Chosen Memories: Contemporary Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift and Beyond

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*Intercambios, Amazonas Venezuela*

Laura Anderson Barbata. Intercambios, Amazonas Venezuela. 1996–98

Cibachrome prints, each: 11 × 14" (28 × 35.6 cm). Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros

Artist, Laura Anderson Barbata: My name is Laura Anderson Barbata. I am a Mexican transdisciplinary artist.

I first arrived in the Amazon of Venezuela in the '90s and I met the Yanomami people and Ye'kuana community as well. The Ye'kuana community, in this case, the familia Ortiz, was teaching the Yanomami community how to make canoes. And the whole process was something I wanted to learn.

So I asked if they would accept me as a student. They looked at my sculptures, my drawings, and they discussed with the elders and the youth of the community. And they responded with a question that changed my life. They asked me, “If we teach you, what can you teach us in exchange?” So I offered to lead workshops on how to make paper and books.

From my first time in the Amazon, I felt that photography was such a important tool because the environment offered me so much. But I began to photograph only after a few years of building a relationship of reciprocity and of trust between all of us.

Every single photograph that I have taken, the community has a duplicate. And in this image you see here is one of the first canoes that I am clumsily learning how to make. When Enrique Ortiz, who is one of my teachers, lifted the canoe so I could see it in a vertical position, I felt that he was holding a mirror to my inner self.

Now you can see why this series is titled Intercambios or Exchanges because that is the energy and the dynamic that is taking place.