Ombre des Amazonies / L’écaille, a solo show by KAY curated by Claire Luna. From march 23 to may 3, 2023.
The myth of the turtle and the dolphin
In Ombre des Amazonies / L'écaille, KAY summons the legend to reveal the deadly darkness of this plural region that we continue to look at only as a space to be protected or exploited. It is about the charapa, the stereotype of the Amazonian woman, hypersexualized and with an exacerbated libido¹ named after a river turtle. And the bufeo colorado, a sacred pink dolphin that inhabits the rivers and often embodies the white man who has honored young women with his visit since the days of rubber exploitation².
Ombre des Amazonies is a large-scale project: a living exhibition or mutant show, it summons and exfoliates the history and beliefs of those who inhabit the forests and cities of the Amazon, a region said to be virgin and above all fantasized³. According to a symbiotic approach and guided by a deep need for mutation, in her performance, KAY will change skins - other clothes for human violence. A way of putting herself in turn in those of these animals, reinvesting the myth, replaying them, transforming them, and perhaps finally freeing herself from them.
Dear KAY, here are the two tiny paragraphs that I propose to you to introduce one of the multiple forms that your project Shadow of the Amazonies takes here. I would like to develop more, there is so much to say. To do so, I am convinced that it is important that you take over. Speak freely, don't think about writing. Say things in Spanish if you need to. The questions are simple, they will help us understand your intentions and the context. I would like you to talk about these two legendary figures, the turtle and the dolphin, as well as your vision of the river, of its arms, of a body that would also be that of your Amazon.
Could you tell us a little more about what is called the charapa caliente? What is this popular belief in Peru that women in the Amazon have a sustained sexual activity and an overflowing libido?
The hypersexualization of women in the Amazon began during the Spanish colonization. The naked body of the women, its ornaments and its jewels were very quickly exoticized. These imaginings intensified during the rubber fever, a period in which its inhabitants saw many cities spring up. Sexual consumption and the search for new economic resources joined hands, which led to the sexual abuse of women and girls at that time. Iquitos, in particular, became a large sexual market place. One of the characteristics of this extractivist economy was the proliferation of bars and discotheques in the city, "meeting places" in general.
What was the impact of this sexual and language abuse on women in Iquitos society? How did you feel about it?
The imaginary and the construction of eroticized and/or exoticized bodies are a living legacy of the conquest. When I was a child, in all the advertisements in my city the women were white. Today, that's starting to change. Certainly, music such as reaggatón continues to feed this imaginary of the "hot" woman, but now these women are going beyond that: they are free and use sensuality to fight stereotypes.
The figure of the bufeo colorado is ambivalent: if this animal is sacred it was not long before it took on the clothes of the white man who came to exploit the rubber⁴. What was said about him at that time? And today?
The bufeo colorado is a sacred being for many indigenous communities in Amazonian territories. If this freshwater being is very present in Peru, it is also in Colombia and Brazil, but with different characteristics. It has the power to transform itself into a human being. The pink dolphin allows the meeting between human beings and aquatic beings. In the depths of the water, there is a world like ours. The shamans can access it thanks to the Bufeo who is his guide. In my city, in Iquitos, during the rubber fever, with the arrival of the exploiters (the caucheros), which drained important migratory waves from Lima and from abroad, this story was interpreted differently. The skin of the dolphin changes... He became a white man, with clear eyes, he dresses with a jacket and pants, he always has a hat (the one of the caucheros). It is said that it was used to hide his vents. This man appears at night in village parties, in cities, in women's rooms, seducing them. Their foreign features make them more attractive. It is said that when a woman becomes pregnant with the Bufeo, she must carry the child to the river, so that it returns to the world from which it came. When a woman in the village gives birth to a light-skinned child, it is said to be the child of the Bufeo.
Could you tell us what you call the History or the Hammock, these latex arms to say the rivers of the Amazon that cross the space and conceal a hybrid sound. How do these bodies breathe?
The names are only to identify them when I have to tell others about them. For me, they don't have names. If I refer to them in this way, it is because of their shape, because of what I felt when I drew them. There are about a dozen of them today. There are only two ways to get to my city⁵ by plane or by river. As a child, we always traveled by plane, and from up there, when we left behind the mountains and started to see the river, I always imagined shapes, I think I "suffered" from pareidolia... I couldn't help seeing shadows, the outlines of various beings. The particularity of this is that a story was never contained in a single image but in a set of images. It was like seeing scattered parts of a single being, and it was only from a distance that I could assemble his body or the different bodies. Over time, these shadows became darker and darker, and I don't refer to their light. They say that fairy tales end when you are no longer a child.
You have plumbed its depths (film), and like to fly over it. Can you tell us what this water carries in your vision?
I have lived under the water longer than I have flown over it. The images in the film represent a part of this memory. And they were filmed in the depths of the Amazon River near the village of Pebas, 4 hours by ferry from Iquitos. The rivers are not only water, they are also the "other side", where there is a multiplicity of realities. How do the beings that inhabit it see these realities? I have not yet allowed myself to experience these journeys, through dreams, the ingestion of psychoactive plants, or through smells. Until then, I've looked for other ways to approach it, maybe it's the first layer of its epidermis.
An interview with Kay Zevallos Villegas (a.k.a KAY) by Claire Luna.
Translated and edited by Claire Luna.
¹ On the subject, we can consult Angélica Motta, "La 'charapa ardiente' y la hipersexualización de las mujeres amazónicas en el Perú: perspectivas de mujeres locales". Sexualidad, Salud y Sociedad - Revista Latinoamericana. Río de Janeiro, n. 9, 2011, pp. 29-60. And the book by Luisa Elvira Belaunde, Sexualidades amazónicas, Género, deseo y alteridades, La siniestra ensayos, 2018.
² The rubber fever (1885-1915) was a period in which many Europeans came to settle in certain regions of the Amazon to extract and commercialize latex. The indigenous people were forcibly recruited and suffered great violence. A new wave of slavery -let's call it what it is-, linked to the exploitation of latex, took place at the time of World War II.
³ Stéphen Rostain, La forêt vierge d'Amazonie n'existe pas, éditions Le pommier/Humensis, 2021, p.64.
⁴ Caoutchouc means "the tree that cries" in Quechua. Latex is obtained by bleeding the bark of the rubber tree.⁵ The urban area of Iquitos is the largest agglomeration in the world not accessible by road.