This Is My Home

Maria Rosa Pessoa Piedade and Marilene Ribeiro

“Despite all we have endured, we’re still standing and we’re gonna overcome this”

 
– Marilene Ribeiro 

In 2016, while I (Marilene Ribeiro) was undertaking a long-term visual storytelling project on the socioenvironmental impacts of hydro projects, I met Maria Rosa Pessoa Piedade and her family in Altamira city, Brazil. Like thousands of others, Maria Rosa and her husband Jaime had  been forced to move from their home because of the Belo Monte dam. During my stay with Maria Rosa, she and  Jaime detailed their memories and their thoughts concerning what they had witnessed since the Belo Monte dam project was announced. I asked Maria Rosa if she happened to have any image to show me which depicted the Xingu River, her former place of living, or the everyday life there before the dam. 

 
She nodded and said she had some images she recorded with her mobile. As I opened Maria Rosa’s files, I realized she had actually used image-making as a channel to pour her anguishes and thoughts. The images made by Rosa are altogether records, memories, catharsis, protest, indignation, and love letters addressed to her homeland – in other words, an imagery of what constitutes her self. Maria Rosa systematically documents not only the losses involved in the process of damming a river but also the inherent value of everything that hydropower projects usurp. The conflicts revealed by Maria Rosa in this video piece I have compiled here along with excerpts from our conversation resonate the feelings of oppression, anguish and violation exposed by every individual that has been affected by this so called “project for the development of the Amazon region”. I might describe Maria Rosa’s visceral labor in the videos she produces with her mobile as a sensitive record of the immateriality of the losses and of the magnitude of the impacts dams have caused worldwide.

This Is My Home. Video, Colour, 10 min., 2018, Brazil | UK

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.

As one of the last strongholds of free-flowing rivers on the planet as well as a remarkable site of precious underground minerals, the Amazon region has lately been the “stage” of mega development endeavours, like Belo Sun (which aims to be Brazil’s largest open-pit gold mine) and the Belo Monte hydro project (the world’s fifth biggest hydropower plant), which, as explained above, are interrelated.

At the same time, Maria Rosa does not let herself be defeated in this quite unfair conflict she has taken part in, as she highlights in her recording that is presented by the end of this 10-min video piece, “despite all we have endured, we’re still standing and we’re gonna overcome this”. As we have been in contact since our first encounter in 2016, she and her family have indeed managed to survive the dismantling the hydro project has subjected them and other thousands of families to. Nevertheless, many other families have not managed to rebuild their lives yet. More than ten years have passed by since riverside dwellers started this struggle in the Xingu river for their rights, their autonomy, their livelihood, their culture, their dignity, and Norte Energia (the public-private partnership in charge of the Bel Monte dam), the government, and society as a whole still owe this to these citizens. Up to date, riverside dwellers of the Xingu carry on fighting through many fronts in this exhausting, endless combat. One of these fronts has been the ‘Riverside Dweller Council’ (Conselho Ribeirinho) – a gathering of individuals from the riverside communities affected by Belo Monte as an initiative of the riverside dwellers themselves to discuss and organise their claims and proposals that can take them back to the river. Despite our neglect, despite what has been named “development”, they carry on demanding society another attitude before nature and traditional communities instead of this one which is rooted on selfishness, profit and exploitation.

This work is part of the long-term project Dead Water, funded by the CNPq and The Royal Photographic Society, and received vital support from the Brazilian Movement of People Affected by Dams – MAB.

Solidarity

Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens – MAB (Brazilian Movement of People Affected by Dams)

[Website]

Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre

[Website]

Conselho Ribeirinho (Partner of the Rede Xingu +)

[Website]

Instituto Socioambiental

[Website]

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

About Marilene Ribeiro

Marilene Ribeiro is a Brazilian visual artist and researcher whose practice is focused on interdisciplinary endeavours, bringing together photography, video, intervention, and collaboration. Her works are engaged in the political agency of photography and in the role of image-based media in society. Ribeiro's projects tackle the subjects of identity and contemporary issues, namely the environmental and the Human Rights agendas. She has been the most recent recipient of the PHotoESPAÑA Discoveries Award and has also been awarded the Royal Photographic Society Award, amongst others.

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