The center of the universe is in the Apaporis River. It is an island that is shaped like a green heart. Ruven Afanador and Ana González saw her from the sky before they could land in a helicopter and have contact for the first time with the Pachacuarís. “There are no more than 63 people. They don’t speak Spanish, they have their own language –Today, like them, in danger of extinction– and, of course, no one has seen the island from the sky ”, says Afanador; “However, they are aware that they live in the heart of the world, perhaps they have seen it in their travels with yagé and they know that they carry the responsibility of purifying the energy of the universe.”
The Apaporis, in that stretch, has a furious stream. There are pink dolphins, boas constrictors, and thousands of fish. The Pachacuarís have lived in that place for hundreds of years to maintain the balance of the world. Ruven, Ana González and the team that accompanied them crossed the river by canoe to go to the other side of the settlement, they made a two-hour walk through the mud and the deepest jungle just to reach a point where you can see and feel the river in all its immensity. “I felt the fury and purity of the water. The dew clouded the atmosphere, and I felt the cleanliness of everything. For me it was a new baptism ”.
Daughters of water, Afanador and Ana González’s book, captures that and other stories of the deepest and most unknown Colombia in an aesthetic way and with the magic of art. The book brings together images of 26 Colombian ethnic groups that, as Wade Davis says in the prologue, “are survivors of El Dorado”. Miraculously they have managed to preserve their culture, their language and their wisdom after the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Colombia, explains the famous author of Magdalena: River of Dreams, continues to be home to more than eighty indigenous nations that, from their cosmogony, enrich the world and still have much to teach and offer us. Or if not, let an Arhuaco mom say it: “We know much more about life than the Lesser Brothers. We would never destroy a river … to do so would be to destroy ourselves ”.
The book began to develop three years ago. Afanador and Ana González were invited by María Clemencia de Santos –as first lady– to visit the Chiribiquete. They were both amazed at the visual spectacle. They spoke. They became friends. Each knew the other’s work. “When I was in Paris I dreamed of working with Ruven,” says Ana. The dialogue flourished and they embarked on this adventure of travel, photographs, drawings and interventions. They looked for accomplices for each movement, mayors, presidency, governors; everyone who could help. And now Davivienda publishes this monumental book with Ediciones Gamma, designed in Colombia by Nada and printed in Spain.
Ana González is an artist and architect. He studied in France and Colombia. His work has, literally, the exquisite delicacy of flowers and fabrics and a singular sensitivity for life and nature. His series Sleeping beauties, to go no further, captures the green of the plants that grow between the cracks of a ruined house. His eyes, in this book, complemented the look of his great traveling companion.
Afanador is one of the great Colombian photographers of all time. Not only has he notably portrayed characters like Gabo, Botero, Keith Richards or Barack Obama, for magazines such as Rolling Stone, The New Yorker or Vanity Fair, rather, he has developed a powerful work with books such as Sombras, Ángel gitano, Torero and Mil besos, where he mixes his perfection as a portraitist with surreal compositions.
On every trip of Daughters of waterAfanador photographed members of each ethnic group; he discovered the background or jungle walls he needed for his portraits and he studied and spoke with each character. González took notes of what he saw with his eyes and his senses, discovered the cosmogony of the community, studied the richness of its textiles and crafts, and absorbed the grandeur of the landscape. Sometimes, due to the distances and the complexity of each trip, they only had a few hours to collect all the material.
“The first image we got together was a photo of a woman from the Gunadule ethnic group in Urabá Antioqueño,” recalls Ana. “I was very afraid to touch a photo of Ruven, but it worked.” The process of creating the 190 images in the book can be summarized in more than 3,000 WhatsApp messages between New York and Bogotá. Ruven sent the photos to Ana. She would print them and literally work on them; he drew, traced gold fabrics, created glazes, wrote long fragments of his diaries on a face or created a frame with his malokas. He would take a photo, like the one of Alcanaillafue, of the Uitoto ethnic group, in which only a fragment of a large tree can be seen, and he would complete the image by tracing a forest around it. In others, he drew macaws, hummingbirds or the skin of a snake. He drew rivers and paths on mud-stained feet, he took wings out of an Inga, he put the jaguar spots on a Pachacuarí child and drew a heart on the chest of a Nukak who has a monkey with wide eyes posing on his shoulder.
The book has the power of the yucunas, who with their costumes and ritual masks really look like spirits from another dimension. It has the wisdom and calm gaze of the Arhuacos and the Kogis, the light of the Wayús, the mystery of kamëntsá, the elegance of the Misaks or the astonishing physical beauty of the Nukaks.
“The Nukaks,” says Ruven, “spent several centuries without contact with us; their shock has been tragic due to the diseases and because they have lost part of their culture; when we arrived, the women did not have their traditional look. They go in and out of San José del Guaviare and they all had long hair. I didn’t sleep that night; I didn’t know how to tell them that I wanted to photograph them shaved. I finally told them. One of them took the blades, shaved her hair and eyebrows, took the plants they use to paint their faces and changed radically. It was wonderful, suddenly, all the women in the community began to do the same; their faces changed: they were happy. I saw how they recovered their dignity ”.
And that is why it is a historical book. Until now, no one has photographed the Colombian indigenous peoples so well. Nobody had given them the aesthetic and artistic dimension they deserve. Nobody had made images so well achieved, without a documentary filter. Afanador and González treated them for what they are: Colombians whom we have to admire tirelessly.