Indigenous Cultures

Gustavo Caboco: Connecting Indigenous Histories in Brazil

Gustavo Caboco was born in Paraná, but it was in Roraima that he reconnected with his indigenous roots. That trajectory is central to his artistic practice, which proposes a “return to the land” at once in the poetic and literal sense. Along with his mother, Lucilene Wapichana, the artist reconstructs an interrupted history through writing, embroidery and drawing.

It’s as if that journey is in some way perpetual. That was also where Gustavo would begin his career as an artist, although he realized it much later. “My mother loaned me a camera because she wanted to document our return, which she had fought so hard to make happen. Since she didn’t know how to use it, she told me that the filming would be my role. Seeing it from my perspective today, that ended up being the first artistic documentation we made and continue making,” he reflects.

The joint production of the two originates largely in Lucilene’s sewing studio, an environment in which Gustavo grew up, which also became his workspace. If we were to listen to the threads gathered there, as he learned to do with his mother, we would know that embroidery is a direct influence of the Benedictine missionaries who were present in the region where Lucilene lived until she was ten; it was a controversial relationship of guardianship exercised by the church in indigenous territories. It was through that activity that she would trace her path as at once subsistence, artistic expression and sociability. “When she is taken from the community and starts working in families’ homes, yarn and fabric become a tool for relating,” he says. “Both in her subordination, being in other peoples’ houses, working, and in her socialization. Art also ends up being this realm of encounters.”

It doesn’t really matter whether Gustavo’s art is materialized in the form of writing, embroidery or drawing: what is essential is what comes before all of that, like listening or dialogue. Which also occurs in many ways: it can be heard in the threads, in the case of sewing (“If you hear the thread, it takes you down various paths of how cultures collide, encounter one another and are strengthened”); or in the stones, as he did in Recado do Bendegó (Message from Bendegó, 2018), presented at the 34th São Paulo Biennale (2021). In the 11-minute video, Gustavo is in dialogue with the meteorite, narrating a beautiful imaginary account of the stone, which has witnessed so many processes of destruction culminating in the fire.

He had another remarkable meeting at the National Museum of Brazil (UFRJ). Three months before the building went up in flames, Gustavo passed through Rio de Janeiro and wanted to see the collection of indigenous artifacts on display there. He came across a Wapichana Borduna (a weapon made from a cylindrical piece of wood) dated very close to the age of his great-uncle, Casemiro Cadete, who fought for the demarcation of land during the same period. The story is narrated by him in a text with drawings in his publication Baaraz Kawau, where he describes that encounter as a “short-circuit,” especially considering what happened next.

Gustavo ends the book by contrasting the date of his great-uncle’s death, at the age of 93, with Borduna’s, at 94 years old. For both, he makes a commitment to those who, like him, remain in the “field after the fire,” giving meaning to the expression Baaraz Kawau in Portuguese: “Memory-bodies are alive, even after they combust. Our memory will not be erased,” he writes.

Gustavo Caboco is a Wapichana visual artist who works with the Paraná-Roraima network and on the paths of return to the land.

Nathalia Lavigne is a researcher, journalist and curator.

Translation: Sara Hanaburgh