Kawsay waqaychaqkuna at the Toronto Biennial of Art

In May 2022, several of our Kawsay waqaychaqkuna traveled to Toronto to participate in this year’s edition of the Biennial of Art: What the Water Knows, the Land Remembers. Kawsay waqaychaqkuna Alice Cheng, Tamryn McDermott, and Amanda Tobin Ripley – all current AAEP PhD students – attended through their participation in an AAEP research seminar focused on the Toronto Biennial of Art taught by Dr. Richard Fletcher.

Image: Kawsay waqaychaqkuna with classmates and guests at the site of Sámi artist Joar Nango‘s Ravine Screenings

The TBA presents an intentional biennial model grounded in the local, rather than just acting as a temporary visitor to a disconnected site like many biennials. To prepare for the inaugural biennial in 2019, therefore, the TBA commissioned artist Ange Loft (Kahnawà:ke Kanien’kehá:ka / Mohawk) to draft a Toronto Indigenous Context Brief. Loft expanded on the document for 2022, with a version included in the Water, Kinship, Belief exhibition catalogue, and just released a book version called The Treaty Guide for Torontonians. This living document, initially commissioned as an internal document intended to provide TBA staff and exhibiting artists with basic knowledge of the Indigenous history and cultures of the greater Toronto area, eventually became completely central to the TBA project at large. Now, the document exists in two publications and through ongoing engagement with Loft and her artistic practice, including work with The Jumblies Theatre.  

This long-term, intentional, and perpetually in revision approach to a land acknowledgement resonated with the Kawsay waqaychaqkuna in the class, and the ways in which we approach land acknowledgements for the Kawsay Ukhunchay Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Art and Cultural Artifacts Research Collection at The Ohio State University. The TBA also resonated in other respects as well: in the centering of Indigenous artists and ways of knowing, of promoting what Ange Loft described as a “strengths based approach to learning” (personal communication, May 11, 2022), in emphasizing polyphony and multiplicity in storytelling and exhibitions, and more.  

While in Toronto, we got to experience the work of Abel and Wilson Rodríguez (Wilson also goes by the name Aycoobo), who are father-son Nonuya artists from the Amazon region in Colombia. Abel began his artistic practice as a means of documenting his intricate knowledge of the Amazonian jungle after his training as a shaman was disrupted when the family had to flee violence and relocate to Bogotá. Art historian Quinn Latimer (2021) describes Abel’s work as “a form of botany, history, writing, memory, image-making, and resistance — of ancestral knowledge of the medicinal uses of the Indigenous plants of his region… reveal[ing] the Amazonian forest ecosystem to be both metabolic and historical, each form of life feeding into the next, a cyclical system of sustenance” (pp. 91-92). 

Abel & Wilson Rodríguez, La Montaña Altoy Firme (2022)

Aycoobo has followed in his father’s footsteps, embracing painting as a means of recording and sharing his experiences of the Amazon and its biodiversity, infusing his images with the more-than-visible he experiences through the use of medicinal and ritual plants to expand perception and connect to ancestral knowledge. The TBA had three works by each painter on view, alongside a new documentary about their lives and their return to their homeland, Mogaje Guihu, El nombrador de plantasMogaje Guihu, The plant namer (2022). Significantly, the TBA also commissioned three new paintings made by the two artists together, marking the first time they had collaborated in this way and making visible the Biennial’s commitment to intergenerational collaboration and connection. 

Aycoobo (Wilson Rodríguez), El Bastón (2019-2021), (detail)

Over the course of the week in Toronto, Kawsay waqaychaqkuna were able to deepen their engagement with global Indigenous artists and their expressions and experiences of connection, relationship, place, nonlinear time, imagination and worldmaking. Tamryn and Alice, shown together at the bottom of the post, attended a public program called “Asking the Wind Oracle,” in which experimental musicians Sara Constant and Naomi McCarroll-Butler facilitated a collective, participatory greeting to artist Eduardo Navarro’s sculpture Wind Oracle (2022). The whole group engaged with the artistic team behind the Toronto Landscape Observatory to examine how close observation engenders connections to place and history. Some got a chance to see work representing Indigenous Peruvian traditions, on view through the I am land exhibition at Toronto’s Union Station (not affiliated with the Toronto Biennial) — including the work below by Venuca Evanán Vivanco representing forms of Indigenous knowledge transference often discredited by Western educational systems. Others participated in artist Camille Turner’s performance/workshop “Following the Afronautic Trail,” in which group guidelines included the assertions that “Time is nonlinear” and “Imagination is a tool for worldmaking” — credos that align with our work with the Kawsay Ukhunchay. Importantly, the experience also provided the Kawsay waqaychaqkuna present to deepen their connections with one another as we encountered each other more fully through international travel and shared meals. The grounding question for the Toronto Biennial of Art — “What does it mean to be in relation (with one another, with art, with place, with the more-than-human, with…)?” — is an inquiry and practice shared by Kawsay Ukhunchay. 

Venuca Evanán Vivanco, Venuca Evanán la maestra sin título (Venuca Evanan the Teacher without a Degree), 2019, digital reproduction of a drawing

Tamryn and Alice taking a selfie in front of Eduardo Navarro’s Wind Oracle


Latimer, Q. (2021). “Luminous in the sun: The cool botanical fervor of Abel Rodríguez.” In K. Botanova & Q. Latimer (Eds.), Amazonia: Anthology as Cosmology (pp. 90-101). CULTURESCAPES and Sternberg Press. 

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