Jaider Esbell (1979-2021) – Artforum International


Indigenous visual artist Jaider Esbell, a rising star whose vibrant and energetic work has skillfully woven ecological, mystical and socio-political themes, passed away on November 2 at the age of forty-one. According to the Brazilian news portal G1, he was found dead in his apartment in São Paulo. Esbell had recently participated in the 34th São Paulo Biennale as a curator and artist, his work being acclaimed there as the highlight of the exhibition. The self-taught artist was also a tireless champion of his people, the Macuxi, on whose behalf he frequently wrote and campaigned.

Esbell was born in 1979 in Normandy, northwest of Roraima, an isolated and sparsely populated state bordering Venezuela and home to the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous reserve. A geographer by training, he worked for two decades as an electrician in a public company before leaving in 2016 to devote himself to his art; the same year, he won the Pipa Prize, one of the largest contemporary art prizes in Brazil. Adopted grandson of Indigenous cultural educator grandmother Bernaldina, who died of Covid-19 in June 2020, Esbell was an advocate of what he described as “artivism” – the concept that art can assist in the political struggle for Indigenous rights, land and cultural recognition. He has embraced painting, drawing, mixed media, video and performance in his versatile practice. “Whatever the medium,” wrote Ela Bittencourt in a review of her work in Art Forum earlier this year, “Esbell’s works bear witness to a powerful earthly sensuality.” Esbell also ran the Jaider Esbell Contemporary Art Gallery, which he founded in Boa Vista, Roraima, in 2013.

Roraima’s government lamented its loss in a statement, noting that it “leaves a legacy to the cultural and artistic values ​​of indigenous peoples.” The São Paulo Museum of Modern Art also issued a statement on the artist’s death, praising him as one of the central figures of the movement to affirm contemporary indigenous art in Brazil, ”noting that he“ has always sought to increase the visibility of contemporary indigenous art. and the struggle of the Macuxi people. Esbell’s sculpture Entidades, consisting of two snakes thirty feet long, is currently visible in Parque Ibrapuera de São Paulo, where the snakes rise into the air above the park’s lake. The artist created a slightly smaller iteration of the work for Parque da Redenção, in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, which was on display at the 28th edition of the Porto Alegre em Cena arts festival last month. Speaking in September, he told G1 that the work “relates to mysticisms and mythological figures that are not envisioned by European Neo-Pentecostal Christianity. It is a reminder that all original peoples have their gigantic creatures, their importance, their semiotic signs, their entities that protect and heal [for them]. It is an invitation, ”he continued,“ for everyone to seek their origins, to access their cosmology, without straying from their own essence. Let everyone manifest their beliefs as they wish for the expansion of the world.


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