Maria Thereza Alves

Recipes for Survival
Seeing you

Uncle A.


Uncle A., 2012

Photo and Text

This was my first commissioned work. I was an art student at the Cooper Union in New York and I was back home visiting my family. During the winter months back home, there is no work and not much food and no money because most are subsistent farmers. Men and women try to find whatever temporary jobs that are possible before the spring planting. This usually means going to work in the cities or on far away plantations and estates. Uncle A. and a few of my cousins and other men of the village found a job removing tree trunks from trees that had been purposely burnt on land owned by a timber company. The men were afraid of being made into slaves, a common practice in Brazil. In 2008, 4600 slaves were freed by the newly created Anti-Slavery task force of the federal government.

Uncle A. asked me to come along and say to the manager that I was a journalist. Uncle A. asked me to take as many photos that I could of all the men working there. So that if they were made into slaves, I could prove they had been there. I could prove that they existed. This had been an indigenous forest, it was burnt down by the company, which then received money from the federal government for “re-forestation” and would be planting eucalyptus which very rapidly destroys the soil in Brazil, turning it sooner or later into desert. This process with different variations goes on continuously in Brazil. The tropical forest of the Amazon used to cross the northeast all the way to the Atlantic coast.

also part of: