C&AL: Could you talk a little about the history of the Makuxi people and how art emerged in your life?
Jaider Esbell: The Makuxi is an indigenous nation of the Karib linguistic branch, whose people live among other peoples, in the region known today as the Circun-Roraima whose cosmological center is on Mount Roraima. Consequently, they are a trans-border people dispersed beyond the state of Roraima, in the extreme north of Brazil, in Guyana and in Venezuela. In Brazil, they are a population of more than 30 thousand people. Today the Makuxi live in different social, cultural and political contexts. They recently commemorated the demarcation and homologation of part of their ancestral territory, the fruit of a struggle they led for over four decades. It’s the indigenous land called Raposa Serra do Sol, where I was born and where I grew up. We are the children and grandchildren of the deity Makumaimî, one of our “gods.” The Makuxi have a complex cosmology. Already in my early childhood, my grandfather told me about part of this “mythology” and I consider that to be my first encounter with the idea of art.
C&AL: In what way do literature and the visual arts overlap in your production?
JE: My people have an oral tradition; we are eminent storytellers. Our elders always used to draw on stones as a way of including the powers of signs to generate communication. That is how we have progressed since time immemorial. For us, art as much as literature, and even the visual arts, are part of a unified body of media, that we apply to our dynamics of journeys through the world – as much in our own internal relations—as a people—as for our relationships with neighboring peoples of other branches. The introduction of writing to our language did not make us stop telling stories. It provided us with yet another means to continue narrating and illustrating. As a Makuxi artist, I try to exercise those abilities.
C&AL: In works such as “Pata Ewa’n – O coração do mundo” (Pata Ewa’n – The Heart of the World), “A árvore de todos os saberes” (The Tree of All Knowledge) and “Conhecimento e dignidade” (Knowledge and Dignity), we see the presence of the Makuxi cosmology. In what ways do you articulate the indigenous world and the white world in your production?
JE: My grandparents were slaves on the farms of invaders, so I was, literally, born in both worlds. I notice that, aside from the pressures and impositions of the white world on my ancestral world, the indigenous one, there is a dual interest between these. Through my artwork, I believe that I can help both arrive at this minimal understanding. Art can bring worlds closer together—for me this is a fact. My research also leads me to believe that, although apparently mixed, these worlds do not fuse or merge together. Since I have access to both of these worlds, my aim is to build a consciousness of what both are teaching me “naturally” so that I can be another vehicle, means, channel of fruition and distinction.