Paper Jaguar: Art to save the Amazon

A unique and compelling protest against the construction of the Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River in Brazil sees children of indigenous tribes join Myoo Media's David de Rothschild and Matthew Gray in building sculptures of wildlife threatened by the dam. Exclusive photos, courtesy of MYOO Media.

Formerly known as Kararaô, the proposed Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River in the Brazilian state of Para is shrouded in controversy. If approved, its 668 sq km reservoir will flood about 400 sq km of Amazon rainforest. This will compromise the lives and livelihoods of indigenous people, vegetation and natural spaces, as well as flora and fauna. Further, water quality and supply will be disrupted and fish migration routes will be affected.

Indigenous tribes and activists protest against the Belo Monte dam (AFP/File/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Protest against the dam has taken many forms. Among the most compelling is one orchestrated by MYOO, a community that believes in the power of stories and adventure to drive social and environmental change.

MYOO’s expedition team, led by David de Rothschild and including Matthew Grey, Mike Duffy, Nick Taylor and Vanessa Boanada have returned from the Northern Para region of Brazil where they undertook an adventure into the Amazon rainforest. The team visited
those who will be directly affected by the Belo Monte dam and asked them ‘What is Lost?’. This expedition is part of MYOO’s ARTiculate series, which combines art, ecology and adventure to give nature a voice.

Over two weeks in November 2011, the team visited the small town of Altamira before traveling down the Xingu River to the site of the Belo Monte dam. The adventure sought to discover what would be lost to the communities should the dam go ahead. Prior to the expedition the team observed an indigenous meeting in Altamira called the Xingu Alive Forever Movement: The purpose of this meeting was to mount an early morning occupation led by a diverse coalition of indigenous peoples, local farmers, fisherfolk, and members of social movements from across Brazil to close the Belo Monte work camp and Trans-Amazon highway.

The crew then travelled to the Baixao area of Altamira, which is home to the towns’ poorest residents. Each person who lives in this area stands to lose their home or business and has no idea where they will be relocated to when the floodwaters arrive. Continuing their journey, the team then made their way down the Xingu River to Ilha Da Fazenda. Introduced to the Juruna and Arara tribes who live in this area they learnt of the local legend of the Juruna tribe. Juruna legend purports that Sinaa will bring about the end of the world when he finally decides to pull down the enormous forked stick that supports the sky.

"The day our people die out entirely, I will pull this down and the sky will collapse, and all people will disappear. That will be the end of everything."

With help from local children the team built a forked totem pole that depicts visually what will be lost through the flooding of this area. The team also created sculptures of a jaguar and toucan, which sit on the site to celebrate local biodiversity. In the event that the dam goes ahead and the forked stick is taken down it will be the realization of the Juruna legend and a powerful symbol of the end of the world for the Juruna people.

While you enjoy these pictures, bear in mind that the Belo Monte dam is a controversial project, which centers on acute concerns for the displacement of many thousands of people, the destruction of indigenous habitats, loss of unique biodiversity, methane emissions and an acknowledged inefficiency of the dam itself. More information is available at MYOO.com

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© DAVID DE ROTHSCHILD/ MYOO MEDIA

Matt Grey papering the jaguar with help from the kids of Ilha Da Fazenda on the Xingu River.

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA
Painting the Toucan
© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA
Painting the toucan broke into a joyous paint fight for the children

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA
A paint fight breaks out on the street

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA
"Stop Belo Monte!" the cry rings out symbolically

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA
Loading the sculptures for tranport up to the Belo Monte dam site.

© DAVID DE ROTHSCHILD/ MYOO MEDIA

Matt Grey constructing the totem at the site of the Belo Monte dam

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA

David de Rothschild working on the frame for the Toucan sculpture

© DAVID DE ROTHSCHILD/ MYOO MEDIA
Matt Grey carving the totem on the Ilha da Fazenda

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA
A child displays a picture of one of the endemic species that will be lost if the construction of the controversial dam is approved.

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA
Tiny painted hands strengthen the slogan: "STOP BELA MONTE!" These, the voices of the indigenous people of the Amazon, cry out against the destruction of their future.

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA

David de Rothschild joins in the painting of little hands.

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA

A deliriously happy "victim" of a paint fight poses with the Jaguar he helped create.

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA

The Jaguar is installed in the Xingu River as a symbolic warning of what will be lost if the Belo Monte Dam project is given the go-ahead. Jaguars, endangered big cats that inhabit the Amazon rainforest, are the apex predators. The construction of the Belo Monte Dam poses an immense threat to their natural habitat. The loss of the jaguar will lead to massive instability of the food chain and consequentially, of the ecological balance of the Amazon ecosystem. 

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA
Totem poles with fireworks going off behind them, at the site of the proposed Belo Monte dam.

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIA

The sculpture of the Toucan takes position on the Xingu River. Toucans, with their large colorful bills, are among the most recognizable birds of the Amazon rainforest. The Xingu River, all of 1979 km in length, is a southeastern tributary of the Amazon River. The Belo Monte Dam, planned by the Brazilian government, will be the world's third-largest dam if its construction is approved. However, the negative environmental and social impacts that the construction would have are immense. 

© MATTHEW GREY/ MYOO MEDIADavid de Rothschild stands next to the totem poles erected at the site of the Belo Monte dam.

David de Rothschild, 33, is a British adventurer, ecologist and environmentalist, and founder of Adventure Ecology, an expedition group that was behind the celebrated Plastiki Expedition (view the Widescreen photo-feature on Yahoo! India Travel).

Matthew Grey, officially a Director at Myoo Media, is a passionate environmentalist and ideator who led, organized and documented the expedition to Brazil's Xingu River basin to showcase what will be lost if the Belo Monte Dam project is approved. 

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