The brilliantly colored feathers found in this artwork are from macaw parrots native to Latin America. The birds inhabit the Amazon rainforest, where Anderson Barbata has traveled frequently since the early 1990s to work with indigenous communities, particularly the Yanomami, Ye’Kuana and the Piaroa (south of Venezuela). The artist has initiated projects directly with those communities to holistically addresses several of their needs at once: their need to document their own history, their need for an ecological method of recycling obsolete text-books and other paper refuse, and their need for a new means of revenue that would not disturb their cultural and ecological environment.
In this installation, feathers sprout out of ex-votos, hand carved wooden votives associated with the popular practice in Catholicism of giving thanks for the fulfillment of a vow. They are assembled in sculpture-like compositions that are displayed atop various found wooden bases. The combination of the tropical feathers and the ex-votos directs our attention to the coexistence of enduring indigenous traditions with imposed Christian beliefs, and it acknowledges the complexities of identity. Utilizing pedestals, an imported method of display, Anderson Barbata adds another element of dissonance to this fusion of cultures.
(Source: Catalogue for the exhibition Portadores de sentido
Listen to the artist talk about her work:
My name is Laura Anderson Barbata and I’ll speak about my work Santos y profetas
[Saints and Prophets
] made in 1995, from the series En el orden del caos
[In the Order of Chaos]. In 1992 I started to work in Venezuela’s Amazonas region on a project with the Yanomami, Piaroa, and Ye’kuana communities from Alto Orinoco. They taught me to make canoes and to understand different traditional techniques, and in exchange I taught them to make paper and books with natural fibers from the area, and to recycle the trash from the missions, adapting their traditional practices for the creation of illustrated books for the community in their language, without the need of materials not available in the vicinity. The whole community would choose the content of the books, and the first Yanomami book, titled Shapono
received the prize for best book in 1996. The experience marked me deeply and radically changed my way of working. From that moment, it became eminently important to me to integrate reciprocity as a philosophy of life and work. During my multiple stays in the Amazon region, as is custom, we exchanged gifts, and on various occasions they gave me bird feathers. The beauty of these feathers has a spiritual power, and juxtaposing them with Catholic ex-votos made of wood, placed upon bases of scavenged wood, allows us to direct our gaze toward the complex coexistence of life in the area, communities that, from the time of the Conquest, have lived under the imposition of evangelization and the introduction of industrialized materials. When I see this work, I feel that it reaffirms not just the beauty of the feathers, and the lives they represent, but that it also alludes to their spiritual power, which goes beyond imposed doctrine. That is, even in the smallest detail we can find an immense universe from which we can learn.