Message in a Bottle

One of the most renowned Brazilian regions, the Sertão is also one of the least frequently visited – this in spite of the fact that this semi-arid region, stretching up from northern Minas Gerais into western Bahia and all the way up to the interiors of Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte, and Ceará, covers approximately 10 percent of Brazil’s total area.

“Sertão” stems from the Portuguese desertão (“big desert”); an appropriate appellate for what is one of the hottest and most arid regions in the country. Indeed, the Sertão boasts only two distinguishable seasons: a long hot dry season and a short (sometimes to the point of non-existent) wet season. Perfectly adapted to this extreme climate is its characteristic vegetation, known as Caatinga.

If anybody knows the trials and tribulations of living in a land without water, it’s the roughly 15 million residents of the Sertão.

The Tupi expression, which translates into “white forest” (kaa means “forest” while tinga means “white”) is apt since unlike most other Brazilian landscapes, which tend towards lush and vibrantly Technicolor, the Caatinga’s characteristic scrub, thorn bushes, dust-coated cacti, and skeletal trees are startlingly bleak, bare, and monochromatic (although strikingly dramatic). This is especially the case during the dry season when trees shed their leaves in order to reduce transpiration, undergrowth dries up, and roots come twisting up from the earth, desperately seeking moisture. Traditionally, the richness of Sertanejo culture has been inversely proportional to the poverty of its soil – and its people.

During the height of the Sertão’s dry season – which often coincides with droughts so severe that the federal government created an entire department (the Departamento Nacional de Obras Contras as Secas) whose mission is to help lessen their devastating effects via the construction of wells, reservoirs, and irrigation systems – the cracked, barren soil can reach temperatures of 60 °C. By contrast, when the rains do come, within hours the parched landscape explodes into a sudden green that is so exuberant that residents equate it with a miracle.

If anybody knows the trials and tribulations of living in a land without water it’s the roughly 15 million residents of the Sertão. So when Rio de Janeiro-based environmental NGO, Instituto Ambiental Reciclar, launched a recent campaign to raise consciousness about water conservation, the Brazilian ad agency AGE Isobar turned to a Sertanejo artist.

The goal was communicate the fact that, according to UN predictions, one-fifth of the world’s population could soon be living without access to clean drinking water.

As depicted in the above video, the artist was asked to recreate bottles of well-known brands of mineral water – which instead of filled with water were then filled with sand. The final creations were sent to executives at various companies as well as placed on the shelves of various São Paulo supermarkets. Talk about dry mouth.


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