Creating with community

As part of the Artists in Residency program, Diana and I worked with the local community. We all cooperated together to create a public sculpture near a well no longer in use. The artwork is located at a place where the community often gathers. I believe that this sculpture and the nearby well have made a beautiful metamorphosis together, representing new life that emerges from something that has come to an end.

Centro Selva is a Peruvian center promoting projects, studies, and training in the arts and sciences in the Central Amazon region. During this year’s Artists in Residency Program at Centro Selva, participating artists from Argentina, England, Peru, Suriname, and the USA came together. In this program – which is ongoing – I have interacted with, and learned from, a community different from my own. Diana Riesco-Lind, one of the participating artists, is the president of this Peruvian non-profit organization. I have had the opportunity to work with her and the people of Manco Capac, a small village in Ucayali, Peru. The people there earn their livings mostly by agriculture and farming. The name ‘Manco Capac’ comes from a myth about the first Inca king, who taught agriculture to the people. Together, Centro Selva and I have made an impact in this small community.

When I applied for the Artists in Residency Program, my idea was to work on the themes of life, specifically death and re-birth. While interacting with the Manco Capac community and working with Diana, changes were made to my original concept. Two meetings with the people of Manco Capac – during which a creative process took place – led us to adjust my first concept. The resulting project was a pyramid-like structure decorated with elements the community members suggested. While the original idea was to create a closed pyramid, the final product was instead a group of three triangles that made an open pyramid. This shows more optimism, I thought. I remember telling Diana: “It is like the opening of a flower.” To the community, the sculpture emphasized pride and prosperity. I wondered: Could this be seen as a translation of life, death, and re-birth? Regardless, the people in Manco Capac identified themselves in the proposed artwork. When it is finished, it will be an object that captures what the community loves and how they think about their village. It will be a piece of art that stands out to every passerby.

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For this residency program, there are a total of seven artists living on a farm in Ucayali. At the start of this year’s program at Centro Selva, we were taken on a walk: a sightseeing journey through the city. We also stayed one night in the village of the Shipibo community, where we worked with their children. The Shipibo are an indigenous group living along the Amazon in Peru. One of the things for which they are known is the deliberate deforming of their skulls. They used to do this to the skulls of their newborn children for aesthetic purposes, as they believed it helped distinguish them from the ape. Learning about this practice caused me to ponder this tradition and contemplate the human mind and evolution. “What influence might this technique have had on the brain of the Shipibo people over time?” I asked myself. Using this dying tradition as an inspiration for my work as an artist could be of great value, as it may help me think about technology in a new way.

This residency program has been different from any program in which I had previously participated. During a six-week Artists in Residency program in Puebla, Mexico, I was also with an international group of artists and art historians. The difference between that program and the one I am currently attending is that the former program focused on process: learning through art workshops; attending art history seminars; weekly readings; and weekly critique groups. Centro Selva’s residency, however, focuses on creating art products inspired by the Amazon.

Published in newsletter of Suriname America Almuni Association | August 2017