From January 2006 I am spending 9 months working on a voluntary art project for the Artcorps in Guatemala. I am working for Fundación Riecken, an NGO who are constructing libraries in Honduras and Guatemala. I will be artist-in-residence at libraries in Chiché and Zacualpa, in the Quiché region of Guatemala. I also plan to do a little travelling along the way...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Aniversario de la biblioteca

I am thrilled to announce the completion of my biggest project so far: a celebration for the first year anniversary of the library. At the beginning of June we coordinated a parade all around Chiché of 100 children from two of the local schools and a forty-strong band of excellent musicians playing all kinds of jazzy, funky upbeat tunes to which the children danced, pranced and showed off their dance routines to marvelling onlookers. After the parade, we staged a dance show in the main square, choreographed by Fernanda, who succeeded in obtaining funding from the Welsh Arts Council to come over and collaborate with me on the project. So we have just spent three weeks working very hard running costume and dance workshops. By 10pm Thursday night, after hijacking the reading club and getting them working on banners using bougainvillea petals and fresh, fragrant rosemary, you couldn´t see the books for the costumes draping every shelf in the library. For three weeks, the library had been slowly filing with bags of pine needles, pine cones, palm fronds, maize husks, fresh leaves, dry leaves, all manner of natural resources, which we transformed into fanastic wearable creations.

Needless to say, the kids were clad in costumes the likes of which Chiché has certainly never seen before! In fact, so unusual was my choice of material, I was encouraged to explain, in my address, blasting through loudspeakers, to the public masses, what I had used and why, in addition to presenting myself and the project. Nerve-wracking, I can tell you, especially when every mistake uttered in my ever-improving Spanish echoed around the square, alas too late to rectify. Still, it was well-received in the typically modest, reserved Guatemalan way. I used local natural materials, all which play a very important role in Guatemalan culture, but used them with a twist, a creative distortion: tusa, corn husks, and milpa, maize leaves, which are both used to wrap tamales in (maize paste); palm fronds, which are commonly used to make hats, mats and other useful items, and pine needles, which are wonderfully used to make temporary floorings for special celebrations such as birthdays, or the famous carpets for Semana Santa, filling the air with a delicious fresh fragrance.
Of course there were the obigatory hitches and disappointments, such as the town council letting us down and not providing us with any assistance, including the unavailability of the town hall stage and all the facilities that go with it (seating, sound, manual help), which left Alba (the librarian) and me to coordinate and organize every aspect of the event single (or should I say double-) handedly, in addition to finding extra finances to cover these unforeseen costs, whilst simultaneously working miracles to get the costumes ready on time. Apart from all this, the parade was a huge success, with the children doing their samba steps and throwing their hats in the air in time to the music, and the performance revealed their new-found talents: acrobatics, breakdancing, salsa, samba, cumbia, all in the middle of makeshift stage (a few ropes cordoning off the area) with the whole populace of Chiché onlooking. These kids really know how to dance! I must say, running workshops with these children is a pleasure. Who would have imagined that running two different activities in a very cramped environment with 50 participants could have been successful, nay, easy, even enjoyable! And with spectacular results! Somewhat different from a typical school workshop back ´ome! Well done Chiché!