Sunday, July 7, 2013

Saving culture...

...or is it saving the earth?  Not sure, but the 'biosphere' seems to be the hot ticket term people know best, and sometimes care more about, after all, it is the sum of all ecosystems.  But what about culture?  As anthropologist Wade Davis puts it...'ethnosphere'.  By definition, perhaps it is sum of all cultural systems.  Davis says:

"...the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human consciousness since the dawn of our existence.  The ethnosphere is humanities greatest legacy.  It is the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, and the symbol of all that we have created as a wildly imaginative and creative species.

I am curious about all of this as I prepare for yet another journey into the Ecuadorian Amazon, in quest of recording, witnessing, and hopefully, understanding more fully the cultural diversity of indigenous people as seen through their art, in particular ceramics.  Sure, I care deeply about the biosphere, but honestly, I know far less about it than I probably should.  Beyond environmental issues relating to food and life, the biosphere has always been shrouded in a complex web of facts and ideas.  Whereas the ethnosphere seems closer to home for me.  After all, I have spent many years studying art and it's impact on people and culture, and more recently (if over twenty years can be considered more recent), I have been studying the ceramic works of women potters in the Amazon region of Ecuador (this being preceded by years of travel and study of indigenous potters from Mexico and further south, ending up in the Amazon).  So culture, or rather the study of such, is indeed closer to home for me, and something I cherish as a way to better understand others from more remote places and different backgrounds.

Culture, to me anyway, is the life blood of human thought and existence.  It is the thing that helps us understand how we, as humans, are both similar and different.  Varying ways to live, eat, love, laugh, cry, etc., all help underscore our diversity and similarities.  Watching potters make pots in the jungle can be a most humbling experience, especially knowing they have no formal art degrees, sophisticated materials or techniques.  Yet the products they produce are honest, direct, meaningful and relevant.  They help describe a people in a most unique manner, with little ego entering into the equation.  Awesome to witness, and wonderful to enjoy.  Pottery is my reason (or is it excuse) to be part of their lives.

More thoughts and information on the potters of the Amazon can be found in an article I have written with my friend and research partner Richard Burkett (photos by us and Nan Coffin) in the upcoming issue of Studio Potter magazine.  The theme of this next issue is 'Indigenous', and our contributions to this issue will hopefully add some dimension to the term and all it implies.  A digital sample can be found at:

young Andoan girl

painted mucawa

chicha storage containers

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