STORIES

Winds of Yawanawá

What happens when AI art meets indigenous wisdom from the Amazon rainforest? In honor of their unprecedented art collaboration at Scorpios, artist Refik Anadol and Chief Nixiwaka Yawanawá sat down for an insightful conversation about their time together in the Brazilian Amazon, while considering how the Yawanawá’s rich culture can guide humanity forward.

refik anadol scorpios

Vivid colors evoke the vibrancy of the Amazon rainforest and the Yawanawá community’s cultural connection with the forest, in the collaborative artwork Winds of Yawanawá.

A powerful gust from the Amazon rainforest swept through Scorpios Mykonos this summer, with the launch of “Winds of Yawanawá” — a collaborative digital artwork by renowned new media artist Refik Anadol and the Yawanawá community, indigenous to the Brazilian Amazon. On a screen backdropped by the setting sun, onlookers watched as bold, hypnotic colors softly billowed into distinctive patterns, all set to the haunting tones of indigenous Yawanawá songs. The mesmerizing visuals reflect the essence of the Yawanawá’s deep connection with the forest and build on the community’s cultural memory to immerse viewers in the Amazon rainforest — and yet they also contain unseen layers of data. The data sculpture triptych and the collection of 1000 unique, evolving data paintings incorporate the works of young Yawanawá artists while harnessing real-time weather data from the communities of Aldeia Sagrada and Nova Esperançay in the Amazon rainforest.

“Winds of Yawanawá” launched the inaugural edition of Encounters — Scorpios’ new platform for cultural experimentation — in a summer-long celebration of digital art and music titled In Resonance. As the headliner, Refik Anadol’s work needs little introduction. He is an award-winning Turkish-American media artist, director, and pioneer in the aesthetics of machine intelligence, who “paints” with data to create large-scale, immersive digital artworks.

The Yawanawá people are the custodians of thousands of acres of Amazon rainforest — one of the Earth’s most vital ecosystems. Their population numbers just over 1200. Despite continuous challenges from outsiders, the Yawanawá have maintained their traditional way of life, and their culture is deeply connected to the natural world through ancestral wisdom, plant medicine, and environmental stewardship. As a testament to the appeal of “Winds of Yawanawá,” pre-sales of the collection sold out within hours and the project raised $1.5m to support long-term initiatives to protect Yawanawá heritage. The artwork was commissioned by the Impact One for Scorpios, with the organization and Anadol waiving their full share of the revenues.

To launch their co-created artwork, Yawanawá chiefs Nixiwaka and Isku Kua came to Scorpios Mykonos accompanied by family members, along with Anadol and his wife and partner, Efsun Erkilic, for a day of Yawanawá musical performance, prayers, and a panel discussion that featured Anadol, the Yawanawá chiefs, and Scorpios founder Thomas Heyne, among others. Anadol and Chief Nixiwaka Yawanawá took the opportunity to sit down together in Mykonos and discuss their historic collaboration with Scorpios.

REFIK ANADOL

“I’VE DOWNLOADED MORE THAN 4 BILLION IMAGES AND HAVE WORKED WITH INTEL AND GOOGLE, BUT I NEVER BEEN SO INSPIRED BY SOMETHING I DEEPLY RESPECT, LIKE I WAS WITH THE YAWANAWÁ.”

Refik, what spurred your interest in the Yawanawá tribe and inspired this body of work?

Refik Anadol
I’m very grateful to be here with Chief Nixiwaka. This collaboration, for me and my studio, is one of the most meaningful, most purposeful and hopefully most impactful of all the projects we’ve ever done. The reason I’ve been very inspired and hold so much respect for the Yawanawá culture and family, is that we were able to go to their sacred village last year and live with their wonderful family. They opened their hearts, their homes and shared their food — that was how we connected. Together with my wife and partner Efsun and the entire Impact One team, we had the best experience of our lives thanks to them opening their culture and showing us their rich world. I’ve download more than four billion images and have worked with Intel and Google, but I never been so inspired by something I deeply respect, like I was with the Yawanawá.


Nixiwaka, what was it like to have Refik and his wife live with you and experience your way of life in order to then create “Winds of Yawanawá”?

Chief Nixiwaka Yawanawá
The collaboration with artists Refik and Efsun is historic. Not only because it's the Yawanawá people, but it's the first time in the world that I see an artist of Refik's level making a sincere, honest and respectful partnership with indigenous peoples. This has a positive impact on the preservation of the tropical forests of this planet, especially the Amazon rainforest. I was scared when artists like Refik arrived, companies like Mikolaj’s (Sekutowicz, founder and CEO of Impact One). Because generally people have always taken the opportunity to exploit the original peoples and the forest. But today we are writing a new history for humanity. A sincere, honest partnership and collaboration, that shows that we are living in another time — a time when science and technology, can strengthen native peoples and the environment. I am very positive about what is happening in the world right now, and I am happy to be here in Greece, in the cradle of civilization of Western man, speaking with you.

refik anadol winds of yawanawa

The Yawanawá people live in villages along the Gregório river in the Brazilian state of Acre, where they are custodians of thousands of acres of rainforest. The Amazon rainforest is the most biologically diverse place on the planet and the Yawanawá territory has maintained 95% of its biodiversity, thanks to conservation and education.

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refik anadol scorpios winds of yawanawa

“THIS IS AN APPRECIATION OF ANCESTRAL KNOWLEDGE. THIS STRENGTHENS US AS INDIGENOUS PEOPLE AND WILL HELP US PRESERVE OUR CULTURE AND MAINTAIN OUR TRADITIONS. NOW THAT’S TRUE COLLABORATION.”

Refik, you were heavily inspired by the Yawanawá’s cultural history, folk music, and artworks — can you tell us how you embraced all of these aspects and integrated them into your creative process?

Refik Anadol
I believe art should be for anyone of any age and any background. One of the most powerful moments when visiting the village was asking the young artists their dreams. We had a beautiful time visiting the village, with the ceremonies, spiritual gatherings, and prayers. And there was a moment where we had free time and that’s when we asked what the young people are doing. When we saw these beautiful works from the young Yawanawá artists, it was amazing — you can see these very unique patterns, connections and beautiful colors. We just thought, it’s our duty to shine the light on this beautiful culture and co-create something together. To bring this culture to the world and to humanity. To say that these people who are protecting our lungs — the rainforest — and who are protecting their culture, they are the core inspiration.


Can you tell us about “Winds of Yawanawá”?

Refik Anadol
The artwork you are seeing here, I literally saw this in a vision, in the river next to the village. We had this special bath in the river after the ceremonies. We were talking about this big screen and dreaming of all these young Yawanawá artists, their paintings, with the wind. The wind is very powerful in the rainforest. The rain, the temperature. So I thought, “What happens if we imagine the future of art?” If we take this data from the weather, take beautiful cultural images, and use AI to do something beautiful and purposeful?

refik anadol scorpios

refik anadol scorpios

How did you use AI to enhance the entire process and create the final product?

Refik Anadol
We have two types of data sets here. One is in the sacred village, where we put a weather station that gets the wind data, temperature, humidity and rain. It’s a live data streaming from the Amazon to the cloud, from cloud to the computer. The second part; Muca and Nawa, these extremely talented young artists wanted to participate with their music, their prayers, their paintings and sculptures. They drew 12 very unique paintings and we took these paintings, their colors, forms, and patterns, and let AI to learn from this data. We fine-tuned an AI model to learn from the Yawanawá culture, so it can dream new versions.

“People think ‘AI can take over the world, AI can create problems.’ But actually, AI can also be used to connect cultures and create visibility.”

Nixiwaka, what are your thoughts on AI being integrated with your artworks?

Chief Nixiwaka Yawanawá
I am very happy. I am a leader and politician, from the Amazon in Brazil. Forty years ago, I pledged my life to defend the rights of indigenous peoples and the Amazon rainforest. I have never seen a partnership in such a transparent, healthy, respectful way that values the ancestral knowledge of the original peoples, of the indigenous peoples.  I’m here today with Nawashahu’s drawings, together with my daughters Nawashahu and Mukashahu and we’re presenting this collaboration. This is an appreciation of ancestral knowledge. This strengthens us as indigenous peoples and will hopefully help indigenous peoples preserve our culture and maintain our traditions. Now that's true collaboration. I am very happy that these drawings, these songs from my people, come from the female world, from female empowerment, from my daughters. This makes me believe that my spiritual world is feminine, that this moment is the time of spirituality, it is the time of feminine leadership.

refik anadol winds of yawanawa

Wind of Yawanawá is created from data of wind, temperature, humidity, and rain in the Amazon rainforest — as well as AI-generated artworks based on the paintings of two young Yawanawá artists.

What would you like people to take away from the experience of seeing the artwork?

Refik Anadol
I hope that people can respect and understand that even the most recent AI model can be much more powerful when we have a collaboration, like this one between the Yawanawá and cutting edge AI. Just as an example. So people think “AI can take over the world, AI can create negativity, AI can create problems.” But actually, AI can also be used to connect cultures and create visibility.

I wish everyone could experience the Yawanawá’s culture — live in their village and see, hear, eat, and listen together. There we see our very complex, personal egocentric world, versus a deep, diverse, communal togetherness. To me, this project has been all learning, every single step. There is no formula, there is no school, there is no workshop, there is no algorithm, nothing. It’s just created from scratch. And that’s where you learn true collaboration. ■

 

Watch the interview with Refik Anadol and Chief Nixiwaka Yawanawá on our YouTube channel