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Donated by Instituto Vida 1996

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Warmi makes chuwas: the woman makes pots. “Warmi” is the professional name of Susie Goulder which marks her simple, yet profound connection to the place where she was born and raised: the southern highlands of Peru. “Warmi” is the generic term for woman in the indigenous language of Quechua and the choice of this rather than a specific given name as her nom de plume points to Warmi’s recurrent interest in getting back to basics, and in this case to the central importance of women in traditional Andean culture (as, indeed, in any culture). Similarly, the Quechua word “chuwa” is a generic name for an earthenware bowl, above all a container for food, although Warmi has childhood memories of chuwas in the garden of her family home, filled with richly scented flowers. Chuwas hold the good things in life – delicious food, beautiful flowers – in other words, a woman’s world.

Warmi’s chuwas are formed of clay, the material from which, in so many origin myths, the first humans were formed. And she shapes them by hand, without help from technology, using the traditional Andean technique of coiling: twisting the moist clay round and round before carefully squeezing and pulling it up to form a thin smooth shell. (The potter’s wheel was introduced into South America by the Spaniards in the seventeenth century but traditional methods continue to be widely used).

These three chuwas, although they are self-evidently hand-made, are not sturdy and functional, not the sort of practical food bowls where the contents are more interesting than the receptacle: they are too delicate, even fragile, for that. They are decorated with bright-coloured slips, with a sequence of words painted around their inner rims. These words are the personal pronouns in the three main languages of the Andean highlands: Quechua, Aymara and Spanish. In many regions of Bolivia and Southern Peru Spanish is the minority language so, fittingly, the smallest bowl has Spanish pronouns. Aymara is spoken by about two million people in the Andean region while Quechua by about five million, hence the use of Aymara pronouns on the medium-sized bowl and Quechua on the largest. The Quechua is especially thought-provoking because in this language a distinction is made between an inclusive “we” (ñuqanchiq) and an exclusive “we” (ñuqayku), so that the speaker – or in this case the writer –must choose a pronoun that either includes the addressee or addressees (all of us, you included), or excludes them (us, but not you).

Warmi passionately believes there is a great deal we can and should learn from traditional Andean culture. These chuwas exemplify this: the Quechua and Aymara bowls are brightly-coloured, their rims opening outwards like flowers: we are invited in to read and ponder on the words. The smallest bowl is less welcoming, more enclosed, with a darker, blood-coloured interior, and the Spanish words are harder to read. The detail on the Quechua bowl of the exclusive and inclusive forms of “we” vividly illustrates how we (westerners) can learn from different cultures, but we need to be open to this. And Warmi’s sensitive fingers have shaped and decorated these pots to help us.

(Text taken from the exhibition catalogue for Gone to Ground, 2019)

Valerie Fraser

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