Born in the region currently demarcated as Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous Land, Jaider Esbell (1979, Roraima, Brazil – 2021, São Sebastião, SP, Brazil) is a Macuxi artist and writer. Since 2013, when he organized the I Encounter of All the Peoples, Esbell has played a central role in the movement for consolidating contemporary indigenous art in the Brazilian context, acting in a multiple and interdisciplinary way, combining the role of artist, curator, writer, educator, activist, promoter and cultural catalyzer. In his first literary work, Terreiro de Makunaima – mitos, lendas e estórias em vivências [Terreiro de Makunaima – Myths, Legends and Stories in Experiences] (2010), Esbell identifies himself as the grandson of Macunaíma, and espouses the re-appropriation of this figure by the indigenous people, considering that in the Macuxi culture, Makunaima is one of the “children of the Sun,” responsible for the mythical creation of all the edible plants existing in the forest, and therefore very different from the “characterless hero” in the eponymous novel by Mário de Andrade (1928)
Combining painting, writing, drawing, installation and performance, his work intertwines indigenous myths, criticisms of hegemonic culture and socioenvironmental concerns, sometimes drifting into the poetic realm, sometimes taking a clear political and activist stand. In the performance Carta dos Povos Indígenas ao Capitalismo [Letter from the Indigenous Peoples to Capitalism] (2019), which took place in Geneva, Esbell delivered to the representatives of UBS Bank a letter in defense of the right to a dignified life for all of the beings that inhabit the planet. The prophetic tone of the letter reiterates the thought of shaman Davi Kopenawa, who prophesizes that the sky is going to come crashing down on our heads. For Esbell, nature is warning us about a catastrophe, and we should pay attention to it. The performance is a gesture for social justice and for the visibility of the peoples of the forest.
A guerra dos Kanaimés [Kanaimés War] (2020) is a new series of paintings made by Esbell for the context of the 34th Bienal. In a succession of allegorical scenes, the artist evokes the idea of the kanaimés – often described as deadly spirits who cause the deaths of those who come across them – and projects it onto contemporary conflicts experienced by the Macuxi people and their relatives, who are constantly attacked by official and non-official offensives intending to exploit their land. Depending on your allegiances, kanaimés can be seen as protectors or as predators. In a context characterized by both veiled and direct threats, where that which kills is often seen as a remedy, Esbell rethinks the tangible presence of these spirits in the life and struggle of the Macuxi people.
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).