Conversations -Material cultures from Colombia and India

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Catalina Alzate May 2020

This project explores conversations between

everyday environments. At the same time, the

material cultures from two geographically

images are spaces where plural voices

separated, yet interrelated places: India and

converge and are waiting for other stories to

Colombia. The objects in the photographs

intersect and nourish the conversations.

constitute material culture, not because they

Although the objects appear static, they are

are physical artifacts, or because of their form

always in movement and change.

or functionality. They are material culture because their plasticity is a window to

Conversations is also an opportunity to

encounter stories, practices, ways of doing and

challenge stereotypical portrayals of

knowing, shared by people in opposite

Colombian culture as narco and the Indian one


as exotic. It invites the audience to surpass those superficial accounts by discovering the

I speak about what objects mean, instead of

transcendence of seemingly utilitarian and

what they are. The stories and encounters

simple things, while being immersed in an

portrayed in this project are not representative

intimate journey of meanings.

of the essence of these places, nor they serve as cultural tokens. This is a story told from a singular point of view through objects in my

Let us begin this journey by jumping into my car, where Baby Jesus accompanies Ganesha, the elephant God to whom new beginnings are commended.

Wrapping thoughts in handmade books Below, a traditional “bahi-khata� notebook: an account-keeping book that traders start on the festival of Diwali in India. It is covered in the auspicious colour of red, signifying good luck, and features curvilinear stitches. Placed on top, a notebook made out of recycled paper, leather and a tagua nut, which is native to South America.

Rituals Buddhism in India and Catholicism in Colombia are visible in the public space, daily conversations and within intimate family environments. Whether a believer or not, their presence has the power of marking everyday life.

Plain rice In a family dinner table in Colombia or India, the ritual of food would always be accompanied by rice.

“I want to make sure you always have home-like breakfast� - say our parents. On the left, a plastic mold for preparing South Indian idli. On the right, the molds for preparing Colombian arepas.

We decorate our heads Hand-wrapped beads in indigo-dye cotton from Jaipur, India, and a headband, braided in waxed thread, from Guatavita, Colombia.

Embodying stories Each textile piece made by indigenous communities carries stories and meanings. On the left half, straps of “mochilas� or artisan bags made by the Wayuu, Kankuamo, and Arhuaco communities in Colombia. On the right half, traditional textiles from India including printing techniques such as Ikat, Kalamkari, Dabu and Blockprinting.

Old superstitions A frog from “Juego de la Rana”, or “Pukllay Sapu” in Quechua. A popular game in South America derived from the Inca legend in which indigenous people threw gold into the Tititaka lake waiting for the frog to eat it and grant the person a wish. Lemon and chili used in the entrance of homes and businesses in India attract wealth and prosperity. According to the mythology, chili and lemon feed Alakshmi, goddess of poverty and suffering, and keep her away.

Tigers meet to heal On the left the “Pomada Madre Selva” or “Mother Forest Ointment”, hand-crafted in Bogotá, Colombia. This is an anti-inflammatory balm made out of chamomile, coca leaf, marihuana, eucalyptus and anamú. On its label it reads: “Plants for the health of humanity”. On the right a Tiger Balm, “The red Ayurvedic medicine”, manufactured in the Annaram Village, India. These ointments have miraculous effects on the muscles, and none of them need the approval of local or global health or drug industries.

We weave Below a Werregue basket handwoven by Wounaan or Noanamรก communities in Chocรณ, Colombia. On top a basket woven in India.

Wooden handwork On the right a replica of a game-cock or “gallo de pelea”, one of the most expensive animals from rural Quindío in Colombia. On the left, a kinetic squirrel carved in Chanapatna, Karnataka, India.

Navigating chaos We wave to stop the bus, jump on to board it, and pay for the ride passing coins from hand to hand. Below, bus tickets from Chennai, India. On top, replicas of bus destination signs of popular routes in the city of Bogotรก, Colombia.

“Jugaad” and “Rebusque” These are practices of hacking found in informal economies of the Global South. They involve modifying materials and creating alternative products. In the process, new ways of doing and knowing emerge. Below, a notebook made in Bangalore, India from the rubber of truck tires and recycled paper. On top, a notebook made with a recycled floppy disk in Bogotá, Colombia.

Drinks and history The Masala Chai or “Spiced tea” from India is the daily beverage that accompanies conversations in every corner. It is also a window to understand the history of the tea plantations, colonization and current export markets from India. Coca Tea, the “sacred leaf of the sons of the sun” is central to magic and medicinal traditions of Andean cultures.

These are just some of the many conversations between Colombia and India. The list goes on, but this book can’t be closed without one of the most relevant conversations intersected by the historical struggles for land, nature, the rights of people and the defense of our territories. The picture on the right is a mural in a wall of the National University of Colombia in Bogotá. On the bottom left corner it reads: “Root of origin, 2016”