Xapiri: Capturing the “spirit” of the Amazon and its communities
Xapiri, a recently launched gallery and website, is setting out to spread the “spirit” of the Amazon and its people’s by educating nations further afield on the heritage of these indigenous tribes and their artisan skills.
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and the ancestral home to one million Indians. There are approximately 400 tribes with their own language, culture and identity.
Through commissioning, showing and selling the art of some of these tribes, Xapiri are aiming to assist with the survival of the indigenous communities of the Amazon who fight a daily battle to maintain their threatened culture.
Among the pieces of art that you will find on sale at Xapiri include wood-carved animal figures made by the Guarani tribe in a soft wood using a technique of burning the wood to develop decorative black tones; Assurini geometric benches which are typically stylization of nature, as well as representations of supernatural beings; a Tamoko Mask used by the Wayana-Aparai in rituals made from koala oil and palm-frond mantles; traditional indigenous bowls made from gourds; woven bags made of pique fibre; and a Wayana-Aparai Roof Circle, made from a disc of silk-cotton wood with painted design in earth dyes or enamel paints, which protects the village from spirit attacks.
Many of the items sold on the Xapiri website are rare and exclusive – artefacts that collectors would find of interest. For example, just a few Tamoko masks of the type that Xapiri sell are outside of Brazil. A Tamoko mask can be seen in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam and is the lead piece in a stunning exhibition of Amazonian artefacts.
Xapiri – the sacred word the Yanomami people of Brazil & Venezuela use for “spirit” – took its humble beginnings from two UK-based friends, Jack Wheeler and Gareth Evans, who spent five years travelling around South America together.
The pair had developed an empathic awareness of the indigenous communities in the Amazon region whilst travelling around the region. The need and desire to support these communities through their art, and make its presence known to the far-flung continent of Europe, was the direction that the travelling pair would follow.
Although they went on their journeys without a vision for setting up a business together, it was a return trip to the region that embedded the Xapiri seed.
Jack Wheeler explained: “There was never an intention to set up an exact project such as Xapiri but we always thought that these travels in South America would inspire an idea to bring back to Europe.”
Having spent most of their initial South American journey in the Andes mountains, it was only on their most recent trip to Venezuela and Brazil in 2014 when they truly discovered the Amazon region and its people.
Privileged to have met with highly-skilled artisans from indigenous communities who were creating marvellous artefacts using techniques passed down from centuries-old traditions, Jack Wheeler and Gareth Evans were enamoured by what they saw being produced from this Amazonian hot-bed of creativity.
“The communities are welcoming and friendly, with an inherent passion for their artisan culture,” Jack Wheeler said. “The craft they produce is beautiful, handmade and always unique; this is the original art produced by the first inhabitants of the continent and is an important symbol of indigenous culture.”
It was a meeting with an art gallery curator in the south-eastern Brazilian coastal colonial town of Paraty which saw the Xapiri project really start take flight. The pair was introduced to Paraty local Nina Taterka known for her work with indigenous people over 15 years. She also runs the ‘Armazem Paraty’ gallery, in the heart of the historic centre, which has a selection of over 500 items from more than 40 ethnic groups.
“It is through Nina that we were able to connect with the 20 or so ethnic groups Xapiri is working with now,” Jack Wheeler said. “It was a feeling that this art did not have an audience or appreciation outside its remote land that inspired us to create a platform for their work.”
A far cry from the work that they were doing at home – Jack left school to work for a bank then set up a networking community before his travels, while Gareth was studying economics in Manchester prior to that – the pair are living proof that it does not take an “art background” nor a “plan” to embark on what is destiny or what is the souls’ chosen path. “Quite how this has happened we do not know, but it felt right!” Jack Wheeler said.
All the artifacts that Xapiri showcase and sell are produced so close to nature, inspired and interlinked with the rainforest the indigenous people live in. “Always original and often with a meaningful history behind each item, this art gives a special insight to these fascinating cultures,” Jack Wheeler described. “The art is always developing with changes in time and also differs so much from each ethnic group! The Amazon is an awe-inspiring region and we believe the people who know this land can offer the world great wisdom in our search for a sustainable world.”
With so many issues facing the indigenous communities of the Amazon – including the threat of extinction, mining, agriculture, deforestation and dams – the Xapiri duo “truly believe the art can help provide a sustainable future”.
“Sustainability is a key word of course,” Jack Wheeler said. “Not only for the art but for the Amazon Rainforest as the bigger picture.”
As a company, Xapiri endeavour to trade as fairly as possible while supporting the indigenous communities it works with. “We buy directly from the communities and pay a high price up front for all items while focusing on product authenticity,” Jack Wheeler added. “This is fair trade at its simplest but also most effective. By creating demand for the indigenous art, this trade can play an important role in a sustainable economy.”
Currently the Xapiri offering includes an art gallery in Birmingham, UK and a website selling indigenous artefacts internationally. With the current trend in pop up stores, the Xapiri duo are hoping to utilise this format in an effort to spread the word about Xapiri and the indigenous art that it provides a platform for. The pair is planning to open up pop up stores in London and other UK cities.
The website is also a detailed educational resource on Indian culture where art, information, photography and media is available. “To our knowledge, this is the first time such an important collection of artefacts and information is made available in Europe,” according to the Xapiri website.
In the near future, Xapiri will continue to support the indigenous communities with social projects when there are particular needs. The pair is currently in talks about re-igniting a lost ritual deep in the Brazilian jungle, as well as hosting photography exhibitions in the UK.
Keeping the legacy of these Amazonian indigenous tribes bubbling in the European hemisphere is certainly on Xapiri’s agenda. But the company plans to do it in more ways than one. Xapiri are also aiming to become a “voice” for the Amazonian communities that the company is so passionate about.
“The vision for Xapiri is not solely to be an art gallery but also for a media platform where information is shared and where messages can spread from the troubled Amazon region to Europe and beyond,” Jack Wheeler added. “Our aim is to focus on the Amazon and some of the 400 different ethnic groups there. It is important for Xapiri to become experts in these cultures and this means a focus on the Amazon region.
“Long term, the vision is to have galleries/cafes across Europe allowing more exposure for the messages and art to be spread.”