What It Looks Like When Street Art Hits the Amazon

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

Credit: 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
Credit: 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.

Credit: 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.

This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.

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