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Op-Ed: Ethno-photography: The Possibility of Seeing Other Worlds

by Edgar Kanaykõ Xakriabá


Indigenous peoples in Brazil have, over the past few years, been experiencing a new resumption of space. Just as territory is the basis for ensuring the maintenance of people's lives - as well as our identities, the continuation of being what we are - there is a certain need to have a way to guarantee such support.


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


We can say, then, that our Design is strictly linked to the ways of life that connect the people with their identity. The territory for indigenous peoples is crucial to maintain the relationships that connect them to the forest land - where things are interconnected since the planting and harvesting of the fields, hunting, rivers, objects, handicrafts, ceramics - in the things of us and the “whites”. Of humans and non-humans, and all the possibilities of relationships that are created and their ontologies.


Symbols, representations by means of images, body paintings, ornaments, ornaments, sounds, songs and musicality are essential in indigenous culture. However, their understanding may not be so simple for those who “see from the outside”, since they are loaded with their own (re) interpretations and specific meanings based on their own cultural modes. Such a way of seeing, perceiving and seeing things is excellence, as it were, of indigenous practices, in which they are strictly linked to learning and ways of producing knowledge.


My trajectory as an indigenous of the Xakriabá people and at the same time a photographer is based on this tangle of relationships. Developing throughout this work with the image, through Ethnophotography: "a means of registering aspects of culture - the life of a people". Turning photography into a new tool of struggle, enabling the “other” to see with a different look what an indigenous people is. Therefore, I use photography as a means, too, of describing aspects of cultures (mainly indigenous) with a view of those who experience such realities. I then have the possibility of capturing through the lens things that previously would not have been possible for those who are not part of the people. Ethnophotography enables relations with the people and this, directly and indirectly, influences the image capture processes, in which it is beyond what the (photographic) eye can see.


One of the agendas will take place before the indigenous movement whose main objective is the struggle for the guarantee of rights historically usurped by the State, in which the struggle for territory is the main demand. In addition to the current scenario in which the world is living due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, in Brazil, indigenous peoples are experiencing a drama guided by the Government's policies to exterminate nature and the traditional peoples that inhabit it. In the face of all this, indigenous peoples once again face the struggle in the face of an imminent genocide, where they kill bodies, wisdom, humans, non-humans, nature and culture in the name of a (capitalist) system that is showing itself more and more doomed to failure.


We cannot think of a “global trend” in the face of the arts - above all it is important to recognize and value the different ways of perceiving the world, because what moves humanity is not “equality” but diversity. Thus, indigenous peoples are increasingly necessary to retell history, between past, present and especially the future of this planet, using the photographic image as a tool to shape it from this diversity of gaze that crosses the lens.



Edgar Kanaykõ Xakriabá, belongs to the Xakriabá indigenous people (Brazil / MG). He holds a master's degree in Anthropology from UFMG. He works freely in the area of Ethnophotography: "a means of registering an aspect of culture - the life of a people". In his lens, photography becomes a new "tool" of struggle, allowing the "other" to see with another look what an indigenous people is.


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