Image-making plays an important role in the research on the living cognitive territory and in the project of creating the Biocultural Indigenous University at large. Images are not merely depicting already existing realities, they contribute to reality-making, to world-making. Images themselves possess a kind of conceptual, even material capacity to act and in most processes, they perform the crucial transition between imagination and materialization.
Film team for interviews with the Inga elders, left to right: Richard Décaillet, Ursula Biemann, Flora Macas, Ivan Vargas, Waira Jacanamijoy, Yann Decaumont
Adelina Becerra Peña, Muso Ñambi Kausai, Mocoa
This concept of image-making is vital for a project that assembles undocumented histories and memories, engages with nonhuman actors, visualizes dynamics, performs a deep description of the territory, and generally creates a new knowledge organization from scratch. Images transport knowledge in more than textual or purely cerebral ways. Artistic and audiovisual communications can implicate emotional, sensorial, spiritual and physical experiences.
In this project, images perform multiple functions, some of which are highlighted here. As a result of colonization, extractivism, and the armed conflict, the Inga people are fragmented and dispersed across the country. This makes communication difficult, it’s hard to keep everyone on the same page. Images, here, have the purpose of reconnecting a dispersed people. A lack of information generates misunderstandings, or worse, exclusion and mistrust. The online platform Devenir Universidad is a way of being inclusive, letting everyone know about the current state of affairs and bringing everyone on the same page. In other words, it is open about the process and thus creates transparency. It makes the process comprehensible within the community, between different indigenous communities inhabiting the region, and towards the outside on all scales.
Performance by Rubiela Mojomboy
Interview with Mercedes Jacanamijoy from Yungillo
Also, these images help to give form to the cognitive and mental stuff this University will be made of, giving form to cognition and knowledge. They actively help to rearticulate the community by reassembling cultural identity. A few years ago, they just considered themselves campesinos, peasants, often bearing adopted Spanish names. Now they reconnect and remember. With the conscious choice to relink to older traditions they took up their indigenous names again and re-membered their cosmology. A major task in the protection of an endangered culture consists in establishing a living audiovisual archive of the pluriepistemic voices of the elders, healers, social leaders, traditional medics, and other forest beings.
The story of the Inga reflects and connects to a global movement that has gathered momentum in the 1980s and 1990s across Latin America and in the global arena, where the new vocal public persona and globalizing voice of the indigenous made itself heard. This doesn’t mean they are returning to some historical version of indigenous identity. Rather, this movement seeks a contemporary edition to define a new position of what it means to be indigenous in the 21st century, as James Clifford explores in Returns (2013). The rising indigenous and their self-defined knowledge is a historical moment in the making that needs imaging to enter and persist in the national consciousness and thus entering the collective imaginary. As always, achieving sovereignty of signification over themselves and their ways of being, is a major purpose of such a project.
What can the role and contribution of an artist be in this project? Initiated by the artist Ursula Biemann, Devenir Universidad started as an art and media project that accompanies and gives artistic and conceptual impulses, acting as an aesthetic companion to the indigenous-led University project and a hub for intercultural translation. It translates the issues and concepts and mediates different actors toward international partnerships and participation, thus acting as mediator and connector.
As an extended art project, it shifts the focus from bringing ecology into art to bringing art to ecology by directly intervening in, and co-creating, material and epistemic realities on the ground. Perhaps the process of becoming university is also one of becoming environmental where the outside and inside dissolve in a gradual ecologization of the university. In spite of the restrictions and destructive conducts by the state and corporate forces in the region, Devenir Universidad pursues a propositional mode of thinking and imagining. In doing so, it disrupts the modern operation of critique and replaces it with a performative imagination, a collectively produced fiction. And when this fiction joins the world, it becomes the world (Maria Hlavajova).
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