In Conversation with Eliana Muchachasoy Chindoy

“How Can Artists Help the Communities?”

Colombian artist Eliana Muchachasoy spoke with Contemporary And América Latina (C&AL) about neo-Amazonian art, the need for creating artistic spaces in indigenous territories – and the problems with cultural appropriation in the world of arts or, as she calls it, “colonization through color”.

C&AL: On several occasions, you have said that your work is part of “Neo-Amazonian” art. How do you define this artistic trend and in what way does your work belong to this movement?

EM: Neo-Amazonian art originated at the School of Art in Pucallpa, in the Peruvian Amazon. A group of artists, engaging with the medicine of yagé or ayahuasca [Amazonian hallucinogenic drink of vegetable origin], began to create works that bring together different artistic proposals, such as photography, music, film and painting, and that speak of what is happening within our territories and communities of the Amazon. I place myself in this artistic trend because Sibundoy, Putumayo, is the gateway where the Colombian Amazon begins.

C&AL: What is the Benach Gallery and what is the significance of this artistic space in Putumayo?

EM: The Benach Gallery – the word “benach” means “path” in the Camëntŝa language – is part of the path I have taken as an artist. In my career, I didn’t have the opportunity to exhibit my work in Putumayo, simply because no exhibition space was available. Benach is designed to promote local art and to give this town the opportunity to approach different artistic expressions and encourage education through art. Today, the children and young people receive a lot of information from the media and all this is part of their identity building. Benach is a necessary space which allows them to look at themselves through art.

C&AL: According to your text “Un indio pintado”, or “A Painted Indian”, there is a tendency towards cultural appropriation of indigenous symbols, especially by non-indigenous urban artists. What are the main points of your commentary on cultural appropriation in this text?

EM: The text “A Painted Indian” originates from personal experiences I had on several trips, where I encountered images of the Indian painted on the wall. There is a common expression in Colombia “there she/he is painted on the wall”, which is a way of saying that the person doesn’t really count, doesn’t exist. Many urban artists take up indigenous elements because they want to do an homage or use them as an inspiration. In my opinion however, this should be an opportunity to make a proposal for the vindication of the communities through art.

We should also ask ourselves how non-indigenous artists who do not have a personal approach to the territories can contribute. They take up these elements to paint something beautiful, but I think we should ask ourselves: How can the artist help the communities to continue talking about their problems with the territory?

For example, many people who come to visit our territory take pictures of the community, but we don’t know the intention behind that, whether it is to use them in exhibitions, to replicate them in murals, or to make a profit. There has been appropriation of the symbolic parts of the communities but these are not given credit, nor do the appropriators have any knowledge of what the community represents. Thus, the respect for the sacred is lost and profit becomes the only objective.