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Queen Mary research featured as an impact case study by UK Research and Innovation

Research from Queen Mary University of London’s People’s Palace Projects has been selected as a case study by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to showcase the impact of its Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

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Takumã Kuikuro is an award-winning indigenous filmmaker
Takumã Kuikuro is an award-winning indigenous filmmaker

The research led by People’s Palace Projects, The Art of Cultural Exchange: Translation and Transformation between the UK and Brazil 2014-16, formed the basis of major work which supported Brazil’s indigenous communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund that supports cutting-edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries.

Existential threat to Brazil’s indigenous people

Covid-19 has brought an existential threat to Brazilian indigenous people. They need support to isolate and protect themselves. Through the unique collaboration between People’s Palace Projects (PPP) and the Kuikuro Indigenous Association of the Upper Xingu (AIKAX), food and medical equipment was provided in a safe, sustainable and culturally sensitive manner to the 650 people of the Kuikuro tribe in the Xingu Indigenous Territories of Brazil.

The AIKAX, with PPP's guidance, took early, decisive action to prevent Covid-19 entering Kuikuro villages, using storytelling to raise money from international audiences. Together they made it possible for the community to remain in isolation and avoid exposure to external contamination from outside the Xingu that would threaten the Kuikuro.

Local response to a global issue

When Brazil’s first Covid-19 death was confirmed in March 2020, the Kuikuro built an isolation house in their Ipatse Village (400 inhabitants) so those who travelled for work or to buy supplies could quarantine on their return.

People’s Palace Projects, in collaboration with theatre company Complicité, supported indigenous filmaker Takumã Kuikuro to produce short videos to raise awareness about the pandemic in the Xingu. These videos were made available alongside the streaming of the play The Encounter, which was developed through research originally undertaken by People’s Palace Projects Director Professor Paul Heritage and Takumã Kuikuro. PPP then worked with a global network of artists, academics, public health and community development experts to raise a further $20,000.

The money provided over a tonne of food, 8,300 pieces of personal protective equipment, 5,000 medicine units, fishing equipment and fuel. The researchers hired two health professionals to reside in the Ipatse Village, plus oxygen cylinders and seven hospital beds (also providing emergency aid to other health posts in the Upper Xingu).

Of the 881 indigenous people that have died due to Covid-19 in Brazil, none are from the Kuikuro. The project has recently been expanded to five other villages in the Xingu, which have subsequently not registered any Covid-19 deaths.

New skills for future generations

The partnership has built technical and research capacity, as well as project management skills, with a new generation of Kuikuro leaders. Findings and learning from this research have been shared with specialist academic audiences, with activists as well as with the general public in Rio de Janeiro, London, New York and Madrid.

Takumã Kuikuro, indigenous filmmaker said: “When we first saw that this disease was getting close to the Xingu, we cut all physical contact with the closest towns and the other villages. This has only been possible with the support of People’s Palace Projects, a cultural partner for the past six years. We used to do art exchanges, with foreign artists coming to our village and our artists going to London. Now, this partnership has become entirely dedicated to help us navigate the pandemic.”

Professor Paul Heritage, Professor of Drama and Director of People’s Palace Projects said: “This pandemic has been a wakeup call to us, as researchers, to reflect on our extended responsibility working with indigenous people and other communities in adverse situations. People’s Palace Projects’ response was a result of this trusted relationship we've nurtured with the Kuikuro and the partnership we've built together with Takumã Kuikuro and international artists and arts organisations.”

In 2021 People’s Palace Projects will exhibit audio-visual installations based on this research at the Venice Biennale of Architecture and ahead of COP26 at the Glasgow Science Centre.

About People’s Palace Projects

People’s Palace Projects was set up in Queen Mary’s School of English and Drama in 1996. For the past 20 years, its research, cultural exchange programmes and creative projects have sought to make a measurable impact on people’s lives in the UK, Latin America and further afield.

PPP's investigations on how people turn to the arts in times of adversity include researching the role of the arts in mental health and wellbeing as well as tackling the climate emergency and environmental disasters. PPP also promotes exchange between artists and indigenous people in the Amazon region as well as co-creating broader ways to measure the value of culture in society.

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