Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe’s drawings condense nature into a graceful, powerful essence. Hakihiiwe is an Indigenous Venezuelan artist who lives in Alto Orinoco. The subject of his drawings on handmade paper is the Amazon jungle where he lives, and its intricate and endangered ecosystem. Plants, insects, and other natural and supernatural phenomena appear in the artist’s succinct but sensitive works, which also pull from the visual traditions of the Yanomami people. With assured lines and a steady hand, Hakihiiwe draws from his community and his surroundings with piercing clarity.
The artist’s first solo exhibition in Spain, Watori at Ana Mas Projects in Barcelona, presents a selection of drawings on paper created between 2015 and 2020. The Yanomami word watori, which is also the title of one of the drawings in the show, translates to “wind” in English. The name hints at Hakihiiwe’s reverence for nature and at the delicate but decisive lines he employs in his elegant drawings.
Hakihiiwe has been working as an artist since the early 1990s, when he learned to craft paper from natural fibers with the Mexican artist Laura Anderson Barbata. “Before Laura came into my life, I didn’t paint,” Hakihiiwe told Hyperallergic by email. “I worked in the orchard, I hunted, I fished, I made arrows and bows and other tools.” However, earlier in life, the artist had made drawings in school, and had grown up observing the creative work of his mother, a master basket weaver and body painter.
Anderson Barbata’s Yanomami Paper Project presented an opportunity for Hakihiiwe to preserve and express his experience. “When I took part in the course Laura gave on paper, I thought it was a good idea to use the paper we used to make at that time to transfer the designs that my mom told me they used to do before and that were now being lost.”
Hakihiiwe’s mother remains his most important influence. She taught him about the paints and designs that the Yanomami use in ceremonies and to decorate baskets. She also inspired Hakihiiwe’s focus on his community and his environment. “I always say that she was the first one who taught me,” the artist told Hyperallergic. “I also know other artists but I don’t paint the things I see outside my community or jungle.” Despite his work’s apparent abstraction, Hakihiiwe insists that “I don’t invent anything, everything I do is my jungle and what is there.”
The jungle also provided Hakihiiwe’s original art materials. His first works were created using natural inks made from local plants painted on papers made from the yagrumo tree, banana, and pineapple fibers. Because of the difficulties in attaining these natural materials and their impermanence, the artist now uses acrylic and watercolor paints on cotton, mulberry, and cane fiber papers, and has also worked with monotype printmaking. Today, Hakihiiwe’s art practice is split between the pencil drawings he makes in notebooks at home and the larger works he produces while staying periodically in Caracas.
In the capital city, Hakihiiwe also observes the social changes that impact the country at large. When asked how Venezuela’s political crisis and COVID-19 have affected his community’s daily life, Hakihiiwe responded:
I live deep in the jungle, in my community politics has not yet arrived, but of course there are many things that affect me when I travel outside the community or when I go to Caracas. It has always been difficult for us to travel outside our community and to understand the life of the nape (criollos). Everything changes so fast. I just wish that our territory, our culture and our way of life would be respected, that the mines and pollution would not arrive and that we would have a school, radio and hospital in our community again so that we can be well.
By focusing on what is precious to him, the artist’s work conveys his hopes for his threatened community’s future. For now, Hakihiiwe’s goal is to “continue to paint and show more of what we Yanomami are: how we live, what we see, and that is important to me.”