the heart of the world

Jaider Esbell – Pata'Yewan, Heart of the World. Source: EPU-TÎTO exhibition (2017) on the website dedicated to the artist.


Considerations about the indigenous artist Jaider Esbell

An important feature of indigenous art is its vital rooting as an expression of what we could perhaps call a fundamental holism proper to native cultures. The ordering ideas of the indigenous cosmovision configure ways of thinking and feeling, which, at the same time, order and express ways of life and the forms of relationship that make the lived world an intelligible, meaningful world, in which the connections between the human, infra-human and supra-human worlds, where human actions of exchanges between society and nature take place.

Relations marked by isonomy, by reciprocity between human beings (current, past and future) and the other inhabitants of the same “universe”, of the reality, at the same time unique and multidimensional, in which we exist and which unites us all to all forms non-human forms of existence, as associates, participants, beneficiaries, caregivers and co-responsible for preserving the vital order in the complementary and essential dialogue between humanity and extra-humanity.

Indigenous graphics are nourished by fundamental narratives of the worldview of native peoples in their meanings that pervade everyday life. As, for example, in the work Pata'yewan – heart of the world by Jaider Esbell.[1] The plastic form is significant in all its varied elements (visual rhythms, graphic elements, figures, colors) and reaffirms the relationship of aesthetic making with the other aspects of community life and their meanings.

The arts of indigenous collectivities are forms of action that are related to the material procedures of everyday life, techniques ranging from domestic chores to forms of communal production, as well as rituals as procedures for the spiritual reproduction of the collectivity, with games, narrative representations in various and related contexts, ludic, pedagogical, spiritual, etc.; Expressed on canvas, in utensils, or on the indigenous body, the language of graphic forms reiterates their meanings and the general context of the relationships that underlie these meanings.

In the present work, the linear arabesque forms represent animals, plants, living beings and elements of the landscape, united in a universal rhythm in complementary concentric and eccentric movements that resolve on the flat surface as a representation of a unified pulse of universal life in its relationships. The basic geometric shapes, circles, triangles, lozenges, participate in the overall rhythm of the composition and are thus represented by pulsating lines as vital forms depicting birds, fish, snakes, plants, as well as water, air, earth, all of them united in order and general movement. The colored dots contribute to the overall rhythm, configuring a dynamic relationship between background and figure, between land-soil-pictorial and significant space and living beings, plants, birds, fish, amalgamated figures, which inhabit a land lived, imagined and remembered, that is, known in its essential reality through art.

The central form, which establishes a kind of tacit symmetry in the general plan of the composition, the focus of a balanced distribution of elements, visual rhythms and pictorial forms, is like a dual being, bird-serpent, which contains in itself, in silhouette of a generative organ, a womb-heart belonging to the body of nature, vital liquid and living beings, fish, plants, birds. Its beak expels a bird and wind, the air that sustains the bird's flight, a symbol of life and spirituality or conscience. It should be noted that the symbolism of the winged serpent or feathered serpent, serpent-bird, a central symbol in Mesoamerican indigenous cultures, is a representation of the unity between the terrestrial and celestial worlds. The serpent is also a constant character in Amazonian cosmologies and mythologies.

On the canvas, the graphic composition and its elements (lines, shapes, colors) represent an ordered universe of mutual relationships and transformations, of projection, expansion and return to the center, which is the incessant movement of the cycle of reality that continues as such when renewing itself and renewing itself to maintain its primary, relational and knowable identity.

the heart of the world it is the forest itself as origin and living space in the present. And not just for its inhabitants, the original peoples in Brazil, but for all humanity in the period called the Anthropocene, marked by climate change, imbalances in the relationship between man and nature and threats to the global environment.

Jaider Esbell was an activist for human rights and environmental protection, for the rights of indigenous peoples to their identities and ways of life, culture and vital territory. In this context of life and militancy he developed his praxis art encompassing literature, painting, performance, interventions and initiatives in education and culture. In 2019 she wrote the manifesto Charter of Indigenous Peoples for Capitalism, text delivered to the UBS bank in Geneva, Switzerland during a performance in front of the bank. Lucid and succinct text in which the indigenous artist clarifies the urgency and universal reach of the struggles for the affirmation and survival of the forest peoples in Brazil: “Behold, we are living now, all of us, the apex of anthropocene time. If there is no future for us, there will be no future for anyone. This present time is the last chance we have to celebrate life, life with dignity for all; men, animals, minerals, spirits”.

*Marcelo Guimaraes Lima is an artist, researcher, writer and teacher.


Jaider Esbell, Charter of Indigenous Peoples for Capitalism, 2019.


[1] Jaider Esbell (1979-2021) – indigenous artist of the Macuxi ethnic group. He was born in Normandia, state of Roraima, in what is now the Raposa – Serra do Sol Indigenous Land. He was a writer, painter, art educator, geographer, cultural producer, curator and indigenous rights activist. He died in São Paulo.

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