To Be Living Memory

Ser memoria viva [To be living memory] is a performance not only thought through the action itself but through a series of objects, symbols or mechanisms which would activate or elude the memory. The man attire from Chicastenango, with more than 100 years old inherited and worn by Diego, was possibly the most visible symbol.


I. To be living memory/To be a body-memory

There’s a call to community responsibility that comes from before birth. To belong to native nations or to native people since the times of the European invasions up to this date is a constant resistance against everything: a foreign language, an economic system that relegates us to service positions, and social logics which grants you a place according to your skin color or last name. Against all this is our resistance and we honor our existence because we acknowledge our ancestors and descendants, despite not knowing them and despite we won’t know their names. We have already prayed for them.

We carry the weight of history daily. Not only because of the cultural heritage but also because in places like Guatemala we are the ones who carry the country on our backs. Migration to the United States and the economy on remittances is what, to this day, sustains this colonial land conceived as a country, yet migrants —mostly Mayans— are underestimated both here and there.

Within all historic processes exist shades and phenomena that vary from region to region and by factors that tend to change the courses. In colonial times, land tenure was —and still is— a determining factor for indigenous people. Later on, in the Republican era, access to education was a civilizing process to occupy other spaces. More recently, during the 80s and 90s, university education and the internal armed conflict changed the variables, and since then, we’ve reviewed and criticized both our past and recent history as Mayan descendants, racialized bodies, and diverse agents within all contexts of our lives.

On the brink of everything, we are political, economic, and cultural subjects even when there are strong movements from within that can be recognized only as cultural bodies or economic agents, and in both cases, exploitable from exoticization or plunder. It is here where the performance Ser memoria viva [To be living memory] finds its context, based on the way in which knowledge is transmitted within the different Mayan nations in Guatemala and on how these processes have preserved our science.

II. The performativity in the act of reoccupying a chair

Ser memoria viva [To be living memory] is a performance not only thought through the action itself but through a series of objects, symbols or mechanisms which would activate or elude the memory. The man attire from Chicastenango, with more than 100 years old inherited and worn by Diego, was possibly the most visible symbol.

Diego came into the main room at Teor/éTica hugging his own body protected by the attire and then he let it fall apart with a warm yet shy “Good night”. There, a table was waiting for him, also a chair and a painting in which could be read “This piece is memory and evidence of Juan Sisay and Diego Pop Ajuchán”. Subsequently, Ventura Puac-Coyoy lit a candle, took some liquor from his bag, drank from it, and offered some liquor to all around him: to the air, to the ground, to all we can perceive, and all we can not.

He sat on the chair.

He drew a deck of cards and some red and black beans: the Tz’ite’. He kept silent until he finally looked up and addressed a few words to the audience which I wasn’t able to hear.
There was a moment of silence until one person raised up to go and kneel down by the table Ventura Puac-Coyoy was at. Subsequently, this person asked him something, and Diego grabbed the deck and cut it a few times. Then he grabbed the Tz’ite’, he scattered them and began to cut them. There was another moment of silence. The consultation began.

The consultation along with the relationship that was generated between the ceremonial character of the event and the performance scope rose questions about what’s contemporary and what’s in the past. Among these questions some reading keys could be found in what could result to be either a rupture or a deep approach between rituality and performativity around the action of summoning forces that move beyond human planes, to search for answers to questions about fate.

Through the presence and use of the objects and sacred symbols that were part of the table, the bodies and emotions of the consultants were affected. Then, what happens with the consultees? Who are they? What are they in charge of? In that sense, I consider it relevant to analyze one last object/symbol which is the performance basis of a contemporary artwork: the painting. This was a representation of what was going on at that very same moment: see some people consulting around a table and in the middle Ventura Puac-Cocoy was sitting on a chair.

At this moment it is worthy to recapitulate a story: Juan Sisay, a renowned Mayan artist, was teaching his students to paint by copying his own paintings. Diego Pop Ajuchán was one of his students, and Ventura Puac-Coyoy made a reproduction of the painting that Diego Pop Ajuchán recreated during his “classes” with Juan Sisay. In other words, the performance “revived” the painting Juan Sisay painted and his student copied, and Ventura Puac-Coyoy alluded to this practice of transmitting knowledge. Although all these could seem a representation of the representation of the representation, there’s a very interesting vanishing point and that is that for each consultation made by the man sitting in the chair in each one of the scenes (painted or “revived”), there’s an individual manifest destiny for each one of the persons consulting a completely personal and different revelation. In that sense, each “copy” ceases to be a “copy” of the “copy” to become alive by itself.

III. TEM: my place in this World

To be living memory was part of the solo exhibition titled TEM by the artist.

147 km south Ciudad Guatemala in K’iche territory is found Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, a Mayan town both vibrating and overflowing, home of one of the most outstanding markets for textiles, clothing, and utilitarian objects. Chichi is a collective body, is an alternate world ruled by its own laws; they have another language, their own art, ceremonies, rituals, and an alternate governance. Within Mayan cosmovision everything is an extension of everything; everything has an order and its reason to be. It has another relationship and perception of nature; the conscience and understanding of the body as an extension of the territory. At the same time, everything that unfolds from the body is also perceived as part of it, such as the wind, the Sun, the Moon, the water, the animals, the seeds, the volcano, the rocks, the birds, the flowers. Everything the Earth harvests and everything that inhabits it belongs to it. So if it is mistreated or abused, Mother Earth is in its own right to defend itself, punish us, and even kill us.

The people from native communities also understand that the past is a time in the present that must be known, respected, and honored when acting about the future. From their understanding, all imprudence, greed, treason, pride, and disrespect are evils that shall be judged by the Earth’s sacred energies facing the complete oblivion of Q’anan Ulew’s wisdom. Within Chichi’s uk’ux two catholic temples are located at opposite poles: one exists where the Sun is born and the other one where the Sun goes hiding. The first one, known as Iglesia de Santo Tomás [Santo Tomás’s Church], is built over a Mayan pyramid where the Mayan sacred book The Popol Wuj was found, and it is the church of “life” or church or “hope”. Liturgical rites are held here (baptisms, marriages, confirmations, etc.), and Mayan ceremonies or Xukulem too; sacred celebrations and offerings.

The other temple has its foundations also over a pyramid and it is the Iglesia del Calvario (Calvario’s Church). Its name in K’iche language is Kum’ja: dark space. An annual mass guided by the Mayan calendar indicating the beginning of the prayer for the water is held in it. The ceremonies that are held there have the intention of asking for the healing of serious diseases or looking for a solution to legal problems. It works with darkness and it’s a place for offerings for the families of people who migrate because of land or of those who emigrate abroad. The location of both temples answers to the movements of the Sun in the sky.

Chichi is one of the foundations of Ventura Puac-Coyoy’s TEM. It is where it lays and from where he draws his way and channels his rage to transform it into sweet words, high and sincere, fine images, clear metaphors, where the light and the darkness, masculine and feminine, cohabit. From this place the artist is named and, at the same time, he names the art from some other realities: those of the native peoples.

Mayan language is an infinite source of wisdom and poetry, the meaning of each word has a direct or indirect relation with nature. This interdependence between language, body, and Q’ana Ulew is evident in this exhibition and in Ventura Puac-Coyoy’s work, the same as in the work of Rosa Cháes TIjax, Gladys Tzul Tzul, and Marilyn Boror: Mayan artists who investigate language, understand the power of words and use them as a tool of resistance. In Mayan culture and cosmovision, the language is another TEM that reminds us always about the sacred Earth’s omnipotence (loq’ajaw ulew). Consequently, the drawings, texts, and intervened objects which conform this exhibition speak about his vision of the world as a Mayan K’ichean man and as Ajq’ij.

IV.  Nature and language are not outside of me

What would become of me the day the heart of the sky closes its sad hurricane eye? Sacred halite of life, grant us the existence and the future that we see at sunrise and dawn, at sunset and awakening.

TEM is an exhibition that narrates and draws stories and poems about water, thunders, the wind, the volcano, the maize, the seeds, the snake. To question how the material world swallows us and how it has colonized us —both in the material plane and the spiritual one— is one of the intentions of this exhibition. The new forms of contemporary colonization (the media, extractivism, gentrification, etc.) manifest in the state of things, in the bodies, societies, and governments that abuse and disrespect Q’anan Ulew —and all that comes from it— as supreme Goddess/God.
In this understanding, the artist has taken the space to invoke what is easily forgotten to revalue it with tenderness and poetry. At the same time, the work alludes to their own “chair” or place from which Diego Ventura Puac-Coyoy resists and reminds us that art performs a visibility and denunciation function, to name everything that undermines us.

In this understanding, the artist has taken the space to invoke what is easily forgotten and to revalue it both with tenderness and poetry.


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