Words and photography by Edgar Kanaykõ Xakriabá

Translated by Le Guimarães

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Edgar Kanaykõ Xakriabá is an anthropologist and photographer from the Xakriabá people, Minas Gerais, Brazil. His work explores the Indigenous gaze as an instrument of struggle and resistance.

Even before the invasion of our territories, our ancestors (the old trunks) warned about the ‘time of now’. In Brazil, Indigenous people are experiencing a drama caused by the policies of the extermination of nature, and the traditional peoples that inhabit it, by the government [referring to the 2019-2022 administration]. In the face of all this, Indigenous peoples once again find themselves struggling with the threat of an imminent genocide, where invaders kill bodies, wisdom, humans, non-humans, nature and culture in the name of a (capitalist) system that progressively shows itself doomed to failure.

Through various means and possibilities, a new tool of struggle emerges, the audiovisual, specifically the photographic image, seen by many Indigenous communities as a “necessary evil”. On one hand, the arrival of these new technologies is seen as a bad influence on the culture of the people, while on the other hand, there is a certain desire to use this new “weapon” to guarantee the rights of Indigenous peoples. 

Shaman Vicente Xakriabá said: “We need to be careful because a photo is an image.” Symbols, representations through images, body painting, adornments, ornaments, sounds, songs and
musicality are essential to various Indigenous cultures. However, their  understanding of imagery and symbols may not be so simple for the “outside viewer”, since they are loaded with their own (re)interpretations and specific meanings from their cultural perspectives. Such a way of seeing, perceiving and realising things is an expertise, so to speak, of Indigenous practices, which are intrinsic to learning and producing knowledge.

Being that land is the basis of everything, for Indigenous people, territory is crucial to maintaining relationships with the forest, where things are interconnected from planting, harvesting, hunting, rivers, objects, handicrafts, ceramics. In “our things” and those of the “whites”, of humans and non-humans, of all the possibilities of relationships that are created and their ontologies. We can therefore say that capturing images, for Indigenous photographers and filmmakers, is closely tied to the ways of life and the worldviews of each people.

My trajectory as an Indigenous of the Xakriabá people and at the same time as a photographer, is based on this tangle of relationships. Developing throughout this work with image through ethnophotography - registering the cultural aspects and life of a people . Making photography into a new tool of struggle and enabling “others” a new outlook on what an Indigenous person is. As such, I use photography as a means to also describe aspects of cultures (mainly Indigenous) through the very gaze of one that experiences these realities. I have, therefore, the possibility of capturing, through the lens, that which is unattainable for those who are not part of the people. Ethnophotography enables relationships with the people and this influences directly and indirectly. The image capture process, goes beyond what the (photographic) eye can see.

More than ever, it is imperative to recognise and value the different ways of perceiving the world because what moves humanity is not likeness but diversity instead. Thus, Indigenous people show themselves to be necessary to recount history, between past, present and especially the future of this planet, using the photographic image as a tool to shape it. Every day Indigenous people re-exist in the struggle for territory, as the land is the basis of all culture/nature, among people, animals and spirits.

For a long time, we lived at the pinnacle of orality, which today is strengthened by writing and beautified by images. Photography crosses the eyes of Indigenous peoples. The image reveals the being, strengthens knowledge, and, above all, teaches how to learn.

I am the Indigenous person who came into the world to fight. I live off of a gaze inspired by my ancestors and those yet to arrive. I am the dream that longs for possible worlds.

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Words and photography by

Edgar Kanaykõ Xakriabá

Edgar Kanaykõ Xakriabá belongs to the Xakriabá people, in Minas Gerais, Brazil. He has a master in anthropology, from the Universidade Federal de M… Learn more

Translated by

Le Guimarães

Le Guimarães is a Brazilian artist, researcher and educator. Graduating in Communication and Media, and Design with a master’s in Fine Arts, she ha… Learn more

This article is part of Issue #12

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Cosmology Indigenous Art Resistance

In this special edition of WtLF we invited Indigenous activist Txai Suruí, of the Paiter Suruí people, to guest edit the entirety of issue #12. The…

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