Sachaqa Talk – Conversations with Peruvian artists
So proud to present this amazing interview with Amazonian Artist Fredy Tuanama Guerra. As part of my own research, I began these interviews to delve more deeply into the world of these fascinating artists, which in my opinion are what the world needs. The bridge between indigenous art and culture breaking through into the academic art scene. Fredy was born in a small Amazonian village, his art gives true meaning to the term ecological artist. Enjoy this interview which offers a rare and wonderful insight into an emerging movement in art, brought to you from the Amazon rainforest, Peru.
How are you Fredy? Tell us a little about yourself? Where were you born? What was your experience in school like? What are your memories of childhood?
Now, I’m in the town where I was born I’m in Loreto, at the beginning of the pandemic before all transportation closed I was able to come to my village, now I am here.
I was born in Orellana village located on the banks of the Ucayali River in the department of Loreto. I studied here in my hometown and since I was little, I realised that I was passionate about art, especially drawing and painting. I remember from the age of five or six years old, I liked to draw. Also my father encouraged us in our free time together with my brother, he sometimes gave us tasks and drawing competitions. So, from a really early age I loved to draw and it was me that liked drawing the most in my family. I remember seeing the illustrations in my fathers dictionary, I think it was Lexus and there were works by famous artists. I really liked to see the images and remember seeing the work of Dali in particular his paintings ‘Galatea of the Spheres’ and ‘Persistence of Memory.’ Also, I remember the works of Michelangelo ‘Creation of Adam’ and also the sculpture of David. So, from a very early age, I became really nourished by images of sculptures and paintings. During primary school there were contests which I participated and the teachers said I excelled in drawing. I can’t remember much of my drawing at this time. What I do remember more were my drawings in high school, when I used colored pencils. I talked a lot more with the art teachers at this time and asked questions – where they had studied and what their education was like. I was excelling in other subjects also apart from art. Always participating in contests for mathematics and communication but it was painting which caught my attention more.
In regards to my family I’m the only artist, the only painter. At first, my parents approved and were happy that I was drawing and painting and encouraged me. Then in high school my father once asked me, what I wanted to study after high school. I responded that what had caught my attention more was painting and how I wanted to study art. My father thought the idea would pass like any hobby and after a few days, I would forget. So, after some time he asked me again, what was it I wanted to study? So, I kept answering that what had caught my attention the most and what I wanted to study was painting. Well, there was some difficulties in the beginning for my parents to accept, because my parents wanted me to study a different career. I was also outstanding in mathematics, communication, and writing. So, when I finished high school my parents had accepted my choice to study art. So then I moved to study at the school of art in Pucallpa, which was the start and where I began to paint better. In my village I was drawing more with pencils and pen but I didn’t know what paint was or painting on canvas. I first began paintings on canvas at art school. I studied at – Higher School of Public Artistic Training – Eduardo Meza Saravia. It was five years to learn the techniques – oil paint, drawing with charcoal, landscape painting and figurative drawing. To arrive at abstraction, everything that an academic education includes. In the last year our teachers pushed us to define our own style. It was a very difficult time where we were forced to push ourselves. To achieve realism and to imitate the path of the old masters, which we admired a lot. Then little by little, one has to start making their own path. For me, this was a fight because my childhood was in a small village.
What are your sources of inspiration and art influences?
I had so much to say as a young artist, especially about the oral narratives our families had passed on, from generation to generation. Which was a starting point for me. In my early work I began to convey mythical Amazonian stories. In the small village of my childhood we were loaded with mythical stories and when they told the stories they appeared so real, as though they had actually happened. If you tell the same stories to other people they become lost, as regular mythology. When the stories were told in my village you could feel the essence and it felt more possible, that supernatural things can happen – the stories were alive and real. So, my first works of art where mostly about Amazonian myths. My goal was to find a method or a style, a path to follow but the difficulty was whether to paint them realistic, fantastic or abstract. It can be a little bit difficult to find your own path.
My method was also to investigate other artists work. I read a lot during that time and studied literature and other artists of the world. Also investigated more about ‘Salvador Dali‘ and the different stages of ‘Pablo Picasso’, an artist which passed through many styles. I came to know more about – ‘Gerardo Chavezso’ and started to look at other Peruvian artists. This is what helped me tremendously, to look at other artists work especially known Peruvian artists. ‘Venancio Shinki’ and the work of ‘Fernando de Szyszlo’ were artist which nurtured my creativity and helped me on the search to define my individualistic style. By chance I came across ’Gino Ceccarelli,’ an Amazonian artist from Iquitos in the same department where I was born. His work features mythology but with a distinct style. My early mythology series was highly inspired by ‘Ceccarelli,‘ as I studied a lot of his work. After some time I began to find my own style a mix of figurative with abstraction.
When did you discover the Shipibo ayahuasca patterns and introduce them into your work?
The work I am doing now is a process of experimentation with the indigenous Shipibo iconography. Which is something that caught my attention when I was studying, as some of my classmates were native Shipibo. I was very curious to talk with them, to see the designs they were creating and hear explications of their work. Learn about their experiences and knowledge, to see the great value of the ancestral iconography. To look for something that would help me in my art and I was now having a more clear idea. Close to my small village a few kilometres away it was really common to see indigenous people, with their artisan crafts and traditional clothing. So perhaps it was recorded in my subconscious of seeing these images and when I was discovering more about it in Pucallpa with friends who were Shipibo, this theme came back to me.
One time I remember I was in my village on vacation from my art studies and began to draw a lot of images of the Shipibo iconography, trying to find a formula in the designs. At first I worked intuitively, until one day when I was really focused on the designs, I realised, I was following a pattern, an infinitesimal pattern, a pattern that I could find a solution through using a formula. This was the beginning when I found the formular which continues through all the work I am doing now. I realized that with a formula I could alter the flat two-dimensional Shipibo design, by changing the perspectiva and vanishing point and thus create a three-dimensional effect.
With the painting ‘Pretty Little Charapita,’ an image of an Amazonian Shipibo woman above a River Turtle; On the floor where you find the Charapita there was Shipibo iconography which was painted in a way that moved towards a vanishing point and the floor was with perspective. So, this was the first piece when I used this method and began to experiment more. As the years went by I came across more teachers. In an event, a festival of art where I met the teacher – Linda Silvano. Her work impacted me as she used the same technique, I had found years ago. The teachers Shipiba’s were also using this method, I just hadn’t known about it. I was so grateful and happy about these investigations into the patterns of the Shipibos and that I was on the right path.
Can you tell us about your painting ‘Cube of Wisdom?’ What does the cube represent? Does it have something to do with a structure found in western society? Or is it a representation of something more connected to the Universe? What is the story behind this symbol, which has become a recurring subject in your work.
I began painting ‘Cube of Wisdom’ in 2019. Apart from the title that speaks of the Cube of Knowledge also it is a piece which is really complex in terms of execution. It’s about the Universe, about giving importance to nature and if we can understand nature we can reach to an advanced level; The relationship between the design of nature and man. It’s about the medicinal songs and the iconographic designs of the Shipibos.
It’s my interpretation of how, if we gave more importance to our natural environment, in one way or another we are more knowledgeable. As we are in a current world situation where our natural environment is badly treated, different species are dying; If we take an example of the Amazonian villages of the indigenous people, they are living so connected to the natural environment, they do not threaten nature. On the contrary they live in a harmonious exchange, its a relationship of mutual exchange of relating to one another.
The cube is about that and if we can achieve this also, for all humans to be conscious of this relationship between all living beings. That we are all part of everything that we are all part of this transformation. The cube was made of pure Shipibo patterns that relate, each face of the cube coincide and there is a union between everything between all living things; Plants, humans, all a part of the whole. So, this piece is really special for me because it has a lovely message. How we should coexist among all living beings. I began the series in Pucallpa and then when I went traveling I took the painting with me and continued for a long period of time. Starting in 2018 and finished around 2019. So it had taken a year to finish the series.
Shipibo patterns are a visual representation of the Icaros, the medicine songs that heal. Are you looking to create some kind of alchemy of healing in your work? or are you speaking about the healing properties of plants? What is the essence behind the use of these patterns? Or what is it you would like to communicate in relation to the patterns?
The iconography of the songs could play a part in it but it’s not everything. At the beginning when I started to see the work of the great masters in art history, each one had a unique way to communicate. It could be an abstract piece or figurative work but you could really grasp the essence. You can see the work and understand that the work is trying to convey something. When I began with iconography and began to see the work of the great masters, I wondered how is it that the masters can convey so much. You see their work and you find an infinity of messages. For that is what interested me about the patterns which are also songs – Icaros. What does these designs have in particular for them to be so special, so spiritual? The designs could mean also, apart from the songs, they could signify the different elements in nature and they could be designs of plants.
My Shipibo friends told me that they could also represent turtle shells, the markings of snakes of the Anacondas, the rivers, there is a multitude of meaning. When I began investigating all this, I focused more on the shells of the turtle , the squares and all the other designs. I didn’t really investigate too much their meaning but focusing more on one type of design. I wanted to covey more of the essence in my work that the public could grasp more the feeling of the work and what it brought. I started to paint in a way that if someone who saw the work would feel more peaceful and relaxed. So, I began working with Mandalas -songs of life, songs of the universe.
As I advanced I began to understand more the structure of the pattern, here is when I thought more about the part that was coming from me – my unique style. For example the two-dimensional form which is common to see sown on fabric or painted on ceramics made by indigenous Shipibo artisans; I wanted to give the work something more, such as three-dimensional effect. Now my work is about that, the quest into three- dimensional representation.
In one way or another the work is related to the medicinal songs because the messages are ingrained into the images. There is a relationship between the work and the artist so we are on the path toward this. The theme I am working on is really connected with nature, because the designs and the Shipibo patterns are nature and are part of the whole. The designs carry a message of caring for our planet, a current issue. It is really necessary to start spreading the importance of taking care of our environment and that each art piece carries with it that message. To take care of ourselves also because everything is connected, to us.
Sachaqa Centro De Arte is situated in a small village called San Roque De Cumbaza forty minutes in motor taxi from the Amazonian city of Tarapoto, in the Region of San Martin, north of Peru. The lifestyle in a small village is very different than the big cities such as Lima, Cusco or even Tarapoto. People are not so aware of contemporary art, do you think that after having studied art in another city this has changed your way of thinking? Many artists feel more at home in a community of other artists, who understand more this sensitive side. What do the people in your hometown think of your work? are they really proud of you? Do they value what you do?
A very interesting question I think the majority of artists have the same experience, they feel more at home when they are with other artists. I’m always going back to my village after a certain time, about once a year. The longest time I have been away was three years but since I went to study I have been back several times. Sometimes it is really difficult the relationship between an artist with their family. As sometimes the family sees that you are drawing, closed in your room and see it as just a hobby or just something beautiful and something pretty to look. It’s important for them that the work has been done well – a perfect representation of a subject. Other artists understand that we are painting the essence, the essence of the soul. For example a piece of abstract art causes other sensations, which is the mission of the artist.
The same happens with my family, in my village for example when I return they think I am very strange because I don’t go out much, to visit the neighbors or my friends, which I have known a long time. So they see my ways as something strange, this way of being. Or sometimes people come around and I show my work but it’s more important for them, that the work is well done and they are not seeing the significance of the process of each piece of art. I love to explain the process of my work, the different stages, until the end. In a way, the neighbors really admire the work. Although they can see that I don’t really share too much, that my relationship is distanced, as I’m really closed with what I am doing. When people go out in the afternoon to play football, it is strange for someone to be closed inside all-day.
Painting a mural has different challenges than printing on canvas in a studio which is more intimate with more personal themes. Whereas a mural is usually more focused on the social messages. The mural painters of the jungle in general have a very powerful message and images and reflective topics. Tell us a little about the murals you have created.
I began painting murals in 2017. 2016 was when I finished my art studies, so my full time career as an artist began in 2017. I had painted murals when I was a student which the institution asked us to do, but not very frequently. The first time I participated in a festival was in 2017, in a festival of Peruvian Amazonian artists ‘Muralizacion’, which occurred in Moyobamba, near Tarapoto. As you mentioned in the question I have the same concept that a piece of art on canvas is something more intimate and a more intimate relationship with the work; Because for example, I can paint a small piece of work that takes a long time and you are so sure of what the painting will be. Painting in the studio is really different to painting a mural, as with a mural you can finish in a few days and it is a much larger painting. For example, when I’m a long time immersed in a painting on an easel my body asks for me to paint a mural, instead of being locked in a studio. I enjoy thoroughly to be in the studio, although painting a mural can be a rest-bite, a breathing space and an opportunity to spend time with more people. The themes are more direct, so different to a painting in the studio.
From 2017, I began painting many murals as I was invited to different festivals. There are many differences in terms of canvas painting, compared to wall painting. For example, in the murals I tend not to use a lot of ancestral iconography, but more social themes; So that people looking at the work can feel more identified, such as subjects relating to agriculture; Themes more about what the people do and can relate to. Or I try to investigate more about the people and try to leave a legacy, a contribution to the community – as to honor by paying a tribute in the painting. So, it’s important to investigate the location of where I’m painting – What is the context, the history? I can say to paint a mural gives me more freedom, as the space is much larger and the body flows more. Through being able to expand and to make something big in a few days.
Finally, what advice can you give regarding the changes we should adopt to face climate change? That now with the Coronavirus people are taking things more seriously and maybe now it’s more tangible?
We all know that we are in a really difficult time, the pandemic is an example of the situation we are passing and apart from this there are other problems, which are affecting our world. There have been many catastrophes happening and I believe that all people and not necessarily just the artists, all people have to be aware – that we as humans are affecting our planet earth. I try to convey a message in my work to return more to our roots, to our natural environment. It’s an awareness that each one of us must take.A clear example of the coexistence with the environment are our indigenous people. Indigenous people are an example that we can use nature but not destroy it – or it will disappear. We have to put this idea in our heads. I hope that each of my painting, calls us to be in union with our environment. Although to look for a solution is very difficult as the solution depends on each and every person. This is why we are here, to let the people know we have to make the changes voluntarily. This is why we are here, to make people aware of the seriousness of the situaron. If everyone doesn’t do their part everything will get worse. So now is the time to look after our natural environment more.
Thank you so much Fredy for sharing this really interesting perspective of Amazonian Art. How can people find you on social media? Do you have any exhibitions planned in the near future?
I would like to thank Mathias and Trina for bringing me this space where I could talk a little about myself and my work. It’s a really nice project where we can learn more about Amazonian Artists. For me, it was a pleasure to answer the questions and to talk about my history and I invite all people. If you want to learn more about me or see the work I am currently doing, or future projects coming up. I invite you to visit my social media page, you can find me on Facebook and Instagram – Fredy Tuanama Guerra. Where I’m always sharing my art process announcing future activities in these times. I have been exhibiting my work more in a virtual way but little by little we are getting out to paint murals in some festivals. An exhibition that will be coming soon in which I will be participating is going to be in the ‘Bienal of Indigenous Art.’ I invite you all to the page of Bienal in facebook – @bienalarteindigenaSo if you have any questions you can write to me we are in contact and are open to share. Thank you to everyone, I’m really grateful and a giant hug for the Amazon of Loreto.