In Conversation with

Yauri Muenala: cooperation and synergy between Kichwa artists

Ñanta Mañachi–Lend me the Path is an artistic project that investigates methodologies for relating between different identities of the Kichwa nation of Ecuador. Rejecting classifications that derive from the colonial discourse, this project responds to processes of creating hierarchies, domination and naming in the field of art.

C&AL: Politics of identity, inclusivity and diversity are currently present in discussions inside and outside the academy. The white gaze very often projects biases onto what being an indigenous artist means in Ecuador and your project rejects these classification that derive from colonial discourse. How does the project relate to these trends in academic discourses and what place does decoloniality have in your research?

YM: Beyond an academic interest, the research seeks to contribute to the processes of self-management and self-representation of the indigenous movement in the specific field of art. The project seeks to create relationships of closeness, complicity and synergy between Kichwa and non-Kichwa artists to consolidate a fertile ground for collective encounter, analysis and the articulation of common purposes and interests. Research and creative processes are regarded as actions that go beyond the aesthetic or the textual. They are related to the ongoing and urgent struggles to create the conditions to enunciate and situate ourselves from a Kichwa cultural and historical matrix.

The project also proposes conceptualising art from Kichwa words–categories as a poetic-political strategy to recognise the diversity of nationalities, languages and cosmovisions that coexist nowadays. These words include: ñanta mañachi − lend me the path, sumakruray − expertise and doing good, kikinkunawan − with all of you, chukchir − gathering what has already been harvested, purinkich− restless traveller, vida mashkay− seeking life, ñawpa− time-space, chituventana− ritual for protecting territories. When bringing back the meaning of these words and inserting them within the field of art, there is an effort to approach wisdoms, territories, materialities, corporealities, memories, representations, resistances, ritual practices, and other spiritualities. This has the aim of becoming emancipated from the definitions or conceptions on indigenous art that derive from colonial-occidental thought.

C&AL: The project uses the idea of the constellation, inspired by the shape of the snail shell–spiral, to propose a space for collective interchange. A number of topics derived from this exercise, such as ritual, territory, gender, and disobedience, all of which are seen from an indigenous perspective. Could you tell us about this methodology for interchange and reciprocity and what other topics were covered in the conversations?

YM: Encouraging continuous dialogues was proposed as a methodology for participatory research, resulting in the “Nakuk Yachakuy–mutual learning encounter” where 20 artists from different Kichwa peoples and from three different generations took part. The wisdom of the two-way snail shell–spiral was used to collectively create a Constellation–cartography of experiences of artists from different Kichwa peoples. With the intention of mapping and situating these experiences in their respective time and place from the start of the 20th century to the present day. The constellation made it possible to weave an alternative history that criticises the official and institutional discourses of art and is a ludic exercise for approaching tangible and intangible memories. And so to register the far-reaching paths of the processes of self-management, creation and knowledge production in the arts and their respective protagonists.

There was also critical reflection on the cultural categories that position the artistic practices and knowledges of the Andean peoples and nations as inferior. The complex historical conditions of racism, discrimination and exclusion in a colonised and neo-colonised country like Ecuador were examined. Likewise, the tensions, frictions and fragility of the processes for dialogues between artists from an indigenous ethnicity and cultural, artistic and academic institutions were recognised. Finally, the differences between creative processes were revealed. Such as, for example, processes collectively sustained by a shared interest and practices of individual creation. It was also possible to highlight the increase in academically trained Kichwa artists and the prominence of female artists driving self-managed collective processes.

C&AL: The Andean cosmovision and the relationship with the ancestors are important elements in indigenous artistic practices. This examination of the past cultivates memory to be enunciated in the present and so occupy spaces in the future. How do you see the artistic practices belonging to the Kichwa ethnicity at present and what is the future projection of the Ñanta Mañachi concept?

YM: The creative practices of Kichwa artists are diverse and heterogeneous, with multiple aesthetic, poetic and political searches and explorations. We could say that they are inscribed within two major thematic lines. On the one hand, there are “ethnic territory and identity”, which visualise and represent the current confrontations between the local and the global; festivals and traditions, cultural knowledges and nature, migration, defence of the territory, and ecological crisis. And on the other hand, there are artistic processes that address “ritual practices and symbologies”, connections and interrelations between different visible and invisible beings: mythical-magical cultural knowledges, ancestral ritual practices, cosmovision and collective memory of the Kichwa peoples.

For Kichwa creators, art has become a space of agency for collective processes of self-management, self-representation and self-definition. One where historical memory is interwoven with experimental and participatory practices. Ñanta Mañachi–Lend me the Path emphasises self-managed collective processes and processes of mutual learning where communal links are created from an ethnic-territorial sense of belonging. It also explores aesthetic and ritual practices of connection with an ecology of beings and knowledges belonging to an integral network of life. And so Ñanta Mañachi projects itself as a pedagogical method in art that promotes reciprocal dialogue and interchange of knowledges and understandings, valuing differences from trust, affectivity and closeness.

Yauri Muenala is an artist and teacher and is currently a cultural activator at Universidad Yachay Tech.

Esteban Pérez is a visual artist interested in historical revisionism and asymmetric power structures. His research findings take the form of sound, video, painting, and installation.

Translation: JK Translate