Tile for Participants and Marilene Ribeiro's contribution: Dead Water
Dead Water . Participants & Marilene Ribeiro

Participants & Marilene Ribeiro

Dead Water

Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of Maria das Graças and Delcilene
Portrait of Maria das Graças and Delcilene © Maria das Graças da Silva, Delcilene Gomes da Silva, and Marilene Ribeiro 2016

I am Marilene Ribeiro, Brazilian researcher and visual artist. As researcher and practitioner, my work is focused on interdisciplinary endeavours. It is engaged in the politics of art, the role of image making in society (namely photography and film), and also in understanding how the knowledge of traditional communities can be transposed to image-based media to tackle environmental and political issues.

Originally announced as a solution for development and global warming, hydropower plants have actually washed out ecosystems, destroyed freshwater life, and impoverished those who inhabit along the rivers. Amongst other geopolitical pressures, these mega infrastructure projects have happened as a response to the lobby of the mining industry (in Brazil, mainly related to the extraction of iron ore, gold, and aluminium) as mines need a great amount of energy to operate as their work continues non-stop all year round. Therefore, when it comes to dams and hydropower, what is at stake is neither sustainability nor the country’s welfare or the combat of global warming, but rather how to highly profit and keep ‘business as usual’ and how to keep and detain more and more power over countries that contain abundant natural resources as well as how to control people, rivers, and ecosystems.

Dead Water is my response to this scenario. It is focused on telling the story of dams and hydropower from the perspectives of the people who have been affected by these ventures in Brazil stitched together with my own background as a trained photographer, ecologist, and individual. It engages with the nature and magnitude of the intangible costs of hydro.

The work deals with the lives of families (riverside dwellers) who have been affected by the building of dams for hydropower purposes in three different regions of Brazil. It is driven by portraits that are co-created by each participant of the project and myself, based on what each sitter stresses as remarkable to her/him concerning the situation they have faced as a consequence of the hydropower plant project. During the photo shoot, participants were invited to check and modify their own portrait until they considered the image they saw tallied with the discourse they wanted to present to the viewers. Moreover, by gathering further information with participants, sentimental landscapes of their loss were reconstructed.
Dead Water is set out as an installation which combines photographs, videos, texts, drawings, interviews, landscapes.

Dead Water was undertaken in a partnership with the National Movement of People Affected by Dams in Brazil (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens – MAB). It has been awarded the Royal Photographic Society Award (2014), the CNPq PhD Fully Funded Scholarship (2014) and has been shortlisted for the Arles Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award (2019) and for the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award (2017). It has also been selected for the PhotoEspaña Descubrimientos 2020.


take action

Marilene invites you to check out and support the following:

‘Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens – MAB’ (National Movement of People Affected
by Dams): https://mab.org.br
‘Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre’: https://xinguvivo.org.br
‘Instituto Socioambiental’: https://www.socioambiental.org
‘Dams in Amazonia’ – Collective initiative by Fundación Proteger, International Rivers, and
ECOA that researches and provides up-to-date information on hydropower schemes in the
Amazon: http://dams-info.org
‘A Government Against the Environment’ – Collective initiative that aims to record and
publicise actions Jair Bolsonaro’s administration has threatened environmental welfare in
Brazil: https://governmentofdestruction.org


continue to view Dead Water
(portraits and short film)

Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of Maria das Graças and Delcilene

Portrait of Maria das Graças and Delcilene

Delcilene’s feelings: sorrow and humiliation
Maria das Graças’ feeling: sorrow
Object chosen by Delcilene: cashews
Object chosen by Maria das Graças (Delcilene’s mother): sand
Location chosen: their former backyard in Cashew Island (currently partly submerged by the Belo Monte dam)

© Maria das Graças da Silva, Delcilene Gomes da Silva, and Marilene Ribeiro 2016



[Three of us talking, Delcilene, her mother, Maria das Graças, and me, Marilene]
Delcilene – “Our island, our sand beaches, our trees, our home [pause] all has gone. Belo Monte dam has brought nothing to us but death.”
Maria das Graças – “Because the islands, the trees, they all died, everything is dead. It looks like a backwood in the backlands [sertão]. Right? The ones where you only see stumps, which we see on the news [on] Sunday. It’s the same thing. (…)
When you look around, it’s just sadness. (…)
Even so, that’s it: sometimes you [myself, Marilene] can say, ‘Ah, no, it’s because many were angry with Norte Energia [the company in charge of the Belo Monte dam project] and then kept saying that no one liked it and such.’ It is good to go there to look, to see and say, ‘See, [Maria Das Graças] wasn’t lying, look at the impact that the Norte Energia caused.’ (…)
According to them [Norte Energia] everything has improved here in our region after the dam, it’s all beautiful. [pause] Our story, the story which we tell, is not the same as [theirs]. (…)”

October 15 2016

Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of Camila

Portrait of Camila

Camila’s feelings: loss and sorrow
“Object”: her parakeets
Location: the Inácio brook (which is located 50 yards from her place and will vanish into the water if the Panambi dam is built)

© Camila Grzeca and Marilene Ribeiro 2016



“Ah [sarcastic tone], they say: ‘we’re going to replant, it’s all going to be fine.’ But how long will it take for the tree to grow to the same size it was when they cut it down to build the [Panambi hydroelectric] plant? They don’t talk about that value, they don’t even mention it. That’s how it starts! The animals’ habitat will be affected; how long will it take them to adapt to a new one? But many won’t even make it that far, they’ll stay where they are and die there. There’s all of that to think about! (…) Nature [pause] Will what God has given us be destroyed? ‘To g-e-n-e-r-a-t-e energy!’ [sarcastic tone] But there’s other ways of generating energy. Why don’t they work on those instead? They want everything the easiest, most practical, way for them. They don’t give a thought to the environment or the local population. That’s what I think, you know? That’s it.”

February 24 2016

Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of Claudinei

Portrait of Claudinei Claudinei

Claudinei’s feelings: sorrow and loss
Object: fish Location: his workspace

© Claudinei Zuehl and Marilene Ribeiro 2016

Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Seloni_sets up the stage for the shoot

Seloni_sets up the stage for the shoot
© Claudinei Zuehl and Marilene Ribeiro 2016

Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Claudinei and his son in one of the rapids of the Uruguay River

Claudinei and his son in one of the rapids of the Uruguay River.



“We wonder how this area will look like [after the building of the Panambi dam], because it will be no longer a clear water, running free, like the water you see on these pictures I showed you – crystal clear, one can spot the rocks at the bottom, even children can play in this water, at the shallow parts of the river. It’s a pretty beautiful site.”
Marilene – “Do you think this might be gone [if the Panambi dam is built]?”
Claudinei – “Take it for sure. This will be erased from the map! (…)
We will see a green, viscous liquid instead. Imagine how sad people here will be about this. The types of fish we currently find here, they will all vanish. (…)
This river we currently see: forget about it! Bathing or going fishing: no more.”(…)
Marilene – “What do you not want to forget, if the Panambi dam happens to take place?”
Claudinei – “Me? The [Uruguay] River.”

February 05 2016

Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of Liane

Portrait of Liane

© Liane Goetz Mombach and Marilene Ribeiro 2016



Marilene – “I would like you to choose a thing to represent your pain, Liane, and also a place for your portrait.”
Liane – “It has to be close to the Uruguay River. Because you can recover your house, do it up again, but the river…you won’t ever get back. So it has to be somewhere close to the river. The way it is now, you won’t get it back.”
Marilene – “What do you mean, ‘the way it is now’?”
Liane – “If they build the [Panambi] dam, the Uruguay River is finished. I can’t even imagine what it’ll look like, with all the trees gone and all… now there are so many, it’s so beautiful. But when they build the [Panambi] dam …if they build it…we won’t even want to go there anymore. (…)
Here there are rapids, we can go and bathe in the river, but we won’t be able to anymore, because they’re going to clear all the vegetation. For us, it won’t ever be the same. And who knows where they’re going to put us, where we’re going to live! Who knows if we’ll still be able to come to the river and see what it’s like! Perhaps we will, but it’ll be with sadness, because our little corner of the world will have been abandoned, flooded, and all because of the dams.”

January 22 2016

Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of Geovan

Portrait of Geovan

© Geovan Carvalho Martins e Marilene Ribeiro 2016



“I see my portrait in the river… I belong there. Regarding the object you asked me to choose, I wish I could take the facade of my house… my place is under the waters of Belo Monte dam now.”

October 21 2016

Dead Water, Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of Maria Helena, Maria Dalva, and Larissa

Portrait of Maria Helena, Maria Dalva, and Larissa

Maria Helena’s and Maria Dalva’s feeling: sorrow
Object chosen by Maria Helena: statue of St. Joseph
Object chosen by Maria Dalva (Maria Helena’s daughter): one of the dead leaves (and also her wedding dress – she got married on Pivela’s Island)
Object chosen by Larissa (Maria Helena’s grandaughter): local soil
Location: dead plantation of açaí (acai berry) at their former backyard on Pivela’s Island (currently partially submerged by the reservoir of the Belo Monte dam)

© Maria Helena Almeida, Maria Dalva Almeida, Larissa Almeida, and Marilene Ribeiro 2016



Maria Helena has followed in her father’s footsteps: her family had hosted the festivities of the St. Joseph Day for about one century.
Every 19th of March inhabitants gathered in her family’s island for boat procession, baptism, and wedding services, and also to pray, sing, and dance.
Maria Helena recalls that her family provided home-made “fireworks” and a feast to guests. Locals also decorated the boats and the site with handcrafts. When the Belo Monte dam project started, dwellers who inhabited local islands (like Maria Helena’s family) had to move and, as Maria Helena states, this tradition faded.
Maria Helena comments she wished her granddaughter, Larissa, could carry on with this tradition as she herself has done since her father passed away.

Dead Water, Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Maria Helena and her family on one of the islands

Maria Helena (third left to right) and her family on one of the islands currently submerged due to the Belo Monte dam, Xingu River, 1984.

Original as photographic print (Retrieved from Maria Helena’s personal archive).

Dead Water, Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of Marinês Nicolli

Portrait of Marinês Nicolli

Marinês Nicolli’s feeling: sorrow
“Object”: her sons
Location: her bedroom/living room

© Marinês Nicolli dos Santos and Marilene Ribeiro 2016



“I’m concerned about the future of my sons. About their memories in future times. About the memories they won’t be able to have, because, when the Garabi dam works take place they won’t be entitled to follow in our footsteps, they won’t be entitled to live in this place, where we have lived, anymore.”

February 18 2016

Dead Water, Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, The View of the Sun

The View of the Sun Marinês Nicolli’s response to my question ‘What do you not want to lose [in case de Garabi dam takes place]?’
Instant film, February 18 2016

© Marinês Nicolli 2016

Dead Water, Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of João Evangelista

Portrait of João Evangelista

© João Evangelista do Espírito Santo and Marilene Ribeiro 2015



João Evangelista’s overwhelming feeling regarding the move from Alto do Melão village due to Sobradinho dam works was that of “longing”.
He said he missed the fertile soil that provided everything he and his family needed to eat throughout the year.
He chooses as his objects cassava and sweet potato, to represent all the vegetables they used to grow at the riverside.
He also chooses to be portrayed at his current house whose some parts came from his previous home in Alto do Melão. Alto do Melão village, along with many others, was submerged by the Sobradinho dam in 1978.
During the photo shoot, João Evangelista proposes different positions in which to present himself and the formerly mentioned blessed food provided by that “land”.

Dead Water, Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Drawing by João Evangelista

Drawing by João Evangelista

During my stay with João Evangelista, I noticed he appreciated drawing, then I asked him if he could draw some of the villages that were submerged by the Sobradinho dam.
He decided to show not only the dwellings, but also the local landscape. João Evangelista’s previous place of living, Alto do Melão, is depicted as the third village on the right column (top to bottom).

© João Evangelista do Espírito Santo 2015

Dead Water, Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of José Nunes

Portrait of José Nunes

© José Nunes de Oliveira e Marilene Ribeiro 2016



“What’s it like today, the island where we used to live? The one with all the trees, the rubber trees? It’s deserted. They [employees of Norte Energia, the company in charge of the Belo Monte dam project] chopped down the trees and buried everything. What they didn’t bury, they burnt. When I pass in the boat, I see it. It’s just a desert.”

October 14 2016

Dead Water, Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Portrait of Nelci

Portrait of Nelci

© Nelci Bárbaro and Marilene Ribeiro 2016



Marilene – “How do you feel about Garabi dam, Nelci?”
Nelci – “Hard to tell… Really angry! I couldn’t imagine what I would be capable of doing. If they decide to run the dam works close to here, I tell you: they won’t build this dam because what they put up on the daylight I would put down by the night.”
Marilene – “Is there anything that could represent this anger?”
Nelci [staring at me] – “Fire!”
Marilene – “How would you like to be portrayed with this fire to tell your story?”

February 11 2016

Dead Water, Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, Drowned Island

Drowned Island

© Marilene Ribeiro 2016



Main reservoir of the Belo Monte dam, Xingu River, November 02 2016.

Maria Rosa – “They never tell the truth! We’re at the centre of it, we see what’s really going on, but it never gets out. They cover it up! It’s only the good stuff that gets reported. We see it whenever it’s on [popular TV current affairs programme] Fantástico – they only show the housing they built, just the good stuff!”
Marilene – “From your point of view, what is the truth? For you.”
Maria Rosa – “The truth would be to show everything that people are going through here: poverty, suffering. What they show doesn’t exist! The area they cleared, which they left just the way they wanted, they don’t show! … We see that nature…so many islands…the boy just told me that the islands are dying!”

November 01 2016

Costs . short film

(Brazil/UK, 20 min., colour – video below)

Synopsis
As a response to the current investment in large hydroelectric dams as a ground to Brazil’s ‘sustainable’ economic growth, Costs addresses the impacts these endeavours have caused on both the environment and people. Director Marilene Ribeiro surveys three hydro schemes that happen at different times in Brazil (past – the Sobradinho dam, present – the Belo Monte dam, and future – the Garambi-Panambi dam complex). The video engages with situations in which the impacts caused by dams emerge in a more sensitive way; for example, when participants of her project (individuals who have been affected by these ventures) draw,
sing, or speak about their feelings and their interpretations of their lived experience.

“A very important and powerful film as it engages with an absolutely urgent issue in a committed and touching way. It is delicate and it resonates its message deep inside us.”

Carlos Falci – Brazilian artist and researcher.

Watch the film on Vimeo

Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, poster of short film Costs

Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, overview of physical exhibition #1
Dead Water . Overview of physical exhibition #1
Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, detail of objects displayed on plinths during physical exhibition #2
Detail of objects displayed on plinths #2
Dead Water, image of video footage during exhibition by participant Maria Rosa Pessoa Piedade during physical exhibition
Footage by participant Maria Rosa Pessoa Piedade
Dead Water by Participants & Marilene Ribeiro, overview of physical exhibition #2
Dead Water . Overview of physical exhibition #2

take action

Marilene invites you to check out and support the following:

‘Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens – MAB’ (National Movement of People Affected
by Dams): https://mab.org.br
‘Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre’: https://xinguvivo.org.br
‘Instituto Socioambiental’: https://www.socioambiental.org
‘Dams in Amazonia’ – Collective initiative by Fundación Proteger, International Rivers, and
ECOA that researches and provides up-to-date information on hydropower schemes in the
Amazon: http://dams-info.org
‘A Government Against the Environment’ – Collective initiative that aims to record and
publicise actions Jair Bolsonaro’s administration has threatened environmental welfare in
Brazil: https://governmentofdestruction.org

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