JJAGƗYƗ: AIR OF LIFE
P·P·O·W gallery is currently hosting Jjagɨyɨ: Air of Life, a thought-provoking exhibition of new work from Carlos Motta with Elio Miraña, ELO, Gil Farekatde Maribba, Higinio Bautista, Kiyedekago, Rosita, and Yoí nanegü from the Colombian Amazon. This presentation builds on Motta’s two-decade history of collaborative multi-media installations that examine the identities and lived experiences of marginalized groups and the intersectional repercussions of colonialism.
Jjagɨyɨ: Air of Life delves deep into the complex ramifications of colonialism and its enduring effects on Indigenous identities and cultures, particularly concerning the history of boarding schools established in the region by the Capuchin Missions and their lasting impact on the disuse of Indigenous languages, the truncated transmission of cultural knowledge, and the establishment of Christianity as an institutionalized religion.
A Journey into Indigenous Mythology and Transformation
The exhibition unfolds with a display of six meticulously crafted wooden sculptures: Shaman Tiger, Shaman Anteater, Shaman Eagle, Shaman Boa, Shaman Heron, and Shaman Dolphin. These pieces, designed and created in Tabatinga, Brazil, by Maguta artisan Higinio Bautista, encapsulate a legend where shamans undergo physical transformations into animals to protect their people and their land.
Positioned at the periphery of the gallery, the Shamans not only frame the space but also symbolize the protection they offer, engaging visitors before they proceed to the heart of the exhibition.
The Central Piece: Jjagɨyɨ: Air of Life
At the core of the exhibition lies the eponymous piece, Jjagɨyɨ: Air of Life, a compelling 3-channel video installation displaying narratives recounted by Indigenous collaborators, including Elio Miraña, Gil Farekatde Maribba, Higinio Bautista, Kiyedekago, Rosita, and Yoí nanegü.
They share their experiences in the wake of the arrival of Catalan monks from the Capuchin Order, reflecting the ongoing struggles they face. Through storytelling, artisanship, dance, and song, they actively participate in preserving their language and cultural practices.
Their testimonies shed light on the forced assimilation into Catholicism, the Spanish language, and Western norms during their time in boarding schools and modern colonial institutions. The sporadic use of Indigenous words in their narratives serves as a poignant reminder of both what has been lost and what could be rescued, echoing Elio Miraña’s warning that «a lot can be lost, but once we lose our language, we lose everything.”
A Sonic and Visual Journey
The main viewing room offers both a visual and sonic experience. Interspersed throughout, shots of the Amazonian landscape are a reminder of the magnitude of the forest and the indigenous histories housed within its lush and green terrain. They also hint at how trees, such as those used in sculptures by Higinio Bautista, hold spirits that require a shaman’s blessing before they can be cut down.
The soundtrack, composed by ELO and featuring soundscapes by field sound recorder and designer Isabel Torres, replicates the vastness of the Amazon and its continual symphony of sounds made by insects, animals, and plant life.
This audio composition contributes to the atmospheric transformation of the gallery, complementing the visual imagery presented in the videos. Together with the sculptures, the layered components of the works in the first room highlight the viewer’s status as a guest, posing the question of how they may engage with the space.
Unveiling the Dark Past: The Capuchin Order
The exhibition’s culmination lies in the back room, where The Capuchin Order, a hybrid sculpture crafted from paper and cardboard, takes center stage. Depicting La Casa Arana and a colonial Catholic church, this sculpture comes to life through 35mm slide photographs taken by the missionaries themselves. It sheds light on the extensive history of the missions and the complex role played by Capuchin monks in the colonial Amazon.
La Casa Arana, built by the Arana brothers in the late 19th century, played a sinister part in the rubber industry by enslaving Indigenous men, women, and children for labor. Their forced labor resulted in countless deaths, taking with them untold stories and knowledge—a dark episode known as the second Indigenous genocide in the Amazon after the Conquest. The fusion of the house and the church serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring scars left on Indigenous communities by the colonizers and missionaries of the past.
Jjagɨyɨ: Air of Life by Carlos Motta is an exhibition of profound significance, not only for its artistic merit but also for its capacity to unearth hidden narratives and cultural resilience. Through the collaborative efforts of Motta and Indigenous communities from the Colombian Amazon, it challenges visitors to engage with the stories of the past, reflect on the present, and consider the future of Indigenous identities in the face of ongoing challenges.
JJAGƗYƗ: AIR OF LIFE
Carlos Motta with Elio Miraña, ELO, Gil Farekatde Maribba, Higinio Bautista, Kiyedekago, Rosita, and Yoí nanegü
P.P.O.W, 392 Broadway, NY
September 8 – October 7, 2023
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