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Rethinking Conquest: An Anti-Amazon Conversation

Natali Aguirre Montaña   
Daniela Pinillos Collazos

Daniela Pinillos Collazos

Natali and Daniela engage in an email conversation that goes beyond friendship, delving into their roles as a designer and an anthropologist. Their dialogue focuses on the complexities of the Natural Park Chiribiquete in the Colombian Amazon—an exploration marked by both threats (Nightmares) and optimism (Daydreams). They aim to reflect together, heal and reconnect with a collective memory clouded by Western notions of conquer.

Published 17 Apr 2024

13

min read
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Illustration by Natali Aguirre Montaña

Date: Thu, 1 Feb 2024 21:56:56 +0100
Subject: Amazon Emails
From: Natali Aguirre <natalxxxxxxxxxx.mo@xxxx.xxx>
To: Daniela Pinillos <dpinilloxxxxxs@xxxx.xxx> 

Dear friend, 

I want to express the great excitement I have to engage in this conversation with you for two reasons: identity and Chiribiquete. Reflect together in terms of our Colombianness as you called it days ago. Terms like these are what I want to bring to my practice as a designer, and this is why I invite you to this dialogue since I admire the strength of your voice as an anthropologist, added to the experience you have about Colombia territories.

I found that one way to have a long-distance conversation (you in Andorra and me in the Netherlands, both far away from our country) could be this way, exchanging emails.

So, as you know, Chiribiquete is Colombia's largest natural park in the Amazon rainforest, still unknown to most people outside. Anyhow, is the world prepared to know about this place? 

As a designer what attracted my attention at first was the physical and visual presence of it. Where I had to stop and analyse several images and videos to understand the immensity and intensity of this landscape, one of those that leave you breathless and surpass any fiction. The magnitude and atypical shapes of the tepuis that protrude from the forest canopy. On the other hand, the aesthetics of shamanic art where the jaguar is the protagonist.

What has encouraged me to continue discovering more about Chiribiquete is to search for other perspectives and in the first place inspired me to write this Manifesto: 

I am the city, I am a daughter of the city.
Not the rain, neither the forest.
Further from being the rainforest’s daughter.

I’m part of the colonizer's future.
Cutting and judging by what I thought was far away.
Not physically removed, because it is constantly consumed.

“Killing the Amazon”, “Saving Me”. 

I am far removed from the different worlds.
Realities that have preceded this one.
Then cry, cry without crying.

I want to be Montaña, I want to be Jaguar.
Be habitat and inhabitant at the same time.
Not following the Anti-Amazon road.

I dream together with the ancestors by un-being.
Dear canvas, the anti-Amazon is anti-conquer.
This is a ceremony of healing.

I’m part of the colonizer's future.
Conquer is knowing without going.
Now marbled and more embraced.

Thank you for reading this and I look forward to hearing what you think.

Best regards,

Natali Aguirre Montaña

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Received: Sun, 4 Feb 2024 16:05:58 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Amazon Emails

My dear Nat

Thank you so much for your words. I feel honoured to have received this invitation to dialogue, writing and deep reflections on our roots. (…) I must confess that I had never contemplated the Amazon of the subtlety and perfection of its natural constructions. Knowing that I have observed it with my own eyes (…).

However, I have detailed this aspect in the indigenous communities that live in harmony with their territory. Their homes and meeting places are elaborated from the material provided by their environment. In an almost perfect correlation of all kinds of life that interpellate the place they inhabit. It is there, in this relationship, where I find the charm of humanity and of life itself, because I hope that these ways of living and seeing the world will be and stronger example so that humanity can find its way towards a healthy coexistence with nature.

I believe that Colombians have not given Amazon the value it deserves. Chiribiquete is a park that has been talked about for almost 30 years, but we have never given it the recognition it deserves as a paradise of primary life. In our country, how this space has been presented to us is as a great tourist reserve of biodiversity or as a place monopolized by violence and drug trafficking, which only expeditionaries have dared to visit. 

(….) but in my opinion, there are not many reflections on the type of tourism we do, on the pollution we generate. When we return home, back to the city, we continue to sustain these practices that deteriorate the Amazon directly or indirectly.

As an answer to your question, if we are ready to talk about Chiribiquete, my answer is no. I know that so far I have been pessimistic, but unfortunately, the work experience I had in our country, with the government and accompanying the indigenous communities, has left me with an unpleasant feeling that I still have not been able to get rid of. I am filled with melancholy when I see what is happening, knowing that the "uncontacted" indigenous communities are victims of violence and drug trafficking, that trees continue to be cut down in this sacred territory and that animals such as the jaguar are affected by the occupation of their habitat.

I don't know if there is a solution to the lack of knowledge, (…) we can conquer it not through colonization but in a romantic sense. Let me explain: I believe that we can conquer Chiribiquete if we know about it. I believe that we can conquer our resources when we love them and give them the value they deserve. That would be the best conquest that we as Colombians could make (…)

Finally, I want to congratulate you on this beautiful manifesto with which I have felt so identified. I also want to be jaguar and mountain, I want to be river and jungle, and I want us all to be and to embrace that love for the earth. Thank you dear friend for sharing this sentiment that invites us to conquer Chiribiquete in our way. 

Let me know what you think, and what questions my reflections raise for you. I want to know a little more about your vision in the design, how we could see with other eyes this magnificent place?

I send you a big hug, 


Daniela Pinillos Collazos

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Illustration by Natali Aguirre Montaña

Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2024 00:08:09 +0100
Subject: Amazon Emails
From: Natali Aguirre <natalxxxxxxxxxx.mo@xxxx.xxx>
To: Daniela Pinillos <dpinilloxxxxxs@xxxx.xxx> 

Dear friend (Daniela),

Thank you for your reflections because in them I remember what at the beginning seemed to me urgent. Getting lost in the complexity of Chiribiquete is simple when you immerse yourself in it as a subject of inspiration. 

(…) Now... on the road to explore an answer to your question, how could we see this magnificent place with different eyes?

What has been revealed in the process is knowing about the possible others: other names, the other forms, the other meanings. What I am trying to say is that the other eyes with which we might look are those that saw the tepuis and the jaguars thousands of years ago. In their drawings, they show us that the other, the different, the opposite does not have to be alien because duality can live in harmony. For example, the pictogram “X” in the shape of an hourglass is now also a jumping jaguar, but at the same time, it is the balance of duality. 

It is there that I am finding the answer to your question, learning how these shamanic drawings reflected the connection to the unknown and that which was, from the imagination. In these rituals, they had the time to reflect on what was around them and to see themselves present and feeling. (…) What other word can we give to conquer in order not to link it with the colonising connotation it brings?

I have not yet found the word to explore these Pluriverses. However, how about introspective tourism? Where we need not tread with our feet but with our imagination. Something more akin to meditating. I find where design has a place. What do you think?

A big hug,
Natali Aguirre Montaña

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Received: Sun, 18 Feb 2024 15:47:35 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Amazon Emails

My dear Nat,

This question has remained in my head and is still being discussed in this conversation, and that is the idea of the "conquest" of this wild landscape. In the first email, I wrote to you, I was not so convinced that falling in love with this space, giving it its place in the world, respecting and learning from it, would be a good way to "conquer" it. Now I am sure of my words and I can even suggest that talking about "deserving" would be more appropriate, since this word (conquest) can have a negative connotation and also reminds us, as Colombians, of a hard moment in the history of our territory. 

But why do I say that I am sure of my words? Well, in this case, your reflection confirms it. When you talk about all this imaginary that we have created regarding the little information we have about Chiribiquete, you already reflect a concern to safeguard it without damaging it and to propose new ways to enter it without touching it. This introspective journey for me would be an excellent start to get to deserve this paradise and to be able to make tourism from the care.

Focusing on the shapes, the colours, what inhabits, understanding the textures and imagining the complexities of Chiribiquete, could take us further than even being there. We could travel many more kilometres of distance in just seconds if we let our imaginations feed on the information available about this territory.

To imagine the jaguar jumping through the trees, to think of us crossing the Apaporís in a chalupa or walking on the Tapuyes, I don't think it's an easy task. However, you have made me think about that option that I may never contemplate and that could allow us to deserve this wild landscape, and that is from the design; how could we manage to bring all those sensations and that knowledge to a scenario that puts us in this place without being there. Maybe we wouldn't need an overwhelming wave of sensations like being there physically, but can our imagination do the rest? 

How can design bring a little piece of Chiribiquete into the present moment? 

Friend, thank you again for allowing me to delve into the depths of my mind with these conversations. 

A big hug,

Daniela Pinillos

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Illustration by Natali Aguirre Montaña

Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2024 23:36:53 +0100
Subject: Amazon Emails
From: Natali Aguirre <natalxxxxxxxxxx.mo@xxxx.xxx>
To: Daniela Pinillos <dpinilloxxxxxs@xxxx.xxx> 

Dear Friend, 

I agree that “deserving” is the right word for the relationship we should seek with this place. Deserve is to accept that there is another who we admire for who they are. What better than to be accompanied by the power of Chiribiquete, even at a distance? 

Connecting with this gigantic place a little bigger than The Netherlands (where I live now) is to remember that I am a small being navigating through external factors that surpass me. But that is just as the prehistoric humans of those lands did when they created or, we can say, designed rituals to celebrate the Jaguarity in art on the rocks. In the same way, I want to commemorate with art that gives rise to a ritual moment.

A large format tapestry that is inspired by the dense canopy of the rainforest and in which you can enter to feel immersed in an introspective journey, to know, without going. Highlighting what we talk before, this symbol “X” is in Jaruaridad: Harmony in duality. The day and the night. A jaguar jumping in the sky. A jaguar jumping in the jungle. The crossing between the Serranía de Chiribiquete from north to south and the equinox line (the line of the equator) is the origin of the world. The constellation of the Jaguar or as it is commonly known, the constellation of Orion. The jaguar as the guardian of the cosmos and the Earth for regulating the ecosystem. 

So, it is not a matter of finding in the Jaguar as a religion. This tapestry celebrates that by recognising other possibilities, we can find ways to know without dominating, and to deserve without violating. It is about questioning the truth we are used to and understanding that other versions are not known. 

Attached you can find some images of the tapestry and even if you can't physically enter it. I invite you to visit this corner of the world with the colours, shapes, and textures that you can perceive through your screen. 

Thank you for navigating with me in this conversation that has led us to express the most negative and positive aspects of interacting with the Colombian rainforest and its ancestral knowledge.

With love, 

Natali Aguirre Montaña

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Received: Fri, 15 Mar 2024 04:38:34 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Amazon Emails

My dear Nat 

I am very proud of this magnificent representation you have given to this earthly paradise of Chiribiquete. I think our ancestors would be as moved as I am now, to see the way you have managed to bring the message of the guardian of the cosmos to places as far away from our country as Holland. I think it is a beautiful way of meriting the message that our ancestors have left us, but it is also a way of deserving and conquering, from love, that place that we do not yet know completely, but which is full of magic and wisdom of the earth. 

Your commemoration of Chiribiquete brings to light an excellent reflection on the value of the other. Perhaps we will have talked about it explicitly, but it seems to me that it is worthwhile to make evident the meaning of the "other", understanding it as a place or a person loaded with symbols, and where we must recognise and accept ourselves from the understanding of difference. That is also what Jaguarity is about, and your work reflects the condition of acceptance, of respect, of knowing without conquering, and of appreciating that which may seem unknown to us. 

From a distance, I thank you for inviting me to reflect on the value and power of our territory; for reminding me that Jaguaridad is part of that duality in which I recognise myself as a Colombian living abroad; in which I recognise the other and I recognise myself as another bearer of a culture of the earth; but above all, for allowing me to travel to Chiribiquete and understand it from the respect and harmony of its nature. 

Thank you, my dear friend, for this space of discernment and again my congratulations for bringing the message of the guides of Chiribiquete to the world. 

With love,

Daniela Pinillos

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