Read the conversation between Luiz Camillo Osorio, PIPA Institute’s curator, and Uýra, one of the Awarded artists of PIPA Prize 2022:
LCO – Uýra, how did you become an artist and a photographer? Did it happen during your education as a biologist, environmentalist, and art educator? What was this process like?
Uýra – No living thing on this world dwells in isolation – and this doesn’t depend on time and space.
Even under deep solitude within a bedroom, the wind blows and brings us memories.
To the cell, its organs are what living beings and natural phenomena are to the planet: indissociable, codependent, and mutually affectable. That’s how I like to think of the phases of our human lives, interconnected by steps/times that build us; where each way, be it intentional or accidental, within the good and bad continuum, affects what we do and how we conceive the world.
I have decided not to split my life anymore: saying in which year I start being an artist, in which year I become a biologist or an educator. If in 2013 I got my biologist degree, I had already been studying life since I was 4, when I saw a sloth swim through the trees (that was astonishing). In 2016 I received my Master’s degree in Amazon Ecology – my house, immersed in which I was raised feeling the pulse of the flood. If these educational landmarks happen, it’s because they come from somewhere, and that’s Life. Academic knowledge is as valuable as the traditional/experiential one, but the former ignores the latter, in spite of stemming from it. They make up quite a couple, but these times have been putting them to fight each other. With my art and path, I insist they make up.
As an Indigenous person, I am also a scientist, and through Art I tell natural stories. I have already told many of them in scientific articles, to foreigners – a lot of numbers and reasoning. I have learned they are not enough for me. Nowadays I gather these codes and also tell stories to my people, through the emotion of imagining made possible by Art, using paint and leaves as arrows. The aim? The imagery of the worlds, and mine – deeply sickened. The world of reason is limited and authoritarian, but is always mistaken. Its cousin, the world of certainties, has forgotten how beneficial doubt is. The world of emotion, on the other hand, is silent within the void of little value. How can we narrate life without emotion? How can we ask “Hey, let’s value the forests” without making others feel this value? And who taught me this was Education, sailing to create art with young people from Japurá, Amanã, Negro, Solimões, Mariepauá, Aripuanã, and many other riverbanks. Places where feasible Art, with its unique value, is the one built through play, feet on the ground, sewing the material (leaves, seeds, earth…) and the immaterial (stories, beliefs, Encantados…) that come from Life’s very yard.
Back in the same 2016 I also saw myself as what I already was, an artist – nourished back by experiences in Educational Art. I kept writing about living things, while also becoming one of them. It wasn’t a matter of researcher vs. object anymore. It was a fusion. A study on colors, behaviors, songs, and stories painted/glued onto the body.
Uýra does not come only from the Woods, she dwells in and also is the city.
Since 2014 I have learned a lot from movements of people who, just like me, are excluded from society. I effectively start seeing in my neighborhood and in my nation, Brazil, the acts of violence, erasures, lies, and inequalities – all the open wounds of European colonialism. In addition to this, I also get stronger through the stories of resurrections and resistances throughout Indigenous, Black, LGTBQI+, Northern and Northeastern parts of Brazil. Then, besides mixing pieces of knowledge, I sought stories of animals and plants, inspirations to us. The world was and still is too anthropocentric, ruled by a small and proudhearted group of human beings: corporations belonging to white, cisgender, heterosexual, hypocritical, narrow-minded men. Unfortunately, we have already seen how the planet ended up. In this context, metaphors that unite the worlds of more diverse humans and other creatures start emerging from my works, also resignifying the layers that these men created for me: racial (which comes first), social, territorial, sexual, and spiritual – all in this huge and provocative city-forest landscape.
Uýra, which comes from the ancient Tupi for “flying animal”, is also a plant.
She is Paxiubinha’s goddaughter (“the walking tree”) – that’s why she has been walking through vast worlds and sewing together all phases of my life. She is each part because she is the whole.
She is the child, the biologist, the artist, the educator – at last, she is me.
LCO – We all know how hard living in this Amazonian context has been these past years, once extractive voracity has been out of control. In this aspect, being an active environmentalist and art educator seems key to me. However, your work, especially after you attended the São Paulo Biennial and now after you’ve won the PIPA Prize, has received great visibility. How do you see this moment and this resistance from the Amazon?
Uýra – I could pride myself on being invited to Biennials and winning prizes, such as PIPA’s, but I can’t and I won’t. I don’t walk alone, my joy only makes sense in plural form. What these places awaken within me are debates. “Where are your relatives?”, “Where are the Northern artists?”, “Why only this by people from the outskirts?” (when they are present), “Weren’t fags, trans and dykes invited?” These are questions that cross these recently gained accesses – which are not the old hegemonic “privileges”.
I believe only through honest and respectful dialogue we can build other worlds. My works are an invitation to dialogue: they introduce the violence, beauty, and struggles of my territory so that Brazil and the worlds really know the Amazons. For centuries, white men have been breaking into our territories and lives with absolutely no dialogue: only stealing, killing, enslaving, and erasing us. I could refuse to take part in a dialogue, as I have already done. I could simply want revenge, as I have already done. I insist on a conversation, but not with the aim of pacifying these worlds. Violence and hopelessness are already too deeply installed in their structures. We can already feel the sky touching our heads, while corporations mask the climate crisis and nations sleep at night believing to live in a racial democracy. It’s another world we need, and it cannot be managed by the same people as always. Art helps us imagine – and that is very powerful.
Let’s think: the world has more ears than mouths. Even so, we just talk and talk and talk. We forget about the ears, even though they are attached to us. And I will tell you who are those who speak: their voice comes from places of power, it is the small group of mouths we have already talked about (belonging to the white and narrow-minded patriarchy). So other human mouths must speak, and they are Indigenous, Black, Trans, Amazonian and so many others from so many other people whose experiences can be the foundation for another world. But people are only part of the planet – and we have seen that listening just to (part of) a species has also caused irreversible political, environmental, sociocultural, and spiritual crises. We must listen to more than just ourselves. Have you ever learned something from another animal? Have you felt different from just being with a tree? Exactly! And the other creatures outnumber us in the world, they live their own lives, each one in their own unique way, and they have so much to teach us: either through a contact that reminds us of ourselves or the experience that lets us imagine what other worlds we can be. My Elementar series tells some of these stories: aquatic plants, which in the hard times of river flood go to sleep and stay underwater for about 4 or 5 months – this work, “A Flora D’Água”, shows plants that teach us resting, the necessary spiritual retreat. In another work, “Rio Negro”, the mystery of this river is claimed, the river’s right not to be exploited is affectionately remembered – this emotion which is strength in face of the world’s extractivism. In “A Mata Te Se Come”, the forest and I talk about food, about how Amazon trees grow effusively and ancestrally on soils with little nutrients – they generate so much organic matter that all of this decomposes at their feet and is reabsorbed by them, by all the community – they seek strength in themselves to keep living, they feed themselves. How many times have we, humans, needed to do that? A village or quilombo, for example, exists and maintains itself because they feed themselves. Definitively, another way, another world will only be possible when we listen to what those with other voices have to say. We need Opportunities.
“Decolonization” or “countercolonization” are not my thing. It is too tiring and time-consuming. It is much more powerful, beautiful, and possible in this time to cultivate and reforest our worlds. To reclaim and strengthen our self-esteem, our knowledge, and values, between and to our own kind – all of this is already in our yard because it’s ancestral.
We, Indigenous and other Amazonian peoples, need dialogue with the big worlds to assure the protection of the forests and ecologies we live in; we need dialogue to show ourselves worthily, first-hand, beyond racist stereotypes that exist about us; it is through these dialogues that we also access these spaces with economic and symbolic value, from where we are historically excluded; it is through these dialogues that we promote ancient cures which are deeply present now, where we mark out our wisdom, cultures and values. We carry endless voices, many of which aren’t human.
A support material I recommend is this interview on Quarta Parede, given to the artist Elilson: