Art - Issue #11
Joseca is a Yanomami artist who lives in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil, between the states of Amazonas and Roraima. His drawings combine images of shamanic spirits with scenes from daily forest life, showing the importance of trees and their spirits in the life-giving forest ecosystem and the Yanomami belief system.
When I was young, when I first opened my mind, I didn’t know much. But as I grew up, I really saw the beauty of the forest, the trees, the waters, the fruits and animals. I love to see the colourful birds and hear the sounds they make, the freshness of the forest. The big trees, the ones with huge canopies high up in the sky, make me happy. The land where I live, my forest, is beautiful. One of my drawings is of a tree with nests made by a bird called Napore (a crested oropendola), that’s the name in my language. This is a drawing about the land where the spirits we call the xapiri live. They heal us and take away the sickness of people.
There are several birds, colourful birds, whose spirits are responsible for healing us - such as the spirits Araripë (the spirit of the macaw parrot), Mayoripë (the spirit of the toucan), Wereheripë (the spirit of the yellow-naped parrot) and Thomoripë (the spirit of the cotia). These are some of the xapiri, the spirits who live in our land. They live in the mountains and the stones - these are their houses - and they come down through the shaman to heal us and to heal the forest.
The forest I live in is healthy - it is full of xapiri, they are everywhere. They are responsible for making our forests look beautiful and healthy. There are spirits of women and spirits of the waters, of the trees, of different beings. The forest is a living entity full of spirits. Everything is alive.
When the shamans, who can commune with the spirits, see someone cutting trees or doing bad things in the forest, they get really sad and angry. The spirits don’t want the forest to be destroyed. They want the forest to stay alive - green and healthy. As the Yanomami we don’t want to cut down the trees. That’s what the white people are doing and we really don’t want this. We want to keep the smell of the flowers and the fresh air of the forests.
If white people keep cutting down trees, Në ropëyoma (the spirit of fertility) will escape. If that happens, the land will become all hot and dry. The spirit of the forest, Urihinari, is very important for the whole world to live. If we keep destroying the forest, it will all disappear and there will be hunger.
I’m giving my words to you, white people. I want you to hear so you can understand. In 2012, we didn’t have gold miners in our land. But now, in 2022, Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is allowing all the illegal gold miners to work where we live.
If we don’t have clean water, if we don’t have trees, if we don’t have the forest, we’re going to suffer.
I really don’t want people to keep making our forest dirty and destroying it. So Bolsonaro has to go. You have to make an impact so he won’t be the chief of Brazil again. We don’t want the gold miners to keep destroying our land. That’s where we live. That’s what we need to live. Destroying the forest won’t be good for anyone. You already have your own land. You’ve already destroyed yours. You really have to ban them from destroying our land. You have to stop them.
I realise that there are white people who want to protect the trees, the forest and the soil. There are white people who want good things for the forests. So if we keep taking care of the forest and the water, then we, the Yanomami, will be happy. Especially those of you in the next generation - you have to take care of it. You have to change your mind. We all have to take care of the forest together.
This interview with Joseca was conducted for the Wellcome Collection podcast series in support of the Rooted Beings exhibition. A selection of Joseca’s artworks can be seen in London at Rooted Beings until 29 August 2022; and also in Lille, at the Living Worlds exhibition organised by Fondation Cartier, until 2 October 2022.