Sueli Maxakali

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Sueli Maxakali (1976, Santa Helena de Minas, Brazil) is a leader of the Tikmũ’ũn, better known as the Maxakali, an indigenous people from the region between what are now the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais, Bahia, and Espírito Santo. Forced to leave their ancestral land to survive the various aggressions that accumulated over the centuries to the point of leaving them at risk of extinction in the 1940s, the Tikmũ’ũn have maintained their language and culture and today are divided into communities distributed in the Vale do Mucuri, in Minas Gerais. Community life is largely organized around and based upon their relationship with a myriad of spirit-people from the Atlantic Forest, the Yãmĩyxop, and their respective sets of chants, which make up almost an index of all elements of Tikmũ’ũn life, such as plants, animals, places, and objects. Many of these chants are sung collectively, as the most fundamental way of relating to the Yãmĩyxop spirits, who are invited to visit the villages to sing, dance, and eat during the ritual. Often performed as a process of healing and transforming the world, the act of singing is practiced among the Tikmũ’ũn as an element that gives structure to life, because it is through chanting that memories are perpetuated and communities are formed. Every Tikmũ’ũn individual owns and is responsible for a part of the Yãmĩyxop chant repertoire. Together, all the chants compose the Tikmũ’ũn universe, which is made up of everything that this people see, feel and interact with, but also of the memories of plants and animals that no longer exist, or that remained in their original land, which the Tikmũ’ũn people were expelled from during the colonial war.

Besides being a leader, educator, and photographer, Sueli is a film director. Together with Isael Maxakali — her partner, who is also an artist, filmmaker, leader, and teacher — she has produced some of the most emblematic films in Contemporary Indigenous Art (to use Jaider Esbell’s definition), aiming to record and spread ancestral rituals and traditions while, at the same time, transcending, with her poetry, engagement in the fight for the rights of original peoples. In the 34th Bienal, the artist presented the installation Kumxop Koxuk Yõg [The Spirits of My Daughters], a collection of objects, masks, and dresses that refer to the mythical universe of the Yãmĩyhex — spirit women. All the work for the exhibition was made with women and girls in the community who take care of each one of these Yãmĩy spirits.


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