‘Amazonia: The Rights of Nature’

Photo by Analyn Cuarto
Photo by Analyn Cuarto

Open until January 28, 2018

By Katie Czenczek, staff writer


Amazonia: The Rights of Nature is the first exhibit I’ve been to that encourages you to kick off your shoes and lie in a hammock as you take it all in. However, the exhibit is anything but mellow and it’s clear in its message: Everyone living on Earth has a responsibility to stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and its inhabitants before the damage is irreversible. Located in the O’Brian Gallery at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology until January 2018, the exhibit surges to life with the sounds of the Amazon.

Before entering the exhibit, the Constitution of Plurinational State of Ecuador is displayed, calling on people to demand governments “to enforce the rights of nature.”

Amazonia has two entrances, depending on which door you enter from. At both beginnings, there is a white wall with bold black letters relaying facts about the Amazonian area. The exhibit either starts with the breakdown of the nine countries and their policies regarding the environment and Indigenous rights, or with facts about the species of plants and animals and the numbers of languages spoken by Indigenous peoples in the region.

Harrowing statistics about the treatment of Indigenous people and the industries that are the cause of deforestation bridge the gap between either beginning the observer starts with. The way these facts are displayed is jarring, and it conflicts with the rest of the exhibit. They are cold, empty words that strip the Amazon of its life. I think that this was done to pair with the truth that the words hold.

In comparison, a seamless “soundscape” created by Diego Samper highlights the diverse life found in the Amazon. The piece is an amalgamation of Indigenous music, storytelling, and ceremonies, combined with the sounds of animals found in the dense jungle. In a blurb found on the wall of the exhibit, the quote “all chants are a single chant” can be found. Almost creating a steady heartbeat with the combination of sounds, the piece paired with the photographic videos Samper also created brings the entire space to life. Not only does it enhance the exhibit, but it also highlights the beliefs of people in the Columbian Amazon that the Earth itself is alive.

Moreover, both contemporary and older pieces of art and culture are displayed in the middle of the gallery from the various peoples that inhabit the Amazon region. A headdress made of vibrantly coloured bird feathers from the Mebêngôkre is paired with the history of these people, including how a dam built in Brazil destroyed their way of life. Numerous relics and artifacts follow this pattern of showing that the art was a group’s connection with nature and displaying the beauty in that connection, only for the link to be severed by settlers destroying the regions where people have lived for thousands of years.

This exhibit is both beautiful and painfully honest as it depicts the events that are still taking place in South America. It has the potential to make people care about a region and the various cultures around it that normally would not be thought of.