my life.
On a number of occasions we attended meetings with the communities to chat about the threats they faced, and the requirements they currently need help with. It was clear that the threat from deforestation, illegal farming and mining, and climate change are all extremely urgent matters. The forest, and the communities’ home, is being illegally destroyed at an alarming rate, which is leading to river sources being poisoned and food sources diminishing. We got taken to a part of the forest that had been destroyed by fires a few months before, and saw black stumps that had previously been trees, and a layer of grey ash that covered the floor. After discussing the destruction with the villages and their leaders, we thought of an idea to gather up some of this black charcoal and grey ash, and bring it back to London to create a project with. The vision we have for what this project could become is extensive. We are already talking to a number of extremely exciting artists about collaboration, as well as filmmakers and podcast companies to ensure we document the journey in the most engaging and exciting way we can. We will take the energy and ethos of our previous work, but amplify things to create an even larger positive impact in the world. We are still in the early stages of this process, so more will be revealed over the coming months…