What It Looks Like When Street Art Hits the Amazon

Portraits projected onto trees show the inseparable identity of the rainforest and its people.

November 18, 2016

Philippe Echaroux

The Brazilian rainforest is an inextricable part of the Surui people’s past and present. The future of the tribe and the trees, however, depends on the rest of the world knowing it.

Outsiders first made contact with the Surui tribe in 1969. Soon after, the Surui lost about half of their population to diseases like tuberculosis and measles, along with much of their land and culture. The 1,300 or so members who remain have been fighting hard to protect their 250,000 hectares of healthy green amid a vast swath of deforested land. The Surui even became the first indigenous group to create a REDD+ project, a United Nations program that pays landowners to preserve forest. Even so, illegal logging and mining on the tribe’s territory is a growing—and violent—threat.

Photographer Philippe Echaroux

Philippe Echaroux

  That's why Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui asked French photographer Philippe Echaroux to help share his people's story. Echaroux traveled to Brazil last spring and took portraits of tribe members. He projected their faces onto the trees they depend on and then took more photographs. The results, which will be displayed in the exhibit “The Crying Forest” in Paris, is what Echaroux calls “the world’s first street art in the rainforest,” an unconventional and moving depiction of the intimate connection between the landscape and its people.

This isn’t the first time Chief Almir has used technology to protect the Surui’s traditional way of life. The tribe began working with Google Earth in 2007 to create a cultural map of their territory, cataloging biodiversity and historic events online for all to see. Google also trained tribe members to use Open Data Kit to record instances of illegal logging. The tool allows them to upload geo-located photos and videos of the destruction to Google Maps.

Philippe Echaroux

Chief Almir is passionate about keeping the Amazon healthy for the sake of his home—and for the rest of the world. Rainforests, after all, are the lungs of the planet, absorbing up to a fifth of humans’ fossil fuel emissions each year. “We care about the future—not only of our people, but of all mankind,” he has written on the tribe’s Portuguese-language website. “International communities need to truly unify and act quickly, because nature will not wait on human decisions.”

“The Crying Forest” will be on display at Paris’s Galerie Taglialatella through December 15. Check out a video about the project (in French) below.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

onEarth Story

Jair Bolsonaro says there’s too much “wealth underneath it” to leave the rainforest alone.

onEarth Story

Artist Mariko Mori plans large-scale installations that celebrate local ecology.

onEarth Story

A new documentary follows an indigenous community as its members risk everything to protect their homes in the Peruvian Amazon from industry.

onEarth Story

The fires are no accident. They were ignited by Brazilian ranchers who felt emboldened by their pro-deforestation president.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.