Chonita chose the word “Kotz’ij” which means “flower” in Tz’utujil. She told me that flowers are hugely important in Tz’utujil culture and they are very often present in the patterns on women’s clothing. These colourful dresses are woven in the village itself. Also Chonita wanted me to paint a word in the Tz’utujil language. It is one of the languages of the Mayan people, and she wishes for the future generations to carry on speaking the language even though Spanish is the language used at school, at work, in newspapers and to communicate with other people groups of Guatemala.
Thank you to Thelma, Diego and Reina for the warm welcome, thank you to Tchan for the help painting ! And thank you to Chonita for making me paint a word in a native American language!
Painting in Tz’utujil territory in Guatemala. The Tz’utujil are one of the 21 Mayan ethnic groups of Guatemala. They live in a volcanic region on the South and Eastern shores of Lake Atitlán. I’m making the most of my stay with a local family to learn about their culture and paint my first ever word in a native American language.
Uweso, a 14 year old Congolese refugee who I met last year in Uganda shares his story.
He is one of 900 000 Congolese refugees (from the DRC) living across Africa.
In this conversation he explains what happened to him and his family, and how he became a refugee. His story is tragically very common.
(sous-titres en français disponibles)
Katy chose the word “Resiliencia” (=”resilience”).
During the past month, I’ve been staying at her house with my friend/assistant Dudu.
A year and a half ago, I started looking for contacts in Caracas because I wanted to know more about the situation there and the possibility of an episode of “Share The Word Project“. Somehow we got in touch and during a whole year she sent me messages telling me I can stay at her place and paint in her neighbourhood. I usually invite myself into slums, but this time I thought I’d accept the invitation. Smart move.
Katy is an absolute exemple for her community but also for Venezuela in general. In a slum full of litteraly hungry people, with drug trafficking and political polarisation, she managed to unite people with brooms. She started by sweeping the streets to clear the rubbish that the government no longer collects, and got people to join. She then started to think that art could be the one thing that would unite everyone in her neighbourhood. This is why she wanted me to come over, and why she’s getting other local artists like Dagor to paint on her streets.
As a human being, Katy is an inspiration. She focuses on those little positive things amidst a brutal crisis. She spends her days sweeping the streets, painting murals, solving day-to-day problems in the slum, taking the slum kids out to art galleries, helping those who can’t eat, taking care of her own family, giving talks at events… And all this while surviving in a house without water and with regular power cuts, and of course, very little money.
I could have easily thought that Venezuela would be totally fucked. But I met Katy. A Venezuelan incarnation of resilience.
I can see the crisis in the emptiness of streets at night. I can smell the crisis in my bathroom as we have no water to pull the flush. I can hear the crisis when a car comes to a halt and the brakes are screaming that they need to be replaced. I can taste the crisis in the plainness of the rice I’m eating. I can touch the crisis on the smooth rubber tires of buses whose owners can’t afford new ones.
It’s everywhere around me, in everything I do. The country has been hit hard, and its population is paying an extremely high price. But somehow, from somewhere, people are fighting back, organising themselves, re-thinking their neighbourhoods and just not giving up. After working in so many crisis-hit areas, I see resilience as a weapon used by humans all over the world in extreme situations.
For the first time since I started this project in 2013, someone has asked me to paint the word ”resilience”.
“Amistad” (= friendship) chosen by Chipi for his friends who are with him in the slum, those who migrated to Colombia and those who got killed.