Travelling back to Artist House in The Netherlands. For the Pre-Hispanic people of Colombia the house was a sacred replica of the cosmos.
Travelling back to Artist House in The Netherlands. For the Pre-Hispanic people of Colombia the house was a sacred replica of the cosmos.
Transformed the machete I bought along the Rio Orinoco.
Visited Abel Rodriquez, an artist who I admire deeply.
Detail of my new work titled Flight. Two objects, craved wood and plastilina, size 115 cm. This work was especially designed for the travel to Guianía. The upper part of both sticks is made of non-hardening modeling clay. So the figure can be changed any moment.
Yes of course the people of Cauca own a motor. While waiting for a bus I saw them riding to the next-door community or coming from their land. Surprisingly, a woman holding a special staff passed. A staff similar to the one I had seen in the Ethnographic Museum of Tierradentro. That would mean that she or the man riding the motor is a member of the Cablido (community counsel). The staff is given as a symbol of their authority and traditionally carved in chonta wood and decorated with wool tassels and silver plates.
Just like in Guiniá I didn’t see many handcrafted objects. Most things in the kitchen are made of aluminum or plastic, people wear t-shirts, jeans, and the shops sell chips, cola and cake. Are the traditional indigenous cultures fading out, or is this only the outside, will the root survive?
Tierradentro is a short row of houses along an unpaved road, populated by mainly indigenous people. Almost everybody is a farmer, the crops are grown for local needs. Culturally they give earth an almost sacred value. On the sunny days of my visit they dried their coffee harvest on the ground in front or next to their houses.
Visiting the tombs touched me deeply. The murals were painted in red, black and yellow paint, made of minerals that are common in the region. The motifs are mostly geometric and sometimes seem to represent posts and beams of the house of the living. My interest for the murals in Tierradentro is also related to two of my latest projects: 34.09m2 (2015), a wall drawing made with freshly cut reed pens and Indian ink. And Jump to the beat of the animal feet (2015) inspired on the prehistoric rock paintings of Serra da Capri Vara, Brazil.
(image hypogeum T9)
The hypogea are situated, 4 to 7 meters deep in the ground, under the surface of artificially flattened hills in the valley of San Andrés Stream. They where carved in the volcanic rock by an extinct indigenous community. Via a shaft, with a stairway in a zigzag or spiral pattern, you enter the underworld.
(image stairs hypogeumT8, mural hypogeum T30)
With warm feelings I think of the beautiful people I met here, during the many hikes, at FLORA, Tropenbos International and even in the swimming pool. My researched enriched and deepened thanks to the knowledge they shared with me. One woman in particular I want to name and thank, architect and consultant in cultural heritage: Olga Pizano. Since the beginning of the work period she has been a wonderful discussion partner. It was Olga who convinced me to go to Tierrandentro in the department Cauca, to see the monumental Prehispanic tombs with murals: hypogea.
One of the intriguing drawings by Sophia Müller printed in her book Beyond Civilization (1952); jungle journeys, pioneering among unreached Indian tribes. Next to the drawing she wrote: We eat at last, and there’s enough for all – For several months I had been eating snake stew thinking it was fish. Then I thought, “Well, I’ am still alive after all this time, so I might just as well continue eating it.” Besides, it tastes very good when you’re hungry!
What a coincidence just before my trip to Guiniá the newspaper El Tiempo published a big article about the missionary Sophia Müller written by Salud Hernández-Mora.
(El Tiempo, 2 November 2016, pdf)
Zoom in on the details of three different floor-cloths, part of a new installation The Women of the Soil.
Fragment of a new installation, Women of the Soil, that I am developing in Bogotá since October. The idea for this installation has its origin in the hikes I have done in the past six months and the new collection of drawings I made here.
With Women of the Soil I want to make a work in which you can wander and has a strong connection with the earth. Therefore I created a design of cotton floor-clothes (size 64 x 39 cm). Each floor-cloth is embroidered with a unique patron in one of the four colours: orange, red, pink, or purple.
Back in the capital city I notice a beautiful Emberá woman on a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Autopista Norte. It strikes me that the women of this indigenous group have a preference for bright colours like pink, orange and yellow.
Last time we met Miguel told me about a magical ritual, in the ethnographic literature known as the yuraray cult, which got lost in the process of evangelization. He himself is not familiar with this ritual his hundred-years-old father shared it with him. The men of the community used to make sacred flutes and trumpets to communicate with the spirits in the forest. The instruments where taboo for women. When they did see an instrument it had to be thrown in the river.
Buying a machete in a little boat-supermarket along the Rio Orinoco caused many surprised faces and hilarious moments. The object triggers thoughts about violence and at the same time it is as common as a potato peeler. One morning in Remanso I saw a group of man cutting grass with their machete. According to the dictionary the word machete is the diminutive of the Latin word masculus.
Drying cassava bread in the sun.
Detail from a tipití made of a plastic fiber.
You hang the tipití in the left part of the construction, put the other trunk through the loop and by pulling down on the right side the tipití gets squeezed.
Tipití; the blue filter, used to squeeze cassava. This needs to be done because the tuber contains poison.
An indigenous productive garden, chacra, is quite a chaotic spot in the middle of a forest. I didn’t recognize it at first sight, but than I noticed the cassava (yucca, manioc) plants. And remembered what Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff wrote about the dead trees: trunks are put in the garden because they produce ashes which contain ancestral energies. Medicinal herbs are absent in the garden. They must be left to grow in their natural environment to conserve their healing power.
Rivers are the blood vessels of the earth this becomes clearly visible when you travel through Guianía. This is the biotope of an amazing variety of animals like hoatzin, darter, white-winged swallow, Amazon river dolphin, flying fish, yellow-banded poison dart frog, whiptail lizard, boa constrictor, capuchin monkey, jaquar… And humans, besides eating the animals, they wash themselves, their clothes and the dishes in the river. For them it is also the most accessible way to go to school, to the neighbours and to transport merchandise.
The church of Remanso.
Speechless…the trip to Guainía was very intense. Stayed in Remanso a little indigenous community of 200 Puinave and Curripaco people. The picture is taken at top of the mountain Mavecure. On the right site of the opposite mountain Mono (monkey) you can see Remanso, look for the blue roof. A man from the community, Miguel, told me that I remembered him of Sophia Müller. She was an American woman with German parents, who appeared one day (1944) in the rainforest of Guainía and evangelized the community. All the ritual indigenous traditions got lost in the process of learning how to read, write and defend their rights against the whites who abused them as rubber tappers.
Misionero Comido por Tigre, painted by the Colombian artist Noé León (1907-1978). The tiger playes a prominent role in his paintings.
In the footsteps of the slavers came the Capuchin and Franciscan to Guainía. They founded little missions in the forest. An old photograph of a pastor surrounded by indigenous children brings back a special memory. In 2009 the Brazilian artist Marco Paulo Rolla took me to the Catholic monastery and school Santuário do Caraça. The convent is located in Minas Gerais, Brazil and surrounded by endless Cerrado and montane humid forest. Photograph of the plate is taken in the former boarding school.
The centre of this calendar shows the river height and the rain season over a period of a year in the Upper Rio Negro Region. The social, ritual and agricultural activities of the Curripaco community are brought into line with the cycle. November is traditionally the month to harvest manioc and to fish with bows and arrows and spears. The nearest supermarket in Inírida, on the other hand, advertises on their Facebook page with refrigerators and frozen chicken.
The image was found in the book Curripaco social organization written by Paul Valentine (1991).
By the end of next week my dreams will be encircled by a tropical rainforest. Dreamed about my black cat, named Victor, some time ago. A vulture was flying above his head. Victor is not fond of birds even sparrows scare him. The vulture grasped him by the scruff of the neck and lifted him from the ground. His feet dangled while the vulture rose in the air.
Drawings of the new collection
pencil drawings, 40 pieces, size 35 x 25 cm
For the preparation of my travel to Guainía I designed a special walking stick, in which materiality is the main focus. It is a handmade copy of the hiking stick I used walking in the surroundings of Bogotá. I asked two carpenters in Bogotá to make a copy. The upper part of the stick refers to the birdman figures of pre-Columbian gold work seen in the Gold Museum. A birdman is a representation of the ecstatic flight of the shaman.
There are 41 rivers in Guainía, called: Inírda, Guaviare, Arababapo, Guamuco, Chaquita, Jota, San Joaquin, Bocón, Chiguire, Piapoco, Wiña, Nabuquen, Warnirra, Zancudo, Arsini, Arzamasa, Minas, de Aque, Guainia, Canapiare, Michire, Bocachico, Tomo, Name, Aquio, Colorado, Naquén, Apiare, Cuiari, Tocandirá, Arara, Chamusiqueni, Chucutú, Zancudo, Minisiare, Isana, Caparroal, Negro, and Mosquitos.
Around the end of the 17th century Dutch and French slavers descended the Orinoco river that discharges into the Guaviare and Portuguese slavers took the southern route via the Río Negro.
In the 6th chapter of his book, The Forest Within (1996), Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff wrote an intriguing an beautiful text about the rainforest. Quote: ‘All sounds in the forest are coded and are thought to transmit precise messages. The principal and most permanent sounds are those made by insects…’The insects sing to the energies’, say the Indians…’
(The Forest Within, page 146-147, pdf)
Confession: “I have booked a flight ticket to the rainforest”. On Saint Martin’s Day I fly to Guainía, a department in the east of Colombia next to the Venezuelan border. There is only one sentence that can explain this choice: Observing nature through the senses is a form of knowing.
When you ask me to choose one object or situation that represents the citizens of Bogotá I would say: “man on a motor”. Look how they flow like water in between the cars, trucks and buses. Dressed with helmets, protective vests, elbow guards, knee / shin protection and hard knuckle gloves, they look like knights of the 21st century struggling for existence.
The frailejón is the most prominent plant of the páramo. There are many different types; there’s one that looks at first sight like a kind of palm tree (see post 18 August). The pith of this plant is a long spiral patterned pile of dead leaves around a hollow core, during the wet season it feels very spongy. The plant stores water in the pith, a buffer both against daily shortage, during freezing temperatures, and seasonal drought.
Stones covered with lichen, seen in the páramo, evoke images of rock art and remind of the red pigment in the folded box. There exists a high density of pictographs and petroglyphs in various areas of Colombia. So fare I only saw contemporary graffiti in the most remote places. A scientific article tells that the protection and documentation of many rock art sites came to a standstill, abandoned in the face of violence and political disputes. The luminous orange rock art seen in 2010, in a cave on Curaçao, still vibrates in my mind.
Bought a mola, the borders show it has been worn on the chest of a woman. Molas are made by the indigenous Gunadule women. Known as Kuna, but they decided to take out the letters that refer to foreign language like Spanish and use the more natural sounds of their own language. Guna = surface of the earth and Dule = person, person who lives on the surface of the earth. Molas can be divided in two major design groups: goaniggadi, figurative, depicting elements from everyday life. And naga molas, which protect and consist of abstract designs derived from nature. A type of writing that teaches the correct way to live.
In South America the migration of birds is connected with the rain season. The arrival of a swallow-tailed kite is for example a sign that the dry season has started. Several indigenous groups hunt colourful birds to collect the feathers and make ritual objects from it. Only a few feather carpets from the colonial time are known.
(detail, collection Museo Nacional)
A feather headdress in the studio of the painter Carlos Jacanamijoy. His paintings are a fusion of his indigenous origin and his travels to America where he saw for example the works of Kandinsky. The spiritual colour explosions with oil paint refer to the use of the yajé plant in a shamanic rite. Drinking the substance produces exceptionally colourful visions: pintas. To drink yajé is to learn.
Not easy to relate to things you can’t see like the earth’s magnetic field. Looking at birds helps, learn from their annual movements. In Europe at this time of the year many birds migrate southwards. Little songbirds travel alone and mostly at night so they won’t be noticed by their predators. Even newborn birds know exactly where to go: imprinted. Birds use the stars, smell, coastline and the earth’s magnetic field to orientate. Once we could not explain where the birds, like the swallows in the woodblock print from 1555, went and assumed they hide in the winter months, sometimes under water, at the bottom of a lake.
Here in Colombia I learn that hiking is one of the most profound ways to connect with indigenous knowledge. Every week I spin a thin thread, like a spider, by physically moving from Bogotá through the landscape. With every step you learn a little bit about the land, the animals, the water, the stones…the energy. Encountered a little snake today, black eyes, grey pattern and a vivid yellow bottom: the oldest symbol of good and evil.
Unbelievably beautiful: the inside of a lulo. Diameter 6 centimetres.
In the greenhouse of the Hortus Bontanicus in Amsterdam grows a lulo of Chilean origin.
Spotted a lulo along the camino real de San Miguel, Fusagasuga. This, the Andes of Colombia, is the natural habitat of a plant that prefers to grow in partial shade. From the top you can see the development of its fruit in three stages. When ripe the fruits turn yellow – orange. The juice has a citrus flavour.
The savannah is how they call the high plateau where Bogotá is build; a perfect place to escape from insects that bring diseases like malaria. Since the middle of the last century the city grows fast. The ‘heaven of exotic fruits’ is imported from the warm lowlands.
Part of a ritual costume made by the Yucuna people. The costume is worn during a seasonal dance ritual. Some of these dances are directly related to the ripening of one fruit, like the chontaduro (peach-palm) in February.
Opening of the exhibition El Origen de La Noche at Museo de Arte de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
An other example of a signal drum.
The image was found in the book Zwei jahre unter den indianern written by Koch – Grünberg (1909).
Spoke with Carlos Niño Murcia, the writer of the book Territorio chamánico 2015. While talking he made this drawing of a Marguaré, a drum that is used to communicate between indigenous communities living in the Amazon. The instrument is made from two big tree trunks, hollowed out by burning. With wooden sticks they beat the drum to send messages, invitation for ceremonies or even to declare war with to the neighbours. The sound can be heard on a distance of about 20 kilometres.
Being on another planet that’s how it feels to walk through parque natural Chingaza. The yellow flowers in this rare landscape remind of the flowers in the book ‘The Book Of Strange New Things’ (Michel Faber 2014). In this story a pastor is send to the planet of Oasis to be a missionary. There he meets the native community, who besides from being extremely welcoming, grow flowers that they trade for medicine with the base camp. The community has the knowledge to give the flowers every possible taste: pasta, steak, broccoli…
Covered in coal dust.
Behind the man, on the right side of the mountain, you see his house and on the left side his workstation: the coalmine. We met on a Sunday and he joined us for a hike to the top of the opposite mountain.
Take a closer look at the traditional Emberá culture and find beautiful abstract patterns they paint on their bodies. Drawn with a twig or a little comb with two or three thin teeth. Some body parts, for example the arms, are painted entirely black. The pigment is the juice of the fruit jagua: genipapo. Here in the city you won’t see Emberá’s with bodypaint. In The Netherlands the pigment is sold under the name ‘JaguaHenna’, to make your own temporary tattoo.
Engraving of a genipapo, from the book Institutiones rei herbariæ (1700).
Working on a new collection of drawings simultaneously with this blog. Drawing is a tool, an act of investigation. Not understanding, not knowing, is a reason to draw something.
Hiking through the Cordilleras of the Andes has a profound effect. Even an European townswoman can feel a glimpse of the supernatural forces of the mountains: ‘guardians and regulators of the natural and of the human order’. The mountains, especially the mountain lakes, played an important role in the religious life of the Muiscas. With an annual route connecting the sacred lakes they worshiped the creation myth, which tells that man sprang from a lake.
Indigenous people from different origin have transitioned to cities like Bogotá. One group stands out: the Emberá. On different locations in the city they sit on the ground making jewellery from bright coloured beads or produce a repetitive rhythmic sound with an object that looks like a grater. In 1992 the Banco de la República emitted a 10.000 pesos billet with a drawing of an Emberá woman.
The environmental disasters effecting earth are alarming and we, also named the younger brothers, won’t listen so the Kogi people decided to send messengers. The Kogi consider their traditional territory: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, to be the heart of the world, and believe that the well being of the rest of the world depends on it. One Kogi messenger and his family moved to Sasaima, a little village close to Bogotá. The meeting began with a small ritual: a coca leaves offer in remembrance of all our consumed food.
Everyday the roads of Bogotá transform into a self-destructing monster; a massif traffic jam and along drives a mass transit, big diesel buses called TransMilenio, so packet they can hardly close the doors. To escape from this and to recharge the battery with green energy it is necessary to go hiking every week. In the pe-Colombia time indigenous created many paths by foot throughout the land. The paths lead to sacred places like a lake or where created to exchange materials and objects. Some of these paths, Caminos reales, where paved under the supervision of the Spanish conquistador in order to travel by horse or even to be carried by a man.
Stills from the documentary Aluna about the mission of Kogi people.
The Kogi survived the Spanish conquests by retreating into their isolated mountain massif, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and remained hidden for centuries.
Young man who will be Mama’s, Kogi elders, stay inside a cave during most of their childhood: a technique to heighten all the other senses that would other wise be suppressed by the dominance of the sense of vision.
(subtitles: They believe that their job is to save the world.… and don’t welcome strangers.)
The question: ‘What else do you plan to visit in Colombia’ comes back like a boomerang every time meeting somebody in Bogotá. A painting in the collection of Museo de Arte del Banco de la República helps to remember that one of the artist’s tools is to create an imaginary world. The painting was made by the Flemish painter Jan Brueghel The Younger (1601-1678) and shows Adam and Eva in the garden of Eden. Although Breughel never travelled beyond Italy, he painted the couple in a green biotope: with tropical animals like lions, apes and Ara’s.
More to the north lays a perfect round mountain lake: Laguna de Guatavita. The Eldorado myth is based on a Muisca ritual that took place here. An obsession that even at the beginning of the previous century flourished. In 1899 – 1910 a British enterprise drained the lake by employing a dozen indigenous people. The found treasures from Guatavita were sent to London. There they where first exhibited and afterwards put up for auction at Sotheby’s.
Hiked to the Siecha lakes. Three sacred Muisca lakes located east of Bogotá, at an altitude of 3.673 meters. The article, The Draining of Lake Guatavita (pdf), by John Hemming tells: ‘Once the Spanish learned that the Muisca made offerings in their sacred lakes, a great conviction grew that great wealth awaited anyone who could plump those mysterious waters… The first company formed to drain Lake Siecha failed, but the second attempt, in 1856, dug a channel three metres deep and 50 metres long, and managed to lower the lake by a full three metres…’
Learned the first basis of how to weave a mochila, artisan bag, from Alicia Villafañe. Alicia is an Arwaku woman, an indigenous people of Colombia. According to their custom only Wati (Arwaku women) can weave the bags. Born on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Alicia nowadays studies law at the university of Bogatá.
The downside of Bogotá: it is difficult to find natural materials in this city.
Remarkably the book Indios de Colombia by G. Reiche-Dolmatoff shows an image of a little wooden ‘roller’ used to paint the body. One of the important elements learned during my project Indian Stories (São Paulo, 2012) is that painting the body is a spiritual and ritual act for many indigenous people in Brazil. Geometric patterns are painted on different parts of the body by using grass or a little stick as a brush. From an early age a mother paints her children and men paint each other in preparation for the hunt.
Different dresses of indigenous communities are presented in the Indigenas collection of Museo de Trajes (Costume Museum). The museum writes: “One of the first and foremost tasks of priest and missionaries was to get the aborigines to cover themselves”.
The costume shown in this photo is a traditional mask from the Cubeo, used in funeral ritual: a dans. It is mainly made of Yanchama and painted with natural pigments.
Try to plait a copy of the little box with paper ribbons.
Which leafs do the Macuna use to fold the boxes?
Would they have this plant in the Botanical Garden of Bogotá?
Crafted tree bark is one of the oldest textile forms produced by different indigenous communities around the world. It is used to make small pieces of cloth. In Colombia this material is made from a rainforest tree bark called Yanchama. The bark is cut, soaked, hit with a flat instrument, and than different layers of fibres are placed crosswise on top of each other. After drying it can be painted with natural pigments. One of the places where you can get this material in Colombia is Leticia in the Amazonas. ‘You should go there, it is easy’: said the coordinator from FLORA. This idea created a flow of thoughts: what is the a necessity to go there, can you watch the process, or even participate in the harvest of the tree bark, should you be aware of any male and female division of trade, how would this travel be different from going shopping? By change, the next day, a piece of Yanchama came to the table. It was purchased in a tourist shop in Leticia.
Visited the pre-Colombian collection of Museo Nacional. Found a little box identical to the one that is part of the collection of Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. Coll. Nr. TM-3232-20ab.
The boxes are folded with leaf strips. Size 4 x 5 x 5 cm.
Trampa de pesca
An enlarged fishing trap shown in the exhibition iimitya by Abel Rodriquez.
iimitya is a word from the Muinane language. The word gives expression to an idea about a person that has the power to know, who has the knowledge to create things.
(the building on the right)
Visit to the storage room of the collection of the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen in Amsterdam. A closer look at a selection of objects derived from Colombia. Such as a wooden rattle stick, almost two and a half meter, which sounds like chattering frogs. And a little box, folded by strips of tree leaves, to preserve a piece of red pigment. The pigment was used amongst others for the making of rock drawings.