Cocoa trees, coffee trees, and sunflowers
These watercolor series relate to three “comforting and pleasurable” elements of our daily lives: chocolate, coffee and the warm beauty of sunflower colors. Remembering, representing, and thus viewing the plants from which such comforts originate can help us reconnect with mother nature and its nurturing powers. Likewise, the cultural histories that surround the domestication, cultivation (and representation) of these plants can make us appreciate the contribution of Indigenous traditions to our networked world, or multiverse.
The cocoa tree series was inspired by a representation of the cacao tree in a Mesoamerican, Quiché Maya vase from Nebaj (Guatemala Highlands) and in which the fruits emerge directly from the trunk. The word cacao actually comes from Maya through Spanish. The original word is usually spelled kakaw in Mayan languages. From the vase, one can see that the Maize God, who was the father of the mythical Mayan Hero Twins, was decapitated in the underworld (Xibalbá) and placed in a cacao tree. The Hero Twins he procreated with the underworld Moon Goddess (Xkik’) are thus akin to his cocoa seeds. Their self-sacrifice in the underworld by fermentation, roasting, and having their burned bones ground into powder and poured into a river is symbolic of the processing of cacao. By extension, it is also the recipe for rebirth, since Hunahpu, the father, turns into the sun through this act of self-immolation, and he generously gives out his light and life so that all things can live.
I dedicate this entire series to my friend and scholar Michael Grofe who provided me with this fascinating reading of the cacao tree image and whose in-depth work on Mayan mythology and ancient Latin American civilizations is a an inspiration to scholars, students and the general public as well.
This series of acrylics on canvas first came about as a project to decorate a preschool classroom. The specific goal was to captivate the young viewers’ attention with colors and shapes familiar to them, thus fostering their imagination and creativity. The colorful, “flowing” colors of the backgrounds convey the idea of several, multiple worlds full of life and in constant transformation, where we grow and change both as children and adults. The elements, characters, and creatures of these worlds emerge from the canvas in the form of tiny, stylized figures and silhouettes. It is up to the young viewer to find these figures and shapes, make up their story or remember a particular one, as well as give meaning and order to what they see.
The canoe of life, Paris 2015 This project was inspired by the Amazonian canoe that a group of Kichwa people from the Sarayaku community in the Ecuadorian rainforest brought with them to Paris during the UNNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) 21. As Felix Santi, President of Sarayaku stated, “Our canoe is a symbol of life and peace from the heart of the Amazon to show the world that our forests are still living. . .” As the painting shows, the canoe was forged in the shape of the rare hummingbird fish, and carved out of a cinnamon wood tree, which is represented by the red-colored lines mingling with the blue water.
Duende, or the regenerative power of art. The idea for this project comes from the essay “In search of Duende” (1933) by Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca. In looking at Spanish folklore and ancient cultures, he explains how certain types of music and art (especially flamenco dance and music) have the mysterious power to generate “intense, almost unendurable” emotional responses not only in the artist but in the audience as well. Under these circumstances, art in its “classical” definition is far from being a matter of style and grace: the duende erupts like a disruptive, earthly, yet highly spiritual and regenerative force that does not need any philosophical explanation to be clearly communicated; it calls, instead, for an almost unconscious, spontaneous effort. As García Lorca states, “The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.”