Voices from the Amazon Rainforest

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Art is a universal language that can be understood, appreciated and used to bridge and communicate across peoples, cultures, countries and languages.

As an artist, I am fascinated by the visual language we all learn and what commonalities and differences exist across peoples. I am also very aware of how music transcends language barriers and talks directly to one’s emotions,  soul and being.

The combination of the two is very powerful and the Yawanawá people’s tribal music and visual culture is extremely strong and connected powerfully to me as a visual artist and to Martha-Lilly as a musician in many ways. One doesn’t need to be an artist or musician to read or hear this message, it is instantly understood and connects us deeply to not only the Yawanawá themselves but also through them to their environment, history, rainforest, their past and future.

The short film below highlights some of the Yawanawá music alongside children’s painting in a musical conversation with flute music performed by Martha-Lilly Dyer. It is a way of giving the Yawanawá a voice and also a cultural exchange between two cultures.

When I am painting alongside Nixiwaka Yawanawá there is a visual conversation taking place, sometimes agreeable, other times a debate but the paintings are always the stronger for it for both myself and Nixiwaka and the sharing of visual culture in no way dilutes the end results but creates powerful and unique outcomes.

I have come to recognise how Nixiwaka approaches a subject and what visual elements he will likely include in the painting and what they symbolise. What is striking in the video is how powerful and deep the Yawanawá’s visual language, spirituality and connections to the rainforest are as the children all use the same visual elements in their annatto seed paintings.

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These paintings are their voice, their message to us and the wider world and the message is loud and clear; without the rainforest, we don’t exist, we are the rainforest.

It is also clear that the shaman and spiritual leaders of the tribe are fundamental to the health of the Yawanawá people. Spiritual butterflies, snakes and even the plants that are used to make their sacred ‘medicine’ ayahuasca feature in their works. One of the children takes time to paint the specific palm tree that is used for wood and thatching for their homes. Sun, leaves and water feature strongly and the river is seen in some of the paintings showing us just how dependent and routed to the rainforest they are.

Martha-Lilly spoke to each child at the school in Mutum, one of the Yawanawá’s tribal villages, and they spoke very gently about their paintings. These are serious messages that we need to hear and act on. The Yawanawá need the Amazon rainforest to be left untouched, it offers them everything they need for life and without it, their life would be impossible. We all need the Amazon to be protected for planetary health and tribal people have a fight on their hands as governments, agriculture and big business continually puts pressure on the Amazon for short term profits.

As we travelled by canoe away from the Yawanawá on the long journey downriver on our way home it was noticeable how once we left the Yawanawá’s tribal lands the forest became very degraded and then gave way to totally cleared areas with cattle on. The further we travelled the more cattle appeared and the forest was gone. We can’t get it back and the soil is very poor meaning more and more forest has to be ‘slash and burned’ to continually increase the area for agriculture.

When I look at the Yawanawá children’s artwork I see their history, culture, individuality and future. We must all work hard to protect that future and our own and be careful with the decisions we make in our own lives so that we don’t add to the destruction that is going on all around them and other tribes around the world. We must think carefully about what food we choose to eat and how our personal decisions have an impact on the wider world and people like the Yawanawá.

If you are a school please show this short film to your class, talk about the beautiful paintings, how they made them, what they say and ask your children to make their own ‘Spirit of the Rainforest’ paintings so that they connect and reflect on the art, the Amazon rainforest and the choices they have as they grow up.

Please remember to send in the resulting art from your children to join our WorldGallery.online

Thank you.

John Dyer.