ESX / COCA: Communal and Artistic Practices

Artist Lecture by exhibiting photographer, Alexandra McNichols-Torroledo

Pop-Up Exhibition, Community Events

Date & Time

Tuesday, August 29 | 6:30pm - 7:30pm

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505 West 4th St. Bloomington, IN

ESX/COCA, an ethno-educational photographic project that seeks to deconstruct colonial and postcolonial visual narrative of the coca plant with the images of the Wasak Kewwesx School. At Wasak, Nasa indigenous children are educated in the rites of the coca and cabuya plants in the Yuwe language in the Colombian Andes. ESX, which means COCA in Yuwe, aims to educate the public on the sacred nature of the coca leaf and its uses through the experience of the school.

The coca plant was considered by the Incas de divine leaf of immortality but when the conquistadors arrived in America, they took over the Incan Empire of coca leaves and enslaved its people with it. For centuries, the church demonized the plant and condemned the indigenous people to reject their ancient practices. With the invention of cocaine, the plant faced extermination under international laws. Colombia, my native country, has suffered greatly due to the fifty-year war over cocaine.

These series of portraits were taken at the Wasak Kweswesx School in the Nasa indigenous reservation of Toribio, Cauca, Colombia. At the school, the Nasa children are educated in the ancient rites of the coca plant and their relation with their weaving and spinning practices. For the Nasa, the coca plant and the Cabuya plant that they use to weave and spin are considered sacred. The cabuya fiber on the leaves symbolizes the hair of mother earth. Classes are instructed by a traditional doctor called ‘the Wala’, along with six teachers, and one counselor to train these children to become traditional doctors, midwives, or cultural leaders and thus to ensure the continuity of Nasa culture.

I photographed the Nasa people with a large format film camera and printed the images with the antique Platinum-Palladium process, and finally, I re-printed the platinum-palladium photos on hand made coca paper. As a group, the photographs pay tribute to the long history of struggles by the indigenous in the Andes to defend the millennia sacred coca plant and other aspects of their cultural heritage.

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