Carla Van Den Berg – Sculpture Trail And Indigenous Communities

Who are you?
It’s a tricky question. Before leaving home in Italy, I was one kind of person, I was shy
and scared and so many other things, and now, after having spent some time away, I am no longer like that, but as I keep on moving I keep on changing.
So, who am I? What I am sure of is that my name is Carla F. that I was born in London but bred in Italy. That I will be smiling most of the day, most of the days in a year, and that I want to be an artist and that I am now, in the Peruvian Amazons, answering these questions, not sure yet where I’ll end up next.

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What is important for you to communicate through your art?
Honestly, I came to Sachaqa for many reasons, one of which was exactly this one. I wanted to understand what it is that I want to express with my work, what is the thing that matters the most to me.  I am still figuring it out, still searching, but I think right now what I want to share through my work is my simple and honest point of view on this crazy world through observing the smallest and generally considered insignificant details of whatever we have around us.  We all perceive reality in a different way, that is a fact, but not all of us are capable, or maybe don’t even feel like, translating that perception into an image, a sculpture, an installation, a conceptual work or whatever, so I feel whoever has the desire and the possibility to share hers or his vision of
the world, should do it for themselves and for all those who can’t, and that’s exactly what I’m going to try and do.

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How has the Amazon Rainforest influenced your art practice?
The Amazon influenced my work on so many different levels, but at the same time, I think there must be only a few human beings in the world who could manage not-being influenced in such an environment.
For starters the multitude of lines and patterns and shapes nature has to offer were overwhelming.  I felt like everything needed an exaggerated amount of attention, for everything is beautifully powerful in the jungle. Spending a month immersed in the rain forest is what made me realize my love for tiny details.  It made me pay more attention to the small things and creatures that live with us and that we barely consider.
And as an extra, I’ve also learned that nature itself can become not only the subject of a work but also the tool to make it. Stones for colour, Sticks for brushes and Leaves for prints. Which I think is just too fascinating.

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You visited a couple of times indigenous villages such as Chiriyacu and Aviacion. What was your experience like? What did you see? Feel? Think?
My visits to the native communities shook me in a strange way, in fact, I think I am still processing all of it.  When I arrived in Chiriyacu I had childish and maybe also ignorant expectations, images of old movies crossing my mind. So at first when I arrived in this completely deserted village with a basketball-like court and only a man in a bodega on his computer, I felt a little disappointed. Only later I understood that on a Sunday a lot of the natives went places to relax and enjoy their day, while the rest kept on working in their fields far from the “center”. And only later I understood that the man on the computer was the man that represents the community in the local government, so the man who tries to defend the rights of his people, and I was mentally blaming him for having a computer. So although ecstatically, at least to me, it didn’t look so different from any village I had crossed until then, it all changed when I got to talk to the people, and to go into someone’s home, to hear their stories, to sit next to them and learn something from them.

Indigenous chumbe weaving in Chiricyacu

In Chiriyacu there is a group of women who have come together,  for four years now and are trying to revive the indigenous art of weaving.  I met two of the lovely women that are part of this incredible project, and it was beautiful.  We sat on the ground on the ‘piso de tierra’ of their house, they hammered four nails in the ground and started teaching me how to make a bracelet in a traditional antique way.  And Selina told me how her mother had taught her, and her mother had taught her and so on for centuries. I felt like I was being donated a small part of their culture like they were making me part
of something historical.  The second time I went back, Angel, my neighbor, friend and guide for the trip, told me to bring something to the people I was going to visit, a gift, but not a gift as we may think, simply some rice or bread or similar.  He told me that this way, they will remember me and always have a door opened for me.  I brought the lady some cookies for the daughter, and they offered me some mango.  “If you don’t accept what they offer, they’ll never offer again” whispered Angel.  They have so many interesting traditions, it is fascinating when you get to hear them or even see
them.

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Indigenous community of Aviación –

After that, we went to Aviación, which is slightly further away.  It felt much closer to the image I had in my mind of an indigenous community before having ever been to one.
We sat down in a woman’s house to eat the lunch we had brought with us, and she insisted on offering us some soup, some bananas, and some refresco anyways, which I chugged imitating Angel, to discover it was a strange liquor mixed with fruit and honestly quite strong and not the best refesco I’d had so far, but they all had a laugh at my facial expression after that.  People were friendly although I think they kept on making fun of me after the drink-episode, but I was fine with it.
Aviacion around lunch time was charming, everyone was relaxing laying down in the shade before getting back to work, chatting and just having a good time.  When we left it felt like leaving a friend’s house after a nice day altogether, all shouting goodbye
and waving at us.

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These two visits to the indigenous communities made me think a lot about how we manage our lives in modern times, what we consider right or wrong, who we consider rich or poor and so many other things, and for this, I think it was an intense experience for me, but maybe it’s because I overthink things too much sometimes.  I think the visit to the native communities are, as you could imagine, very special, you just need to
be prepared for the village to be empty or full, for there to be what you are looking for or not, you never know, I believe one should go there expecting the unexpected.

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How was it for you to be part of the Sachaqa family?
Oh. It was the best.  When I first arrived I was the only resident, and during my first night I thought “What the heck am I doing here?”.  But that thought only lasted one night.
To begin with, Trina is an incredible woman, and her family is opened and just fun to be with.  So already from day two, I felt much better.  After a week another artist came along with his family, joining in the Sachaqa family.  And it was amazing, not only it is nice to have someone else in the studio to ask for an opinion every now and then, or just to chat with while having a little break, but also the better we all got to know each other, the more fun every day became.  We had dinner all together in the common room, kids running around bringing laughter to all of it.  The more people we were, of any age, the more exchange of knowledge there was.  It’s been amazing sharing my experience here with all of them, and being part of such a cool family.

Jasmine, the eldest daughter of the artist family Salix
Tell me about the artwork you have made. What influenced the work? Inspirations?
I have worked on different things while in Sachaqa, but the main project I focused on is a sculpture which is now, and I hope for still a long time, hanging between the trees of the art center’s grounds.  When I arrived I didn’t know much about the rain forest so I started researching until I found out about the myth of the Amazons.  It just felt perfect to me.  The idea that the name of the biggest jungle in the world comes from a tribe of women warriors, that might have or might not have lived, excited me so much.  Some people don’t believe in their existence but many articles, including a national geographic
reportage, have proven that they very likely walked this world, being the firsts to wear trousers and fighting boldly.  I decided that I wanted there to be a woman warrior looking over the Sachaqa grounds and the trail next to it, and I wanted her to be made of the jungle’s materials.  Another person that inspired the idea for this sculpture was Trina, of course. I feel like she embodies the Amazon tribe’s spirit perfectly, she is one of the strongest and most interesting women I have met so far.  So I created a 2 m long and 1,5 m large (more or less) face out of metal wire and bark, that hangs seemingly floating between two trees, keeping an eye on the situation.  The silhouette mixes with the trees in the background and pops out in some points against the clear sky just like the fiery spirit of the Amazons is always there, but it might be hidden from view at times or when one’s not paying attention.

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Would you recommend Sachaqa? and why?
I definitively would. It is the real jungle experience combined with a great place to make art, to express yourself without boundaries. Do not expect a 5-star hotel, or hot showers, for that you can just stay exactly where you are. Sachaqa is real!
It is a place where you have to confront yourself with nature at it’s fullest and learn to live with it in harmony.  It is a place where you are obliged to pay attention to your surroundings and to understand them and to understand some things about you and your limits.  It gives you a lot of time to reflect about your art until you can look at it with a fresh and new eye.  For me being at Sachaqa was a great experience, it taught me you just have to keep on going while making your artwork, reinvent yourself every time something doesn’t go the way you expected it to go, the jungle is unpredictable, but it taught me how to embrace not knowing what’s going to happen next.

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Why did it take you so long to answer? (added by me)
I am not sure. I returned from the jungle and while I was telling my stories I felt like no one could actually picture nor understand what I had lived and what had happened to me. So the more time passed, the more I closed that month in a bubble and locked it in the top right corner of my mind, opening it only for my self, in the traffic of Lima picturing the garden of the grounds.  At the beach imagining the shade of a big tree. Thinking of Angel, Cenaida and all the family.  Just recently I have developed the photos of my 35mm analog camera that is accompanying me in this journey and realized that just because someone once didn’t understand me it doesn’t mean I have to stop telling a story.   I should try even harder! I should make people understand how special some places in the world are and share the luck I’ve had to be able to see and experience some of them.  So I guess that it was just too good to be true, and I just decided to pretend that all of it was a dream. I also guess these questions represent some sort of “closure”, which is also why I have been struggling to deliver good answers, but I hope that even if the chapter of the Peruvian selva might be finished, for now, Trina and Sachaqa will never forget me, cause I will never forget them.

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