Kab' ej

September 23, 2020

Kab' ej: The Day After Tomorrow

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Sandra Monterroso, Lix Cua Rahro / Your Tortillas, My Love, 2003–2004. Video/performance. Image courtesy of the artist. (View the work)

When my grandmother died, I felt that she was passing her breath on to me. I knew little about my own identity or how it was shaped. She spoke to me in her language with her faltering breath, nearly immobilized, as if traveling into the past, into her own history, to her land in Las Verapaces. I felt that her breath was a portal, an invitation to travel through Najt, space-time. I went to the place where history, memory, stories, cycles of time, and other forms of knowledge were possible.

Starting to recognize myself was a voyage I began nearly twenty years ago. The decision to move through that Najt meant moving through my ancient past and future. Quantic time runs forward and backward indistinguishably. The ancient Maya and the Aj’quijs, spiritual guides, say that our eyes are disjointed, for one looks toward the past and the other toward the future. This was the nature of my voyage, both backward and forward. Circulating in the past opened a trajectory toward my future. There is no literal translation in Maya Quiché for the words present, past, and future. The concept of the past is not used, but in any case, one can say, “the day after tomorrow,” Kab’ej —this is the image of our traditional conception of cyclical time. Only the word time, in the sense of “date,” is referenced as Q’ehil. Thus, “the day after tomorrow” is a trajectory that goes backward and forward, like a spiraling machine.

In Maya Quiché, N’ajtaq’ means time, space, and energy. Time is a being in movement, and it is related to the cycles of the sun and moon. Solar activity is quantified and symbolized in several calendars such as the solar calendar Haab’, in which the future remains behind us because our sight cannot get a glimpse of it. According to Haab’, the day I wrote this text is waqxaqib/ b/e, 5,135 kumku. On the Cholq’ij lunar calendar, the energy of this day, the 26th of March, is Kajib’ E, the guardian of the path. The Cholq’ij lunar calendar is connected to cosmic energy, nature, animals, flowers, plants, and the human body.

Time is related to the four cardinal points, and time does not exist without space. Horizontality is related to the vertical perspective; they come together at the center of a system that conjoins cosmogonical, physical, mathematical, and spiritual dimensions. The bookkeepers of time affirm that the four cardinal points form key intersections, bundles, or knots that emanate from the axis but stay in a perpetual movement toward the infinite corners of the universe.

Every day, as a Q’egchi Maya woman, I am conscious of the day’s energy in the Cholq’ij lunar calendar. I continuously travel backward and forward in time. Today is the day of destiny; its color is yellow, and its orientation is toward the south. Today is the sacred path; which is also the white path.

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Sandra Monterroso, Lix Cua Rahro / Your Tortillas, My Love, 2003–2004. Video/performance. Image courtesy of the artist. (View the work)

Questioning Western/linear time, which absorbs all of my energy, has made me stop time through its very performative embodiment. One day, while living in Puebla, Mexico, I dreamed I was preparing tortillas, and while I was making them, I was speaking in Maya Q’egchi’. It is said that when we dream, time doesn’t exist, so that we can perceive the past, present, and future simultaneously. This is why the shamans of various ancestral cultures encounter messages in dreams. Art sometimes presents itself to me in dreams so that when I get up, I write down in the present, the dream (past) of an idea that I will realize in the future.

The video work Lix Cua Rahro / Your Tortillas, My Love (2003-2004), is a slow, deliberate demonstration of how to make tortillas. This action generates a multiplicity of times. While some elements suggest a contemporary timeframe, the woman in her poetic recitation in Q’eqchi’ Maya evokes a non-linear time. Words are presented as thoughts, vague murmurings. They declare xquiq’uel / my blood, xk’ ojyinal / his darkness, aj pujuyer / keeper of the way, juna talil / loneliness. During the performance, she prepares tortillas in a solitary space for a loved one who never arrives.

There is an energetic dynamic in this perpetual transformation ritual: tortillas are prepared using repeating gestures with fluids like saliva and tears. During the performance as ritual, the indigenous woman travels to the past by emulating the way in which tamales were made ancestrally using the whole body.

Corn is flesh and blood; it is rebirth.

We are people made of corn. In the space-time of the performance as ritual, the life cycle of the Maya culture emerges. The woman travels toward the future, upholding ritual space as an act of resistance. She resists the disappearance and negation of her culture.

We live in a time that unfolds. Without us realizing it, all time is occurring at the same time. If I decide to protect the mountains, forests, water, animals, care for my spirit, and care for my culture, I need to travel to the past to study the breath that was left to us by ancient knowledge. This time travel allows me to see with my other eye a green dawn in which we can harvest corn, and in which we can continue kneading the dough that reminds us that we are still alive.


Sandra Monterroso (1974) is a Guatemalan artist whose oeuvre is tied to a recognition of her Mayan origin. She primarily explores the paradoxes of belonging to an indigenous mestizaje that frequently goes unrecognized, even in its place of origin. When her maternal grandmother was lying on her deathbed, she spoke to her in Q’eqchi’ Maya to ask for water; although the artist did not understand the literal translation of her words, she understood that her world was going to have to change. Immersed in the impact of the Q’eqchi words, Sandra Monterroso started down a path toward the reconstruction of her own history, completing a geo-poetics of her past linked to the indigenous world. A recognition of her indigenous side has sparked the most significant motivation for her artistic practice over the past twenty years. Monterroso examines transversal aspects of culture such as gender, racialized bodies, communal feminism, modernity, and coloniality; for this she uses several different media, including video-art, performance, painting, and sculpture. For Monterroso, it is very important to de-contextualize symbolic elements that exist in a none-too-comfortable conflict within the relationship between ancestral cultures and contemporary culture.​


Notes for a Horizon-tality: Toward the Possibility of Becoming Together as an Assemblage is a project that responds to our multiple and seemingly multiplying emergencies. Since the growing uncertainty of living in a world in crisis seems to continuously threaten the possibility of the future, this editorial initiative seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship on this topic from the perspective of Latin American contemporary art.