Devenir University | 2019

Indigenous University Project in Amazonia, 2019-2021

 

Commissioned by curator Maria-Belen Saez de Ibarra of the Art Museum at the National University of Colombia UNAL in Bogota, my field research in the summer 2018 took me to the South of Colombia. At the invitation of the leader of the indigenous Inga people who guided me for several weeks through these panamazonic post-conflict territories, I am now involved in the co-creation of their most ambitious project, an indigenous University. The project aims to create an institution for higher learning and knowledge production toward life-sustaining ecological cohabitation in the region. 

The vision for this institution is rooted in the biocultural paradigm recognizing that nature and culture are forming inseparable ecological relationships. Rather than streamlining knowledge into the utilitarian purpose of mastering and capitalizing on natural processes, the biocultural paradigm advocates for the ethical cohabitation between humans and the natural world. In light of the unprecedented deterioration of our planetary ecosystems, narratives envisioning future-oriented alternatives to Western anthropocentric science have gained a lot of traction in the humanities in recent years. The urgency to maintain the diversity of life forms on Earth has clearly revealed the necessity to also preserve the vast diversity of knowledges which coevolved with them.

In the Latin American indigenous context, despite the violent impact of colonization, the cosmovision that humans are an integral and equal part of all life systems has enjoyed a long uninterrupted history from which we have much to learn at this time. Locating the institution at the confluence of an Indigenous cosmological understanding of interaction with Earth and all species, and Western environmental science sharing these concerns, the project examines the many creative possibilities of merging these distinct knowledge systems in fertile ways. The purpose of the institution-building project is to strengthen the indigenous wisdom, know-how and millennial experience underlying their understanding of life, to buttress these efforts with Western science and technologies, and by building an international network of partnerships.

Tailored to the specific requirements for a life in the territories, the educational program will focus on environmental maintenance and restauration, agro-ecological production, Indigenous medicine, territorial history and law, indigenous language and ancestral signifying practices, and media literacy. 

 

Cooperation

Grounded in an international partnership, the visionary project aims to integrate indigenous knowledge systems with occidental science and technologies, fostering a supportive biocentric worldview. In a collective effort, the process encompasses the foundational research and conception of the University, as well as the planning and building of suitable architectures on plots of land adjacent to a large National Park in the Piamonte region of Southern Cauca. The architectural part is based in a cooperation between the Design Studio of Anne Lacaton at ETH Zurich and the “Programa Experiencias Internacionales” attached to the Architecture and Design faculty of Javeriana University in Bogota.

 

Mocoa Meetings

In October 2019, together with Inga leader Hernando Chindoy, I organized a 4-day kick-off meeting in Mocoa, capital of the Amazonian province of Putumayo. During four intense days, together with thirty participants from the Inga and other indigenous communities, and scholars from the Universities Javeriana, UNAL and La Salle in Bogota, the Humboldt Institute, and UNESCO, we brought our diverse positions to the table to generate a collective understanding on the nature and program of the Indigenous University.

 

Devenir University online platform
From the video recordings of these Mocoa Meetings, in cooperation with the design collective El Altillo in Bogota, I am creating of a bilingual online audiovisual platform on the process of “Devenir University” with the purpose of making the discussion available to the entire community dispersed among four provinces, to foster transparency in the process and bring everyone on the same page.

 

Devenir University will be exhibited at the Art Museum at UNAL in Bogota in September 2021.

I particularly thank Maria Belén Saez for having a peaceful and creative vision for the biocultural heritage of Colombia and for giving me the chance to become part of it. I am also deeply grateful for this unique opportunity to collaborate with the Indigenous Inga people of Colombia, a community I appreciate for their humor, care and intelligence.

Devenir University received a generous grant of Pro Helvetia Swiss Cultural Foundation.

Stills