Kai oxi ch’abäl ke taq re' pe Chixot

August 3, 2020

Kai oxi ch’abäl ke taq re' pe Chixot - “Two or Three Words from Chixot”

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Ángel Poyón Calí, Studies of Failure Measured in Time and Space (detail), 2008. Alarm clock and drawing. Photograph: Andrés Asturias. Hugo Quinto and Juan Pablo Lojo Collection, Guatemala.

We no longer know how to read the future. We are constantly surrounded by death, and yet nobody mourns, nobody cries, nobody cares. Everything is there to individualize and isolate us, as we are all bound to survive. This is why we are seeing the disappearance of our capacity to listen, sense, and learn from our elders –our ancestral grandmothers and grandfathers.

Listening to the experiences of our grandmothers and grandfathers is central to the Kaqchikel people because it allows us to stay in contact with our past, and to take part in what is forthcoming. Our ancestral mothers and fathers stand before us. We look to the past in order to build the future. The elders can interpret dreams and speak to us about what has occurred, which is why we must listen to them.

Ri qach’alal ni b’e/tzolin pa jamel, meaning, our loved one is going/returning to the void, to the navel of Mother Earth, the elder women in the street say, as a funeral passes by. When the elderly greet one another, they uncover their heads, take off their hats and show us ways of seeing-thinking: they show us the two voyages, the physical and the non-physical, as well as the other return, the great return, to our home, to our roots, Chi q'acho, Chi qaxe'el.

In our ancestral practices, there are other ways to mobilize and express ourselves –practices that range from speech to image, and that never, not even for a moment, lose their potency. Power is in the skin, like our grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ communication with the wind, the water, the fire, and the earth. This allows us to reflect on the kind of future we would like to see. My work aims to demarcate time through place, a space-times where everything surrounding us can coexist and live in harmony with the Earth. Striking equilibrium is the natural way to guarantee the survival of all species.

Our ancient expressions were not the product of individual creation. Rather, they were nourished by collective experiences and enriched by their histories. In this way they differed significantly from the concept of modern time, in which some divisions discriminate between “ahead” and “behind,” “developed” and “underdeveloped,” “modern” and “traditional.” Divisory concepts that even nation-states use to separate and discriminate against indigenous communities. 

Indigenous peoples tend to channel stories through memory; this allows us to prepare ourselves to fight for a sustainable way of life. In unusual or inappropriate situations, for example, our grandmothers and grandfathers say Xaxe jalatäj ruwach ri k’aslem, meaning, it is just that the face of time/life has changed, that is why things go wrong. It was these words that brought me to ask: what is the appearance of time today?

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Ángel Poyón Calí, Studies of Failure Measured in Time and Space, 2008. Alarm clock and drawing. Photograph: Andrés Asturias. 

I began to think about how modernity functions, how it is so seducing, and what it’s like to be on a migrant’s journey, displaced in time. The traveler, the vagabond, the ambler, the pilgrim, the migrant, the exile, the expatriate, the tourist, all trace their paths through geographies that are unrecognizable to them; They are alienated by unfamiliar languages, objects, and faces.

Migrants are subject to permanent political, social, and cultural crises. To diminish their disassociation with space, migrants must establish ties with a place, either the one they left behind, the one they travel across, or the one they yearn for. This raising of spatial consciousness helps them protect themselves from the constant gaze of others, for whom they may awake feelings of intolerance, hostility, and/or suspicion. A migrant’s voyage can also be defined as an existential leap –an individual and social search. It’s not a matter of taking refuge but rather of becoming lost in time. This loss turns the voyage itself into a metaphor for forgetting, which allows them to keep on moving –searching for a new home. Migrants seek an everlasting idealized sense of home, one that evokes the possibility of returning to their father and grandfather's land.

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Ángel Poyón Calí, Studies of Failure Measured in Time and Space (detail), 2008. Alarm clock and drawing. Photograph: Andrés Asturias. 

These reflections resulted in the work Studies of Failure Measured in Time and Space, a non-sequential narration of a voyage that never reaches its destination. These studies—taken from drawings by Piet Mondrian—suggest a futile path, like the one taken by the project of modernity. They evoke a broken compass, without north or south, but that nevertheless, guides us through multiple, contradictory and perhaps even impossible time-spaces.

However, we must not forget that modernity claims the future belongs to it, and the past to us, indigenous peoples. They do not realize that time for native communities, implies a trajectory that does not always reflect linear progress, but that signals the possibility of living and thinking, of creating and believing in one’s own way. So that through communal memory, we embody our particularities and take up our ancestral paths without allowing ourselves be reduced to folklore. In that sense, our expressions are not rooted in precariousness, nor do they attempt to offer new solutions. Instead, they provide forms of cultural resistance by celebrating the potentiality of our ancestral beliefs. Local cultural expressions acknowledge differences and respond politically by distancing themselves from the colonial model.


Ángel Poyón Cali (Kaqchikel) lives and works in Comalapa, Guatemala


Notes for a Horizon-tality: Toward the Possibility of Becoming Together as an Assemblage is a project that responds to our multiple and seemingly multiplying emergencies. Since the growing uncertainty of living in a world in crisis seems to continuously threaten the possibility of the future, this editorial initiative seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship on this topic from the perspective of Latin American contemporary art.