Arts in the Andes

Selena Harris - Ecuador


December 19, 2018

Time sure does fly here like it’s nobody’s business. While I wish I
possessed the sheer motivation to blog all that I have been writing,
unfortunately life moves just a little too fast for me to keep up. So I am
here with this quick blog to share what I have been pouring a lot of my
time into lately. For our latest GCY Training Seminar in the beautiful
Atacames, Esmeraldas, we were expected to produce a presentation outlining
an aspect of Ecuadorian life we wanted to dive into deeper as well as share
with others.

Living with an Indigenous family, my life has been 100% different than had
I moved in with a mestizo or Afro-Ecuadorian family. Growing closer with
this community has changed my outlook on Ecuador, religion, and the world
all together. Me and my friend Maria (who also lives with an Otavaleno
Indigenous family) decided to create an art series surrounding the lives,
practices, struggles, and religious beliefs of the Indigenous peoples of
Otavalo. I hope that you enjoy it and that it inspires you to look deeper
into the world of groups that have survived the thickest throughout history.

I was sitting deep in the woods one day, in this sweet tranquil spot I love
to go to write and draw, and I saw a woman older than life trekking along
with a cow four times her size. The forest floor is covered with twigs and
stinging nettle yet I look to her feet and she is barefoot. She is
indestructible. The woman in the center embodying “Pacha Mama” was inspired
by my host grandmother here in Peguche, as well as strong Indigenous women
everywhere. Her face is aged from a life of battling for equality, yet she
still holds the strength and beauty of the earth and the Pacha Mama
herself. The colors blue, yellow, and red represent the native waters, the
gold, and the blood of the indigenous accordingly.

Another depiction of the struggle that comes with a culture so closely knit
in one area. With beauty comes vulnerability.

Yes, this is a quote from a Mexican artist, but in my mind it feeds very
deeply into the beliefs in Incan religion. Shown in the drawing are facets
of nature that have become each other- nature becoming one with itself. In
Incan religion, they believe that the mountains are a bridge between our
world and the world of the gods.

For these, I did a rendition of one of Maria’s existing drawings (shown
first) of a statue of Mary and Jesus that’s in Otavalo. It is meant to
signify the blend of Kichwa practices and Christianity. One of the most
interesting things I have found is how peacefully many Indigenous families
have integrated the religion brought to Ecuador by the colonizers
themselves. Christianity is simply a religion- the Incan practices are a
way of life. Even though one is world wide, neither one is less powerful
than the other.

Here is the main collaboration we did. I did the linework (ignore the
smudge) and then Maria colored it in with colored pencil. This piece is
meant to bring Incan cosmovision to life. As I’ve mentioned before in
previous blogs, the Incan people believe there are 3 worlds that exist
within our reality- Ucu Pacha, Kay Pacha, and Hanan Pacha. Here’s a rundown:

Kay Pacha: The world we live in. All people, plants, and animals exist in
this realm. It is represented symbolically by a panther, said to carry
wisdom, strength, and intelligence. The people dance in circles, stomping
in rhythm, because it is said that the people of the underworld can hear
this beat, and will begin to dance with us.

Hanan Pacha: The world above. Here live all of the gods of the sky: Inti,
Mama Killa, Viracocha, Illapa, and many others. Also here is the stars,
planets, and the milky way. It is represented symbolically by a condor, who
is said to be a messenger for the gods. Some believe that honorable people
will ascend here when they die.

Uku Pacha: The underworld. Represented by serpent deity Amaru (Kichwa for
snake). He is a winged snake with the face of a llama. Here lives/embodies
the Pachamama as well as Supay, the god of death. He is said to release
demons whose purpose is to torment the living. Also here are all human
spirits after death, said to dance as we dance, as well as receive
offerings of food on Dia de los Muertos. It is customary at celebrations to
pour the first drink of a beer on the ground as an offering to the Uku
Pacha. Some believe that those not fit for the Hanan Pacha descend here
after death.

Connecting the worlds: Many things tie these worlds together. The Andean
philosophy of Yanantin preaches the important of balance: nothing can exist
successfully without its opposite and counterpart. This philosophy is
centered around not focusing on the differences that drive things apart,
but the power that brings them together. All things must exist in harmony.
Through natural springs, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc, the Uku Pacha
connects to the Kay Pacha. Through dance, conchs, and ceremonies, as well
as natural features such as mountains and volcanoes, the Kay Pacha reaches
both worlds above and below. Through weather, rainbows, lightening, and the
condor, the Hanan Pacha connects to the Kay Pacha. Everything is united.

I wish I could share everything about these pieces with you all- the
process, the inspiration, the specific stories behind them- but the whole
presentation took about an hour and this is just a blog. So read as much as
your heart desires! But know that I poured my soul into this work (Maria
did as well) to effectively tell the story of the people who have taken me
into their lives.

“Pay.” (pah-ee)
“Thank you.”







Selena Harris