P·P·O·W is pleased to present Jjagɨyɨ: Air of Life, an exhibition of new work from Carlos Motta with Elio Miraña, ELO, Gil Farekatde Maribba, Higinio Bautista, Kiyedekago, Rosita, and Yoí nanegü, marking Motta’s third show with the gallery. This exhibition builds on Motta’s two-decade history of collaborative multi-media installations that examine identities and lived-experiences of marginalized groups, and the intersectional repercussions of colonialism.
Through a sustained engagement with cultural practitioners from Indigenous groups in the Colombian Amazon like the Maguta, Miraña, Muinane, and Murui, Motta and his collaborators confront the colonialist 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 knowledges, and the establishment of Christianity as an institutionalized religion. The concept of ‘jjagɨyɨ,’ in the Murui language, is an origin story that is also shared by a cultural complex of eight ethnic groups known as ‘the people of the center of the world,’ and interpreted as the ‘children of a Creator.’ Jjagɨyɨ: Air of Life thus invokes resuscitating or breathing life back into ancestral cultural practices in the present. Consisting of multi-media work, the exhibition features a video played across three screens, wood sculptures, and a paper and cardboard model as a symbol of the erasure of culture.
Entering the first room, there are six wooden sculptures displayed. Shaman Tiger, Shaman Anteater, Shaman Eagle, Shaman Boa, Shaman Heron, and Shaman Dolphin (all 2023) create a frame not just for the space but also for the problems explored through the exhibition. Designed and created in Tabatinga, Brazil with Maguta artisan Higinio Bautista, the pieces depict a legend, where shamans undergo physical body transformations into animals that protect the people and the land they inhabit. Their positioning at the periphery echoes the protection they provide, necessitating a negotiation with the sculptures before entering the place where knowledge is transmitted and shared.
The central piece in the room, sharing its name with that of the exhibition, Jjagɨyɨ: Air of Life, 2023, is a 3-channel video installation, simultaneously playing on a projector and two monitors. In the videos shown, the collaborators recount their experiences after the arrival of the Catalan monks of the Capuchin Order, a push-and-pull struggle that continues to affect them. The histories of Indigeneity coalesce through the voices depicting the infliction of violence, both verbal and physical. Through their storytelling, artisanship, dance, and song, the speakers participate in the protection and survival of their language and practices. The video features Elio Miraña, Gil Farekatde Maribba, Higinio Bautista, Kiyedekago, Rosita, and Yoí nanegü who speak of how their upbringing reflected traditionality, yet upon their entry into the boarding schools and other modern colonial institutions, they were forced to assimilate into Catholicism, speak Spanish, and adopt Western social norms and expectations. The sporadic Indigenous words that they speak in their sentences are a gesture to both what no longer exists and what could potentially be rescued. As is warned by Elio Miraña, ‘a lot can be lost, but once we lose our language, we lose everything.’
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 allude to the use of trees in the creation of sculptures like those by Higinio Bautista and the spirits that reside in them, having to be blessed by a shaman before being cut down. Accompanying the visual imagery of the videos, the vastness of the Amazon, and its constant noises made by insects, animals, and plant life are replicated in the soundtrack composed by ELO and soundscapes by field sound recorder and designer Isabel Torres, which aid in the atmospheric transformation of the gallery. Together with the sculptures, the layered components of the work in the first room highlight the viewer’s status as a guest, posing the question of how they may engage with the space.
The exhibition culminates in the back room, where displayed is The Capuchin Order, 2023, a hybrid sculpture made from paper and cardboard depicting La Casa Arana and a colonial Catholic church. Projected onto the model are 35mm slide photographs taken by the missionaries, bringing to life the long history of the missions and the complex role the Capuchin monks played in the colonial Amazon. The house was built by owners of the Peruvian Amazon Company, brothers Julio Cesar and Lizardo Arana, in La Chorrera, Amazonas in the late 19th century. Needing individuals to provide labor in the sourcing and production of rubber, the Arana brothers enlisted methods utilized by enslavers to kidnap Indigenous men, women, and children. Forced to work to exhaustion, they were severely punished if they did not, as Rosita recalls in the video, meet the quota of rubber extraction. This led to the death of thousands of Indigenous individuals, who, with their fatal demise, took stories and knowledge. This dark episode in the region’s history is known as the second Indigenous genocide in the Amazon after the Conquest. To merge the house and the church is an apt reminder of the relationship between the colonizers and missionaries of the past and the lasting blemish left on Indigenous groups.
Jjagɨyɨ: Air of Life was originally commissioned by Subgerencia de Arte, Banco de la República, Colombia for the exhibition SEMBRAR LA DUDA: Indicios sobre la representación Indígena en Colombia opening at Museo de Arte Miguel Urrutia (MAMU) in Bogotá in September 2023.
Carlos Motta (b. 1978, Bogotá, Colombia) has an upcoming mid-career survey exhibition at Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) in 2024. He presented survey exhibitions at Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá (MAMBO) (2023) and the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus (2022). His work was included in Signals: How Video Transformed the World at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York (2023) the 58th Carnegie International (2022), Film at Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real (2021), and the 11th Berlin Biennale (2020). His work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Guggenheim Museum, Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid, amongst many others. He was a Penn Mellon Just Futures Initiative Grant grantee (2023), a Rockefeller Brothers Fund Grant grantee (2019), was awarded The Vilcek Foundation Prize for Creative Promise (2017), The PinchukArtCentre’s Future Generation Art Prize (2014), and a Guggenheim fellowship (2008). He is an associate professor of Interdisciplinary Practice in Fine Arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Elio Miraña is a Miraña “cantor” (singer), and activist based in Leticia, Colombia working to preserve the Miraña language through the adaptation of the Spanish language writing system and through song.
ELO is the alias of Enrique Leon, a Venezuelan/Colombian DJ also known as Leeon. He has played and been involved with clubs and festivals around the world, including the Glastonbury Festival, Berghain, Smartbar, Sustain-Release, and Honcho Campout.
Gil Farekatde Maribba is a Murui elder, thinker, and community leader based in Leticia, Amazonas concerned with the preservation of the ancestral knowledges and the histories of the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon, and the improvement of their lives in the present.
Higinio Bautista is a Maguta artisan, based in Tabatinga, Brazil who designs and produces objects that protect ancestral Maguta stories and knowledges. He exhibits and sells his work in many fairs around Colombia.
Kiyedekago is a Muinane artisan and basket weaver interested in passing on the knowledge of handicrafts to Indigenous women from younger generations and to a wider audience.
Rosita is a Murui elder living around Leticia, Amazonas, whose parents survived the rubber boom and who attended a Capuchin boarding school as a small child. She lives alone and takes care of her family’s maloca.
Yoí nanegü (Edgar Chamorro, Ángel Ramos, and Jhon Freddy Pereira) are performers, community leaders, and LGBTQI+ activists who perform songs and dance from the Maguta tradition to foster and disseminate traditional stories around Leticia, Amazonas.
Director of Photography
Lola Gómez Castello
Isabel Torres Reyes
Exhibition and Model Design
Video Design and Animation
Mogüta/Ticuna song performed by Yoí nanenü
Oí Churume, Cantor
Translated by Fabiola Fonseca e Ismenia Pinto
Translations from Miraña
Pre-Production and Research
Luis Hernando Cubillos
Paola Andrea Pérez Nieto, Inercia Películas
Natalia Ordoñez García
Oficina Inercia Películas
Camilo Cárdenas Suárez
Alejandra Gómez Osorio
Arley Mateo Ordoñez
Shot in and around Leticia, Amazonas, Colombia in 2022
Special thanks to: Agustín Pérez Rubio; Claudia Ramírez y Luis Fernando Ramírez: Obra Viva - Banco de la República, Colombia; Fray Alirio Rojas: Orden de los Hermanos Menores Capuchinos en Colombia; Juan Álvaro Echeverri: Universidad Nacional de Colombia - Sede Amazonas; Lito XXX; Luca Cruz Salvati; Maria Wills and Pablo Felipe Obando; Sigrith Castañeda: Subgerencia Cultural del Banco de la República, Colombia; María Isabel Ramírez and Maritza Ruíz: Museo Etnográfico de Leticia, Colombia; Mor Charpentier, Bogotá; Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA); Museu Etnogràfic Andino-Amazònic dels Caputxins de Catalunya, Barcelona; Pablo Bedoya; Salima Cure.
Commissioned by Subgerencia Cultural del Banco de la República, Colombia for the exhibition SEMBRAR LA DUDA: Indicios sobre la representación Indígena en Colombia at Museo de Arte Miguel Urrutia (MAMU), Bogotá, September 2023 - March 2024.