Alexandra McNichols Torroledo
I am a Colombian-American photographer. My work bridges the fields of artistic and documentary photography using a range of digital and alternative photographic processes. Over time my focus has shifted from a personal exploration of my experiences as an immigrant in United States to global concerns of cultural diversity and human rights in my native country. Since 2011, I have been documenting the crisis of forced displacement and confinement suffered by the Embera and Wounaan indigenous people due to the armed conflict in Colombia. My investigation of the Embera displacement has grown to the point that I created a project entitled: Akadoi Ebera-Hope of the Embera that inlcudes photographs, a book and a video.
For an earlier self-published book, Diaries of Death (2010), I photographically re-enacted the death of the victims of the massacres committed by paramilitary groups, basing the images on testimony collected by Human Rights Watch in Colombia. These images are printed with the lith photographic process, to convey the sinister quality of the events depicted.
Stone Faces (2008) deals with the enrichment of cultural diversity and identity in United States of America produced by the phenomena of globalization. I produced a series of multiethnic portraits and printed them on stones using an alternative photographic process. These photographic sculptures are conceived as stelae, appearing as ancient portraits carved on stone.
For two other self-published books, I created imagery accompanied by original poems that tell personal stories of love and death through dreams. In Encounters (2011), to love is to transform and to be transformed; the lovers forget death in an attempt to make the instant an eternity. The beauty of the platinum-palladium process enhances the painterly, dreamlike quality of the images. In Dreams and Nightmares (2007), using myself as subject, I explore the labyrinth of femininity.
My work has been exhibited in Colombia, Dominican Republic and United States. I graduated from Indiana State University with an MFA on Photography and an MA on Hispanic Literature and a BA on Communications and Journalism from Universidad Externado of Colombia. I have taught photography and alternative photographic processes in Colombia and the United States.
MAACH JEB/Territory of the Wounaan Indigenous people of Colombia
Today, the indigenous Wounaan from the Pacific seaboard continued to be threatened by the armed conflict in Colombia and the extreme poverty they face. They are in the middle of the war for the control of the trade of coca and guns business between the neo-paramilitaries groups, the guerrillas Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC and the National Liberation Army ELN, and the Colombian army. Although this situation has put this indigenous community at a great risk, the Wounaan continue to work to save their culture and their territories (these group has been declared by the Colombian constitution in peril of physical and cultural extinction) The Wounaan new generation, who have grown up in displacement in the cities and don’t know he jungles of the Pacific seashore, are asking to their god Ewandam to return them to their ancestral territory: Macch Jeb (in Meu language) in where he created them on the seaboard.
They have been living in a cycle of confinement and displacement, which has increased substantially in the last five years. On June 10, 2015 one hundred and ten (110) Wounaan natives were displaced from the El Papayo, Chocó community. Between September and December of 2014, nine hundred twenty indigenous were displaced from several communities in the state of Valle del Cauca; and in August seventy three more people displaced looking to call the attention of the Colombian authorities on the problems they are facing in their jungles. In 2014, the armed actors confined three thousand twenty Wounaan people (the Wounaan are the indigenous community that has the highest statistics in confinement in Colombia).
The Wounaan’s policy is to remain in their native territories, to not abandon their land and to only displace the population to protect women, children and elders, the most vulnerable ones. The armed groups try to control their lives; the Wounaan constantly receive specific threats of recruiting minors and threats against the indigenous leaders and traditional doctors call Benkuna. Besides this, they are coerced of free mobility in the San Juan River and they cannot practice with freedom their normal daily activities such as Fishing, hunting, cropping and artisan manufacturing, which is causing a huge socio-economic crisis due to lack food and resources.
Despite these conditions, the Wounaan keep fighting for the survival of their ways of living and their cosmogony, as we can see in my images. The Maach Jeb exhibition: Our Ancestral Territory is a tribute to the Wounaan communities and their struggle for cultural survival. Among their most traditional costumes are the body paint with Jagua ink, the shamanistic practices of the traditional doctor or benkuna and the ceremonial chants and dances. Today the Wounaan make few crafts and cultivate few produces due to their confinement and displacement, even though they are educating their women on their rights and their role in the society and about the armed conflict. The benkunas, leaders and women pray for peace in front of sacred canoe, as is their ritual.
The photographs of this exhibition were photographed on a trip I made to Union Pitalito, Chocó with United Nations for Refugee in Colombia, ACNUR who has strengthened the Wounaan with strategies to protect and defend the rights of the community in the armed conflict.
The United Nations has also helped them build dichardis (communal –traditional houses on their territories) for the displaced; thus strengthen the political cloud for the Wounaan to stay in their territory. At the same time, this exhibition is a way to thank the indigenous communities of San Juan river who in their canoes, with only their sacred sticks, and putting at risk the lives of their children and women, were able to rescue us from the FARC guerrillas, who kept the team of UN and my retained for four hours.
The exhibition Maach Jeb: Ancestral Territory Wounaan/Cultural Survival was sponsored by the Museum of the Folkloric Dress (Bogotá-Colombia) which celebrated its 40th year with the Wounaan exhibition and workshops taught by the Wounaan community.