Where the Leaves Fall #12
Our regular ‘At work with’ post takes a rest this week as we hear from one of the founders of Where the Leaves Fall about their new special issue.
The London-based magazine explores our relationship with nature, a subject drawn into sharp focus as the climate crisis becomes increasingly present, and as the climate industry meets in Egypt for the COP27 conference.
Meanwhile the 12th issue of Where the Leaves Fall has been guest edited by Brazilian environmental activist Txai (that’s her above, with WtLF founders Luciane Pisani, left, and David Reeve, right, and on the cover of the magazine, below).
We asked Luciane, herself Brazilian, to give us the background to the collaboration with Txai and discuss the possibilities presented by COP27 and the recent change of leadership in her country. She also shares her highlights from the new issue of WtLF.
How did Txai’s guest editorship come about?
Since the beginning we have engaged with Indigenous peoples—the first cover featured the Uru-eu-wau-wau people and the article focuses on their fight against the deforestation brought by farmers and illegal settlers in the Brazilian Amazon. We didn’t know that this is the area where Txai came from. When we saw Txai speak at the opening ceremony of COP26 we made the connection and reached out to her.
Over the issues of the magazine (we can’t believe there are 12 now!) we’ve become more and more aware of checking our gaze as that of the coloniser (and colonised)—and by that we mean not trying to impose ourselves.
In issue 10, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuk environmental, cultural and human rights advocate, wrote: ‘Don’t be on a mission to save us: this is not what we want or need. But in equal partnership, with an understanding of our common humanity, we can do this together.’ We felt that to an extent our work reflected this but it made us question what the next step could be. We saw Txai was going to be in London and arranged to meet her. When we showed her Sheila’s quote Txai replied: ‘We’re not asking you to save us. We’re trying to save you.’
Txai was excited about the prospect of bringing in the voices of people she’d come across, and met with, over the last few years and it felt right to release such a magazine, representing the Indigenous gaze, in time for COP27—where Indigenous people tend to only have ‘observer status’ with the key-discussions happening behind closed doors. We’ve seeded copies of the magazine around the conference in Egypt—we hope they find themselves in the right hands and germinate.
Luciane selects some highlights from the issue: “Txai chose to divide the magazine into the themes of cosmology, Indigenous art and resistance. One person that lives and breathes all three of those themes is Abel Rodríguez (Mogaje Guihu). We met him over zoom—it was beautiful.
He’s a sage of the Nonuya people who possesses the ancestral knowledge of medicinal plants and the ecological systems of the Amazon basin. Escaping the armed conflict Don Abel started documenting his knowledge through drawings which reveal ecosystems and cosmovisions—which in itself is an act of resistance.
Now in his eighties, as he’s refined his art skills the paintings have become even more detailed representations of his memories. He told us: ‘Who replaces a chieftain or an elder or a maloca (communal house) builder? There is no longer anybody who has this knowledge because these kinds of customs and traditions are being lost. I just keep on painting. I still have the mountains and trees in my head, what they are like and where they are, what the places are called. That’s where I was raised.”
What was it like to hand over your magazine to another person?
The magazine is a call for reconnection at a time when many have disconnected. We like to focus on stories that can help us relocate ourselves in the natural world, listening and learning from voices that are often marginalised. So we felt really excited about this collaboration and knew it was going to open new doors of learning and understanding.
Logistically it was a challenge! We were collaborating with a lot of Indigenous people—often with intermittent contact—and it was also in the lead up to the Brazilian presidential elections for which the Indigenous peoples were campaigning. The magazine required multiple translations—from local language to Portuguese and then to English and we had to be diligent to ensure that nothing was lost in translation.
As Txai mentioned in her editorial, Indigenous stories are often told through the eyes of the coloniser and are stereotyped, often from a perspective of domination and superiority. They need to be the protagonists of their own stories. With narrative sovereignty they will be able to represent themselves for who they really are. I think their worldview and perspectives are dynamic and unique. Their cultures and ways they see the world through arts, their connection with the spirits through their stories, crafts, paintings, their songs. It’s an opportunity for all of us to recognise our common humanity – to appreciate what is similar and to learn from what is different.
“Seba Calfuqueo’s work explores ancestry, identity and how binaries introduced through colonisation are still limiting the human and non-human world. And it was fantastic to get to know the work of Emerson Pontes / Uýra Sodoma—a contemporary Indigenous artist, graduate of biology and master in ecology who resides in Manaus, Brazil.
They wrote: ‘The world was and still is too anthropocentric, ruled by a small and arrogant group of humans: white male corporations, cisgenders, heterosexuals, phonies and squares. We’ve already seen what that's done to the planet.’ Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa echoes this in the feature You Don't Know the Spirits of the Forest—it’s reverse-anthropology with us as the subjects—the napëpë. It’s not the most comfortable of reads but it’s an important one, a vital one.”
Are you optimistic about the future of Brazil post-election?
I am optimistic about the future of Brazil after the results of the election. And it’s so important for the Indigenous peoples—the demarcation and protection of their territories and the recognition of their rights. The world needs governments committed with the protection of the environment and the fight against the climate crisis.
When Lula won the election the UK prime minister Rishi Sunak tweeted his congratulations, mentioning how they look forward to working together on growing the global economy and protecting the planet’s natural resources. Firstly we need to stop thinking in terms of ‘natural resources’ and this continued talk of growth when it’s clear a slow but painful collapse is underway. With COP’s sponsorship and partnerships we’re beginning to wonder if it’s fit for purpose.
Climate discussions and agreements need to be taking place throughout the year—not just at COP—and if agreements aren’t happening there then it’s just about people meeting up and being seen. Iit needs to be more than that.
But Lula said in his speech that he wants to fight for zero deforestation—what he said is actually quite beautiful: ‘A standing tree is worth more than tons of timber illegally harvested by those who think only of easy profit at the expense of deteriorating life on Earth. A river of clear water is worth much more than all the gold extracted at the expense of mercury that kills fauna and puts human life at risk. When an Indigenous child dies murdered by the greed of the predators of the environment, a part of humanity dies along with him.’
“Several of our contributors discuss the indigenous gaze and use of technology, and Edgar Kanaykõ Xakriabá writes: ‘I use photography as a means to also describe aspects of cultures (mainly Indigenous) through the very gaze of one that experiences these realities. I have, therefore, the possibility of capturing, through the lens, that which is unattainable for those who are not part of the people.’
While we may not understand the nuances and symbolism of every photograph and composition – such as the body painting - you can feel the connection between photographer and subject – there’s an energy, a power.
There’s so much packed into the magazine to make us stop, reflect, and reconsider. Globally we need to bring Indigenous people to the decision-making table. We share the same home and as Kopenawa suggests—money can’t protect us.”
Editors Luciane Pisani and David Reeve
Art director Luciane Pisani