20 years after the brutal assassination of environmental activist Chico Mendes the legacy of his life is being celebrated in a cross cultural arts project connecting youth in Brazil and London. A theatre performance entitled Amazônia is currently running at the Young Vic in London. The show was conceived by Paul Heritage, of community arts group People's Palace Projects, through working closely with Chico Mendes's daughter Elenira, who has taken on her father's cause of protecting the Amazon rainforest. Last night she was in London to celebrate the memory of her father...Arts + Environmental Activism
Elenira attended an event hosted by the Royal Society of Arts, the overarching theme of which was the role of the arts in environmental activism. Alongside Elenira on the panel of speakers was Charlie Kronick, Senior Climate Advisor at Greenpeace, fresh from purchasing a field at Heathrow, opera composer Jonathan Dove, and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood who last year released a manifesto entitled Active Resistance to Propaganda.
The Chico Mendes Institute
Paul Heritage introduced the event by explaining how the current production of Amazônia in London was inspired by the activism of Chico Mendes over 20 years ago and the work being done by Elenira today. In 2006 she set up The Chico Mendes institute to educate young people in the Brazilian Amazon about the importance of preserving their natural habitat. The wonderful part of the story is how the powerful message from the Amazon has travelled to London and engaged urban youth in environmental activism through the arts.
Chico's inspires his daughter
Elenira told us that she was only four years old when her father died and it was not until 2005, when she was 20, that she felt able to take on her father's cause herself. Her motivation was a message she found on the back of an old photograph. "You are the vanguard of hope. Elenira - one day you will continue the fight that your father will not be able to win." This was the prophetic message written by her father Chico before he was assassinated on the doorstep of his own home on December 22nd 1988.
While the death of Chico Mendes is still a shocking tragedy and a terrible loss to his family and the wider world it is inspiring to know that 20 years on his ideals live on through his daughter and through the retelling of his life story, which, as Amazônia has shown, can be translated around the world. In the end Chico believed, as we do now, that his cause was globally important. He said, "At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realise I am fighting for humanity."