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Amazonian drag queen uses performance art to protect Brazil's rainforest

These are unprecedented times for the Amazon region. As record-breaking fires tear through the rainforest, one Brazilian biologist is spreading the word through art.

'When I dress like this and walk on the street, I want people to see the forest moving,' said Uýra Sodoma

Uýra Sodoma, the drag persona of Emerson Munduruku, in the Q studio in Toronto. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

These are unprecedented times for the Amazon region. As record-breaking fires tear through the rainforest, one Brazilian biologist is spreading the word through art.

It takes Emerson Munduruku hours to transform into the drag persona, Uýra Sodoma.

Painted green beneath a straw headpiece, Uýra paddles to remote villages along the Amazon river. Their goal? Teaching local children how to respect and protect the forest.

Recently, Uýra made their first international trip to Canada to attend the Arctic/Amazon symposium, an event that brings together Indigenous artists from both regions. 

Artist and activist Emerson Munduruku is pictured as they teach environmental conservation to children through their drag queen alter ego, Uýra Sodoma, at the Sustainable Reserve of Anavilhanas in the state of Amazonas in northern Brazil, on July 21, 2018. (Ricardo Oliveira, AFP/Getty Images)

"I worked in scientific research, but I had to move to art because we can reach out to more people," Uýra told Q host Tom Power. "It's a more important dialogue."

Uýra was born in 2016, when protesters across Brazil were calling for the impeachment of then-president Dilma Rousseff. The creative demonstrations got them thinking about how to share their work with a wider audience. 

"I've spent many years writing scientific articles for other countries, while my own community didn't have access to this knowledge" said Uýra. "Through art, when I walk around, I see peoples' reactions. It's already a way to start a dialogue."

Uýra Sodoma with Q host Tom Power and translator Jananda Lima. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

When asked about the fires burning through the Amazon, Uýra sighed. They trace the increase in fires this year to policies enacted by Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. 

"I feel angry. I feel sad, but at the same time I'm hopeful because that is my home," they said. "And I know that my home is capable of having strength to rebuild — to fight back." 


— Written and produced by Vanessa Greco

 

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