MERILENE RIBEIRO, SHORTLISTED 3RD BIENNIAL’S GRANT 

Dead Water

In China, India, Ghana, and Brazil, to name but a few, decision makers and the dam industry have imposed hydropower plants upon traditional

communities that have lived by the riverside for generations. This conflict has been obscured, yet it takes place everyday, veiled by the widely

spread propaganda representing hydroelectricity as the ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ energy source that may save us from global warming. These

infrastructure projects have not only disrupted, but actually destroyed much of our freshwater living systems. Up until now, the process of

building dams has impoverished over 400 million people and fragmented virtually all major river basins in the world. The main argument in

defence of hydropower has been that the benefits of the dams outweigh their costs. My question has always been: “how have these ‘costs’

been assessed?”

Dead Water is my response to this scenario and I use Brazil (my home country) as a window on this contemporary and contentious, international

issue.

It made sense to me to explore the act of damming a river through the experiences of those who I consider the most appropriate ones to speak

about this subject: riverside dwellers, then I looked for and invited individuals who were affected by the construction of the Sobradinho dam

(built forty years ago, on the São Francisco River, North-eastern Brazil) and Belo Monte dam (still under construction, on the Xingu River, Northern

Brazil), and also dwellers who will be relocated due to the Garabi-Panambi dam complex (originally planned to take place in near future, on

the Uruguay River, Southern Brazil) to sit for a portrait. For this photo shoot I asked these (altogether 97) sitters to choose a relevant place, as well

as to select an object that could represent the feeling(s) they had with regard to the dam project. During the shoot, I encouraged participants

to come up with their own ideas for their own portrait and they could also check and modify the ‘framed scene’ until they considered the

image they saw on the display of the digital camera that I would operate tallied with what they wanted to present to the viewers. At the same

time, by gathering further information with these participants, sentimental landscapes of their loss were reconstructed and presented as

storyboard-like panels (see images submitted).

Dead Water tells the story of dams and hydropower from the perspectives of the people who have been affected by these ventures stitched

together with my own background as a trained photographer, ecologist, and individual. It engages with the nature and magnitude of the

intangible costs of dams and hydropower.

Please also find a preliminary online slideshow on this project at:

www.marileneribeiro.com/deadwater