Peltz Gallery, Birkbeck, University of London,
3-25 March 2017
This exhibition portrays the women whose livelihoods involve the traditional rituals, artefacts and medicines that play a central role in culture and health in Bolivia. The indigenous wisdom involved in this work has been sidelined, either as ‘witchcraft’ under colonial powers or as merely ‘folklore’ by positivist, Western approaches to medicine. Nevertheless, in the western highlands of Bolivia the vast majority of people meaningfully engage in these rituals and practice them seriously and devoutly, and Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, has embarked on a decolonisation project which challenges the institutions and value systems which have marginalised indigenous knowledge.
These portraits are accompanied by quotes from the women themselves, discussing how they came to this profession and their role in the community. These women are referred to exotically in tourist guidebooks as ‘witches’ but are known locally as chifleras and amautas; the former prepares the materials for traditional healing rituals while the latter conducts the ceremony. The items used in these rituals include coca leaves, desiccated llama foetuses, the q’oa herb, alcohol and brightly coloured llama-wool and sugar figurines. These practitioners have long standing relationships with their clients and may be the first ports of call for those seeking assistance and guidance with their physical, emotional and/or spiritual well-being.