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Lynette Wallworth: Awavena

Hushuhu, the first woman shaman of the Yawanawá stands on a wooden bridge crossing a river The water is brown and she is holding a large white and black feather.

Welcome to the Barbican and this production of Awavena. We’re delighted to once again be collaborating with award-winning Australian artist Lynette Wallworth to bring her innovative VR work to London. Using cutting-edge technology, Lynette introduces us to Hushahu, the first woman shaman of the Yawanawá people, who shows us what happens when traditional gender roles are uprooted and power is shifted. As we ourselves challenge outdated ideas of gender roles, Awavena is a message from the Yawanawá about the need for change and how this can benefit everyone. Connecting us to people living in the Amazon, it is one of a number of works across the art forms to have been seen at the Barbican that foregrounds Indigenous peoples and raises awareness of their experiences.

Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre and Dance, Barbican

Hello, welcome to the Awavena experience. Awavena is a window for you to travel to our home in the Amazon and experience the medicine at the heart of the Amazon, to know more about the Yawanawá indigenous people – our cosmology, our spirituality and our connection with nature. Awavena allows you to live something of this experience without leaving your own homes, where you live.

Thank you for watching and appreciating a little bit of our Yawanawá world.

Chief Tashka Yawanawá

About the show

Emmy Award-winning Lynette Wallworth’s stunning 360° VR experience uses cutting edge technology to connect you with an Amazonian people who have ascended from the edge of extinction.

Through a VR headset, you’ll be transported into Mutum village where Hushahu, the first woman shaman of the Yawanawá will share her story with you. For the Yawanawá, ‘medicine’ has the power to transport you in a vision to a place you have never been and here they use Virtual Reality as medicine, to open a portal to another way of knowing.

Awavena is a collaboration between a community and award-winning artist Lynette Wallworth, melding groundbreaking technology and transcendent experience so that a vision can be shared and a story, that has resonances with our own world, can be told. 

Winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding New Approaches to Documentary.

Meet the artist

Lynette Wallworth talks about the making and experience of Awavena

Tell us about the premise of Awavena
Awavena is a virtual reality experience made at the invitation of the Yawanawá people that tells the story of Hushahu, their first woman shaman.

How did you come to work with the Yawanawá people?
The work started as an invitation from Tashka, the chief of the Yawanawá, who saw Collisions my previous VR work about Aboriginal elder Nyarri Morgan who saw a British atomic test in the Australian outback. Tashka had an instant response to how this immersive technology, VR, could be applied. He said “Okay, I can see how we could use this tool to send a message out. My friend, you’re going to have to come to the Amazon.” And that was it.

The very first thought from that moment was about their old shaman Tatá who had lived through slavery, and survived the period of the missionaries, and who had trained the very first woman shaman of the Yawanawá. So it’s the story of a woman shaman but it’s also marriage of technologies. Our technology carried into their community. So they can use their technology which is a visioning technology – the ayahuasca ceremony – to send out this message about the transformation of their culture – when a woman was allowed to become a shaman. It’s a perfect combination of story and technology.

Your work focuses on the connections between communities and their environments. How do VR and immersive storytelling technologies engage with these topics in ways that differ from traditional forms of film and storytelling?
I have worked in many different forms, from feature documentary, to Fulldome films, to interactive installations and many of these works reflect in some way on different communities. I always select the medium that I believe matches the story and with the two VR works I have done with remote Indigenous communities the story itself is essentially attached to place. What that means is that it would be impossible to convey the world view that sits at the heart of the story without giving a sense of its connection to country. The capacity of VR to situate the viewer within ‘place’ is extremely powerful. In VR the viewer is a participant and can be directly addressed and in Awavena they are. There are moments when Hushahu uses the compelling intimacy offered by the form to look into our eyes and offer us her perspective. When we arrived in the village for example, the Yawanawá took us to an incredibly beautiful long bridge. It’s a physical structure they have built to represent the movement between ordinary reality and transcendent reality. You cross over this bridge to go to ritual. In Awavena, Hushahu turns to look directly at the viewer before she moves across this bridge. So the viewer is not just ‘landing’ inside a world that they do not belong to, they are being guided by Hushahu into and through her world. She is sharing her story from her own homeland, where we temporarily feel ourselves to be. There is, I think, no more powerful way to combine story and place than in VR.

Awavena engages with the idea of virtual reality as a form of medicine. Can you tell us more about this?
The idea for creating this work came from Tashka, Chief of the Yawanawá who saw Collisions and had an instant understanding of how VR could help mirror Yawanawá visioning practices. He said “It acts like medicine. It opens a portal, it carries you without your body to a place you have never been, it intensifies colour and sound, you meet the Elders, you are given a message and then you return to your reality. We can use this.” So that was the goal of the work, to mirror in some way a Yawanawá sense of reality as informed by visioning.

What interests me in this use of the technology is that it is being adapted to show other world views, other ways of being. For example, when I had conversations with Tashka and Hushahu about the work and what it means we had to find new ways of talking about the form because for the Yawanawá what was created is not a film, it is a ‘transmission’. There is an intention in the creating and gifting of this work that does not fit inside conventional notions of making a film. From the Yawanawá perspective VR technology is a lesser form of visioning tool but it has something valuable to offer, through it this ‘transmission’ can travel and can be shared. Hence exhibitions such as this one. 

What can audiences expect from interacting with Awavena?
Awavena is far more immersive work that Collisions which also showed at the Barbican. The VR technology has come so much further so you will really feel ‘present’ in Awavena. We move between live action scenes shot with 360° cameras to scenes generated with a portable LIDAR that scanned areas of the forest in incredible detail. We used these scans to create an ethereal looking forest that aligns with the Yawanawá vision state. We use the head tracking capability of VR headsets so the forest responds to you looking at it. We carried three canoe loads of technology into the forest to achieve some of these results including taking an extremely light sensitive Canon camera to capture imagery of fluorescent and bioluminescent insects. Dr Anya Salih travelled with us to locate these tiny creatures so we could film them. We carried all this amazing, magical content back to the Technicolor Experience Center in Culver City and worked with master technicians, developers, editors and animators to pull everything together in order to create a work that feels like the Yawanawá way of viewing the world. But underneath all those layers of technology there is a simple invitation, to understand the revolution that took place in this community, when the doors of leadership, in all its forms, from Shaman to Chief, were finally opened to women. In the end the technology is just a means. I hope you are left with the sensation that sits at the heart of this story, that cultures can change even their most entrenched views and transformation is possible.


Lynette Wallworth
Australian artist/filmmaker Lynette Wallworth is renowned for creating profoundly empathetic works while pushing the boundaries of emerging technologies. She works primarily in immersive environments including 360° film, virtual reality, interactive video, digital full dome and in feature documentary. Wallworth’s work has shown at the World Economic Forum, Davos, the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts, the American Museum of Natural History, New York, the Smithsonian, the Royal Observatory Greenwich for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad; Auckland Triennial; Adelaide Biennial; Brighton Festival and the Vienna Festival among many others as well as film festivals including – Sundance Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, London Film Festival, IDFA, CPHDOX, Sydney Film Festival, Adelaide Film Festival and Margaret Mead Film Festival.
Wallworth’s works include the interactive video installation Evolution of Fearlessness; the DOMIE Award-winning full-dome feature Coral, the AACTA Award-winning documentary Tender, the Emmy® Award-winning virtual reality narrative Collisions and XR work Awavena which premiered at Sundance Film Festival, was in competition at the Venice Film Festival 2018 and in September 2020 garnered Lynette her 2nd Emmy® Award for Outstanding New Approaches in Documentary. Wallworth has been awarded a UNESCO City of Film Award, the Byron Kennedy Award for Innovation and Excellence, and in 2016 was named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the year’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers. Currently she is an Artist in residence at the Australian Film Television and Radio School and at the Australian Human Rights Institute. She directs the New Narratives Lab for the World Economic Forum to generate opportunities for under-represented voices. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Virtual and Augmented Reality and she sits on the Sundance Institute’s Board of Trustees.

Hushahu Yawanawá
Hushahu Yawanawá is the first woman shaman of the Yawanawá. She is one of the first medicine women to emerge from the peoples of this region of the world. As shaman, she serves as spiritual leader to the people of the Yawanawá territory, and supports young Yawanawá and other non-native students in learning the spiritual traditions of the Yawanawá. On the path to becoming a shaman, she went through an intensive training process guided by her father, Raimundo Tuinkuru, and the late shaman elder Tatá Yawanawá. Today, she is among the most respected spiritual leaders of the Yawanawá people; her revolutionary work has drawn national attention in Brazil and internationally. Hushahu's calling and endurance to walk the healing path has opened the door for other Yawanawá women and women around the world.

Nicole Newnham
Nicole Newnham is an Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning documentary producer and director. She most recently co-directed and produced the Netflix documentary Crip Camp, which in addition to its Academy Award nomination, won the Sundance Audience Award, an Independent Spirit Award, a Grierson and a Peabody among others. Awavena is her second Emmy-winning collaboration with director Lynette Wallworth, with whom she produced the breakthrough VR film Collisions. Previously co-directed and produced The Revolutionary Optimists, winner of the Sundance Hilton Sustainability Award, and Sentenced Home, both of which aired on PBS’ series Independent Lens. She also co-directed the acclaimed documentary The Rape of Europa, about the Nazi war on European culture, which was nominated for a WGA award and shortlisted for the Academy Award. Passionate about the possibility of leveraging powerful documentary stories for social change, she co-founded a story and data-mapping platform for youth to improve their own communities, called Map Your World.

Tashka Yawanawá
Tashka Yawanawá is chief of the Yawanawá people in Acre, Brazil. As chief, he leads 900 people stewarding 400,000 acres of Amazon rainforest in Brazil. The son of the former leader of the Yawanawá, Tashka grew up witnessing the virtual enslavement of his people by the rubber industry and experiencing the near annihilation of the tribe’s culture by missionaries. Since the 1980s, Tashka has actively fought for the rights of indigenous peoples. Realizing that he needed further education to improve the situation of the Yawanawá, he pursued higher education in the U.S. and abroad. He was directly involved in the creation of the Indigenous Lawyers Association and co-founded the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Youth Alliance, through which he shares the experiences and knowledge of the Yawanawá with youth around the world, and works with projects that guarantee the preservation of different indigenous cultures. In 2001, Tashka returned to Brazil, and chose to use the knowledge gained from his experiences abroad to help his people transform their future. He became the youngest Chief in the history of the Yawanawá at age twenty-five. In a short amount of time, Tashka and his wife Laura have managed to double the extent of Yawanawá territory, reinvigorate Yawanawá culture, and establish economically and socially empowering relationships with the outside world. Tashka and Laura have two daughters – Kenemani and Luna Rosa – and divide their time living and working in the Yawanawá community and Rio Branco, Brazil.

Creative team

Director Lynette Wallworth 
Producer Nicole Newnham 
Co-produced by Tashka Yawanawá and Laura Soriano de Yawanawá in collaboration with the Yawanawá people, Mutum village
Executive Producers Sandy Herz, Marcie Jastrow, Gigi Pritzker, Nico Daswani
Featuring Hushahu Yawanawá, Tatá Yawanawá 
Cinematographer Greg Downing, Francisco Almendra, Nelson Porto 
Editor Adam Cosco, Katrina Taylor, Brian Frager 
Music Max Richter, William Bevan 
Sound Scott Gershin, Magno Caliman 
Technical Build Technicolor Experience Center / Brian Frager, Mars Wong

Presented by the Barbican. 

Awavena is supported by the Australian Government as part of the UK/Australia Season 2021-22.


Barbican Theatre Department

Toni Racklin Head of Theatre and Dance 
Simon Bourne Senior Production Manager 
Leanne Cosby, Jill Shelley, Angie Smith Producers 
Anna DominianBridget Thornborrow Assistant Producers 
Kyle Bradshaw Marketing Manager
Kaya Birch-Skerritt Marketing Assistant
Angela Dias Senior Communications Manager
Freddie Todd Fordham Communications Officer
Lauren Brown Creative Learning Producer (Theatre, Dance, Poetry)
Jamie MaiseyLee Tasker Production Managers  
Tony BrandSteve Daly, Jane DickersonMartin MorganStevie Porter Technical Managers  
Lucinda HamlinCharlotte Oliver Stage Managers 
John Gilroy, Nik KennedyJamie MasseyAdam ParrottTom SalmonJohn SestonChris Wilby Technical Supervisors 
David Green PA to Head of Theatre 
Caroline Hall Production Administrator 
Andrew Pellett Production Assistant 
Kendell FosterBurcham Johnson, Christian LyonsCharlie MannJosh MasseyMatt Nelson, Lawrence SillsNeil Sowerby Technicians 
Heather Readdy Systems and Maintenance Technician 
Fiona BadgeryGary HuntNicola Lake Venue Managers 
Rebecca Oliver Access and Licensing Manager 
Harriet DavisRob NorrisElizabeth Wilks Centre Managers (Delivery) 
Pheona Kidd Centre Manager (Planning) 
Mo Reideman Centre Manager (Health & Safety) 
Julian FoxAlbi Gravener Stage Door