Exploring the inner light of the indigenous cultures of the Americas.
August 9 is the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, which is why it is an ideal date to present my new artistic work.
I consider myself a curious person who has always wondered about simple and not-so-simple topics: how a machine works, the origin of things, where do we come from.
Recently, while I was reading a book about human evolution and some articles on migration and the refugee crisis, these questions again came back to mind.
Whether due to famine, war, persecution, catastrophe or greed, man has moved from one place to another, with an indelible effect both in the new territories and in which he belonged.
(As a migrant who lives in a multicultural melting pot (USA), the word "belong" has always been multilayered one. A word often used erroneously, loaded with racist and discriminatory tones.)
I then decided to create an art project based on original peoples of the American continent before the arrival of the Europeans.
Who were they? Who are they? What did they look like?
This journey took me to archeology and anthropology studies that dove me into their social structures, traditions, rituals, cosmology, and art expressions.
Prior to Columbus's arrival to the Americas in 1492, the continent had abundant cultures, from nomad hunter & gatherers to sedentary farmers, from small tribes to large empires, all the way from the Arctic North America to the southern tip of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, from the east coasts of the Amazon to the west Andean mountains.
According to recent studies, the Americas boasted thriving indigenous populations totaling more than 60 million people. A little over a century after westerner explorers set foot on the “New indies,” that number had dropped 90%, close to just 6 million. European contact brought with it not only war, famine, and atrocities but also diseases like smallpox that decimated local populations. People who didn't die from smallpox died from the following wave of influenza. Those who survived both of those succumbed to measles. Exterminations, genocides, and bounty killings (in most cases with compliance of governments) did the rest.
Five hundred years later, many parts of the continent are still populated by indigenous peoples; some countries have sizable populations, but their way of life, territories, and natural resources have been deprived, their rights now almost invisible. Some of the descendants of these cultures travel to the margins of cities displaced by mining, logging or oil exploitation. Others have been forced to relocate to small unproductive territories called "reserves."
Many Aboriginal people used (or continue to use) body paint or tattoos for various reasons: as an artistic expression whether to reaffirm their identity, belonging to a community or social group, to define their rank, for histrionic representation in celebrations and rituals, for protection or mere ornamentation. Based on the ceramics, wall pictures, mummies, explorer drawings, and even some photographs, I’ve selected pre-Columbian cultures from all over the continent whose body art caught my attention due to its beauty and originality.
After casting models from different countries of the Americas and working with body painter artists, I went to the studio to materialize my vision. Using UV sensitive paint, I’m able to isolate the body art and leave their bodies immersed in the darkness as a metaphor of how they have become invisible to our modern society, how they've been deprived of what they once were.
I honor them with the infinite and universal space of my body mandalas, in an attempt to rescue the brightness and fluorescence of these civilizations, and as constant reminder of their struggle to claim what belongs to them, their lands and resources, their culture & traditions, their dignity, their right to self-determination and peace.