Quiet Conversations: January 21, 2022

Felipe Arturo shares an Iraca palm fan, as a form of technology that exists within and outside of colonial and neo-colonial economies, material and embodied practices.

Quiet Conversations: January 21, 2022


Quiet Conversations are a series of conversations with artists, architects, researchers and thinkers working in and with the south, as a conceptual site and geography. Curated by Catalina Mejía Moreno and Huda Tayob, editors of this issue of Ellipses, the conversations work towards a methodology of shared sites, sounds, objects and practices through a turn to acts of remembrance, recall and repair. In this series we invite a close and intimate listening of meandering conversations; to stay with the words, silences and utterances that through conversation share entangled and implicated relationships of site, objects, people and places. Drawing upon sound and the act of speaking and listening as affective and political, together we ask, how might located and grounded practices enable us to draw out relational histories? How might creative research and associated methodologies of critique generate ways of listening, speaking to and engaging with the built environment, architectures, land and violence beyond extraction? And how might we share and build collective methodologies for working and thinking together? 

In the series of 6 excerpts shared here, we invited each conversant to share an object as a prompt for a wider conversation around methods, materials, and practices.

Jumoke Sanwo speaks to the mirror as entangled with the trans-atlantic slave trade, and her work as curator of Dúna Dúrà - A Portal of Reimagination; 

Felipe Arturo shares an Iraca palm fan, as a form of technology that exists within and outside of colonial and neo-colonial economies, material and embodied practices; 

Marcelo Ferraz shares the throne of Òsùmàrè as an entry point into a wider conversation around his immersive experience of designing with the Terreiro de Òsùmàrè, in Salvador, Bahía;  

Zara Julius speaks to the entangled geographies and soundscapes of the machete as an object that speaks to entangled layers of labour, oppression, violence, resistance and liberation. 

Sibonelo Gumede speaks to the temporalities and cartographies of Black sonic geographies in Southern Africa and beyond.

Russel Hlongwane speaks to the ‘Black interior’ as a practice of negotiating comfort and home in post-Apartheid suburban South Africa.

Ana Luisa Ramírez Flórez, Jenry Serna Córdoba, Daniel Ruiz-Serna and Catalina Muñoz Rojas speak to sound, listening and collaboration as reparative practices in the lower Atrato region in Chocó, Colombia; a region wounded by multiple forms of violence more recently affected by paramilitary violence and other extractive practices.

As Françcoise Verges writes, ‘To dare to imagine is to reject time’s opposition of past, present, and future’ [1] in the search for an alternative temporality of repair. Across sites and methods, these conversations recall extreme violence and “quieter forms of abjection” [2] alongside numerous seemingly “small” acts of making and re-making place and space. For as Tina Campt argues in her framing of ‘quiet photography’, the possibilities of other futures are ever–present, yet “we must not only look but also listen for it in other, less likely places.” [3] In each of these four conversations, there is the consistent awareness of ongoing and ever-present violence, an engagement with structures of complicity, and an expansive generosity and commitment to sharing ways of being, voices, stories, knowledge and time.

[1] Françoise Vergès, 2022. A Feminist Theory of Violence, London: Pluto Press, p. 98
[2] Elizabeth Povinelli, Economies of Abandonment, Durham: Duke University Press
[3] Tina Campt, Listening to Images, Durham: Duke University Press, p. 17 

Launch Project


Felipe Arturo talks about Fibra acelerada en el vientre de la muralla, 21 January 2022 

Felipe Arturo is an architect and artist born in Bogotá in 1979. His practice takes elements from fields in the vicinity of urbanism, architecture and art in relation to politics, history, geography and economics. He has been interested in the relationship between art, architecture and time, in the traces of history in vernacular and popular architectures in constant tension with modern architecture and also to develop an interdisciplinary intervention in the colonial legacy in our world. 

Bogota, Cape Town and Brighton

In this conversation we speak to artist, architect, educator and researcher Felipe Arturo based in Bogotá, Colombia. In the conversation he shares his experience of growing up in Colombia in the late 80s and early 90s, during what was effectively a multi-actor civil war, ‘with guerrillas movements, drugs, cartels, and paramilitary groups, alongside, the army and the police who were in the middle of this conflict.’ At the same time, as he notes, this was a time of hopeful optimism with the establishment of the 1991 constitution. Felipe shares his academic, intellectual and personal journey of working between architecture and art, as a means to question the limitations of both. In the conversation he draws attention to the influence of Latin American commodities on his work, from the defining colonial cash crops of sugar, rubber and coffee that have shaped economic relationships, extractive ecologies, political networks, and ways of life; to the material and social practices and processes which survive despite colonial dispossession. It is this latter interest which led to a closer engagement with palm and vegetal fibres, specifically the Iraca palm fibres and weaving technologies. This conversation took place a few weeks before the opening of his collaborative exhibition ‘Fibra acelerada en el vientre de la muralla’ (Accelerated fibre in the belly of the wall)’ within the walls of Cartagena de Indias. 

42:53 There's this very interesting venue here in Cartagena de Indias, which is called el túnel de escape, the escape tunnel, which is a space inside the city wall. And this tunnel is the only connection through the wall between the inside and the outside of the colonial city. Cartagena de Indias was the main port in the colonial times in Colombia, at the time called New Granada, La Nueva Granada. Cartagena de Indias was the principal port to get into the northern part of Cartagena, and it was also the way to get to Lima, Perú, and to the mines of Potosí, which were the source of early colonial fortunes. Cartagena was the place where at least 1 million people were brought as slaves. It also has all these stories of magical realism, of pirates trying to invade the city and to steal its gold and wealth, which happened several times. There is, for instance, a famous invasion at the end of the 16th century by Francis Drake, who invaded several cities in the Caribbean and which led to the Spanish king’s order to construct a city wall.

The city was contained for several centuries by these walls which were built with a coralline stone that was found in several islands surrounding Cartagena. There were several points of extraction of these stones and techniques developed to mine the coral from these islands. And there were also these other places in which the limestone - piedras calcáreas - was melted and powdered, to create the material to join these stones. The materials found here were very special because the limestone powder created a chemical bond between the stones. So these stones are not only placed one over the other, but they are chemically joined, and that's why the walls survived 400 years, unlike other places such as Havana, Santo Domingo or Lima, which also had similar colonial walls. The ones here in Cartagena are very well preserved, and you still get a sense of the colonial town and the port.

47:50 All my life I thought the wall was solid, you know, completely solid, even though at points they are 12 metres, 10 metres, six metres wide. I don't know why, I always thought they were full of stone. And they are not, of course, they have spaces inside: tunnels or places that were warehouses to store gunpowder or to hide. The place in which I'm working now is a reservoir within the wall that collects rainwater. It is amazing; this part of the wall structure is full of canals that directs rainwater inside the wall. People were using the water from this huge reservoir for centuries, you know. Some years ago, these walls were restored and some of these spaces became cultural venues. So one part is a little theatre and the other one, in which I’m working right now, was a museum for some years.

What I'm doing is to, let's say, re - inhabit these colonial spaces with a series of kinetic sculptures. I am working on the sculptures in collaboration with several artists and indigenous communities here in the Atlantic coast and working with different fibres. One is called caña flecha from a department that is called Córdoba, Tuchín in Córdoba with a collective of women descendants of an indigenous group called Zenú. They made a popular hat called the sombrero vueltiao which is made with black and white fibres of palm. We are working on a piece with them. Other pieces are done with another community that are kankuamo community in a state or department that is called Cesar in the base of the Sierra Nevada, Santa Marta. With them we're working with fibra de iraca. And actually it's not the fibre, the internal fibre, but the leaves. We are reworking a carnival dress that was called el baile de las kankuamos, which was probably some remaining dress from an ancestral dance that, in a way, was incorporated in the Corpus Christi celebration in colonial times. And these garments are supposed to represent the feathers of birds, with the weave of palm. I am also working on another sculpture with a collective from Atlántico, which is another department facing the Caribbean whose capital is Barranquilla. This is in a town called you Usiacurí, which is mainly populated by African descendants, and with them, we're doing another piece which is made with the internal fibre of Iraca.

52:52 And another two pieces are being made with artisans from Leticia in the Amazonian region with another fibre that is called Cumaré, or Chambira. It is a fibre that comes from another palm. And for another piece, we are collaborating with another indigenous groups who are los Wounaan. This is a community that lives in Bogota, but comes from Chocó on the Pacific coast. So in a way, there's a whole geographical representation of the country and various fibre technologies through different techniques, methods and different fibres. And for me, what is interesting is that many of these communities work as artisans, and they sell these objects. But these objects remain, let's say within a domesticated understanding of the fibre technology; they produce hats or decorative objects. My idea, it's in a way to liberate these fibres from this understanding, in a way to open up for them a different dimension. I want to invite people to think about these fibres in a different way. So they are liberated from the forms of the objects of their domestication. In the exhibition the fibres are hanging from these ventilators, so they become accelerated. And I hope I can, in a way, transform the energy of this place, you know, and to create these very fluid spaces of relation with these fibres. And to inhabit this colonial space with a form of knowledge that survived the colonial process. This knowledge is present in the way of elaborating, and let's say converting a vegetal element into a fibre.

1:02:47 What I think I can do is to open up a different possibility for what survived from colonial times. In a way, open up a different meaning, you know, and probably a different narrative for the future, which is still in the writing... And that's what I'm trying to do. It's to reactivate this space, and, in a way, propose an alternative way of relation with this space. I don't know if reparation at this point can be achieved, or justice, or truth, even.

1:09:11 In the last few years I have read many articles and books from Manuel Zapata Olivella who is a 20th century intellectual. He was born in Lorica, which is a town in Córdoba, on the border, the coast of the Rio Sinú. It's a very beautiful, interesting town. And he became probably the most influential African descendant intellectual in the country in the 20th century. He was friends with Gabriel García Márquez and was part of this whole group of Caribbean intellectuals, artists, writers and journalists. He and his sister, Delia Zapata Olivella, made one of the most interesting research trips in the Caribbean and Pacific coast. And in a way they probably had the same questions we have today and they tried to respond to these questions with what later became a methodology of research and simultaneously action.

This brother and sister travelled in the 1940s. They had this audio recorder that was huge. It was a magnetic recorder and they had to travel with it on a mule in order to get to these towns. And there's this incredible anecdote in which they also need electric power for this recorder and they needed another mule for the electric generator, and they needed another mule for the cable to connect the recorder and the electric plant. Because the electric generator made so much noise and it didn’t let them hear what it was recording, they needed this 100 metre cable, which was also very heavy. So they had to travel with these three mules into these towns. And what they did is that they recorded story-tellers, from these towns, but also the music. Delia Zapata Olivella also started to produce a kind of planometry dance, and this is also told by Manuel Zapata Olivella, through a narrative of all these migrations and trans-cultural processes in dance. She created these very beautiful diagrams of the dances that are a mixture of indigenous elements with African elements, with Mediterranean elements that were not only Spanish, but also Arabic, and North African. So I'm thinking a lot right now about those diagrams. And in a way, my installation has this form of choreography.

This is a brief edited excerpt of a longer conversation, where Felipe reminds us of the political and economic entanglements of materiality, methods and practice. As he notes, ‘the rubber economy connected the Amazonian rainforests to the world through colonial systems of abstraction,’ and as part of wider economies of ongoing coloniality in which different forms of plantation economies continue to persist. Beyond the repetition of the violence of history and time, are methods and materials which suggest alternative, relational geographies, where pattern is both political aesthetic and structure. Listen in to hear more about his work and methods, including Agua del Pacífico (2008), Trópico Entrópico (2012), and Cine Palmera (2017).

Excerpt from a Quiet Conversation with Felipe Arturo


Cover Image: Fibra Acelerada en el Vientre de la Muralla Aljibe 01, Felipe Arturo 2022, General View

This conversation series is supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, The Space for Creative Black Imagination and a University of Cape Town URC grant. It was developed in conversation with Raél Jero Salley at The Space for Creative Black Imagination, based at MICA in Baltimore, and James MacDonald.  

Graham Foundation Logo
The Space for the Black Imagination Logo