When nature is perceived as a network, its vulnerability becomes apparent. Everything holds together. If one thread is pulled, the entire tapestry can unravel […].
Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World
Tropicality is a geographical and cultural notion distant from European geographical and material conditions. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the strangeness and awe felt by colonizers and chroniclers in the face of the exuberance of nature and territories in Latin America created an imaginary filled with both fantastic and terrifying descriptions. While scientific research and exploration of the economic potential of natural resources in these regions were promoted on one hand, the idea was also cultivated that there were obstacles hindering the development of thought and prosperity of the colonies, such as the marked geographical features and customs of the inhabitants. In “Tropics,” Colombian artist Ana González takes up the notion of tropicality to reflect on two cultural and material realities that converge in water and the sacred.
The Oratory of San Felipe Neri, the venue for the exhibition, bears witness to the cultural syncretism that resulted in the overlap of two historical periods, two architectures, and two symbolic uses of water. On one hand, there are the underground Roman baths, remnants of the Roman Empire, where water was conceived as a vehicle for body worship, recreation, and pleasure. On top of them, there is a religious building from the medieval era that reminds us of the rituals of purification and rebirth through water in the Christian tradition. The place has been given additional layers of interpretation through two elements: a Sephardic loom from 1922, which the Consortium of the Castilian-Manchegan capital recovered at the beginning of 2023, and now “Tropics,” the textile and sound installation presented by Ana González, which showcases a majestic body of water that delves into the fog forest ecosystem and projects itself into a chant of the tropical forest.
The installation is composed of “Tequendama,” an 18-meter long fabric piece containing the image of the Salto del Tequendama, the grand natural waterfall of the Bogotá River in the Andes Mountains. For Colombian indigenous communities, waterfalls are sacred places of devotion and renewal that represent the abundance of life, where water nourishes the land and cleanses the bodies. This particular waterfall is an important water source that appears in the foundational legends of the Muisca cultures that inhabited the region before Spanish colonization.
González manages to create a waterfall that advances like a river and fades into threads that knot, showcasing a current that has endured decades of pollution in its flow. However, the transformation of the material also addresses the question of landscape modification due to the exploitation of natural resources. In the area, mining, monoculture, livestock, and, above all, the absence of the state have undermined the efforts of indigenous communities to preserve the integrity of this devotional place.
Girotari, which means “to make drink” in the Uitoto language, is the name of the sound piece that completes the installation and amplifies the sensory experience in the space. In it, the sounds of the tropical forest and water blend with ceremonial chants that call out to the heart of the jungle and invite us to partake of its nectar, as if we were hummingbirds or bees. At the same time, these voices are a summoning of the primordial goddesses of water, who now, as a reflection, name the Venus that resides in the depths of the baths, rising to become an image in this other sacredness.
Museologist, National University of Colombia