In conversation with

Paula Baeza Pailamilla: Reclaiming Indigenous Agency in Museums

The exhibition HERE AND NOW at Museum Ludwig embarks on an anti-colonial journey through its permanent collection. Paula Baeza Pailamilla is one of the four artists invited to take a critical look at artistic positions from Latin America through a new video work about the coloniality of chocolate production.

C&AL: But does it even make sense to enter such canon-driven spaces, like Museum Ludwig, and instigate change?

PBP: Very important question. It’s important to enter a dialogue and criticize the structures, yes. I believe it’s important to have a voice and presence in these spaces.

C&AL: But isn’t it a trap?

PBP: Yes, sure, that’s true, it can be. These institutions invite us and there are, of course, already hierarchical structures at play. And of course, there’s also the danger of being exposed. But at the same time we are claiming our agency, especially when it comes to the specific projects we organize in museum spaces. And we aren’t always victims, we have power and choose to claim it. This is very important, I believe. Again, I know one of the main problems within this colonial apparatus is the structure, and looking at my other artist colleagues here at Museum Ludwig, we are all tackling this in our own ways.

C&AL: I would like to come back to the question of the body, your body, and how much it plays a crucial role in your practice?

PBP: I am Mapuche but I was born in Santiago, in the capital of Chile. My family lost everything, their language and cultural traditions, because we belong to one of the first territories to be colonized. This is a major difference in comparison to more southern regions of Chile where the processes of colonization happened later. I have all these elements inside of me, especially my Mapuche surname, and I feel very fortunate for that. With this experience I also feel like I’m some place in-between. We’ve basically been carrying this colonial wound to this day.
Furthermore, I also don’t identify as a woman, rejecting the Eurocentric binary gender model as well. In many ways I often feel in a gray zone, an unidentified space.

C&AL: Could you speak a bit more about the video you created for Museum Ludwig in Cologne?

PBP: My intention is an anticolonial narrative. I decided to install three panels, a triptych. I found a Mexican mural (title unknown) detailing the history of chocolate by the painter Carlos González. The first part is the indigenous version of cacao, the second after colonization, and the third shows Europe. It’s a very linear narrative, yet it involves Indigenous people. I combined this triptych with performance and material from the Museum of Chocolate in Kilchberg, close to Zurich in Switzerland. There’s an explanatory video about Switzerland’s chocolate tradition. It’s a confrontation between the very white and European history of this resource and our Indigenous version of it.

HERE AND NOW at Museum Ludwig. Anti-colonial Interventions is on view in Cologne, Germany, until 5 February 2023

Paula Baeza Pailamilla develops performances based on her own Mapuche identity, which is the point of origin for her work, questioning herself and her context in their historical, political, and social dimensions. Her textile work has been produced from relational art projects. Since 2016, she has been part of the Mapuche collective, Rangiñtulewfü.

Magnus Elias Rosengarten is a writer and artist who currently lives in Berlin.