Performance artist Antonia Baehr and sound artist Carola Gaggiano participated in Colombia’s Experimenta Sur festival, led by Mapa Teatro. They subsequently visited the Chocó Base with MaMa. The following text is their contribution to the 2016 publication This Place.
By Antonia Baehr and Carola Caggiano
In June 2016 we travelled to Guachalito, Chocó, thanks to an invitation from the Más Arte Más Acción Foundation and the Goethe Institut to make an artistic residence. In this place where the forest extends to the Pacific Ocean grows a large variety of bananas never seen in Europe, such as the primitivo, the felipita or the mambule. Some of these varieties have been given various names such as the popocho, also called cuatro filos, cuadrado or gajeto. Along with fish, they are the basic food item and, therefore, play an important role in local culture and identity.
Surprised and excited by what, for us, was a discovery, we devoted ourselves, as some explorers, to the study of these succulent fruits. With this project, we debunked our mental image of the ‘single banana’ we knew –the repetitive, uniform banana, always identical to itself. During our seven-day residency, we drew daily a variety of bananas, except on the last day, which we had free. CC would draw one side of the fruit and AB another. The last drawing in the series was reserved for the mambule, which we found to be the most intriguing of the fruits. Also called pujón, it is a variety of banana in danger of extinction in the region, due to stunting. Its skin is thin and violet, and it is said that when ripe it glows in the dark.
We would draw every day with the intention of making versions of the banana on The Velvet Underground record cover. We most certainly have something in common with many other people educated in the hegemonic culture of Europe and the USA: the drawing of a banana reminds us inevitably of the banana on that cover. But there, in the jungle, we had no access to the internet, so we had to dig into our memory to make the different versions. But our memory is more flexible than the Google search engines. CC’s memory was changing from one day to the next and she was not even sure that the background should be white. AB seemed to recall that there was something written in italics to one side of the banana; she assumed, wrongly, that it was the name of the band. What she could not remember was whether the text in italics was above or below the banana, nor the direction of the banana half-moon. Some bananas we reproduced quite well, others not so much and others we did not manage to reproduce at all. We set ourselves a rule: if the drawing did not turn out well, it could not be repeated.
The banana is an almost controversial fruit: its name and image are associated with racism, sexism and exoticisation. It has acquired practically a vulgar and obscene connotation. In Berlin, where we live, it is a symbol of the contempt people feel for the citizens of the former German Democratic Republic. Since almost no bananas were imported in this now-extinct republic, people in West Berlin mocked their unfortunate neighbours, for whom the daily delicacy was practically unreachable.
Paint in a realistic way is an activity that requires a lot of time. It slows down the pace of life, improves observation skills, and for us it became a vehicle for communication between hosts and guests. We deliberately chose a trivial motif for our naturalist drawings, an object that is part of everyday life in that region, especially of women, such as the excellent cook Laura Martínez.
Our interest in insignificant, everyday elements and in the kitchen, a woman’s space, has a feminist motivation. We were not indifferent to the disasters in the region, such as the devastation produced by the pollution of the River Atrato, while we were drawing primitivos with love and care. We are complex beings and the banana is a simplification of plurality. In a place where the industrialisation of agricultural production is still not dominant, varieties abound and singularities are highlighted. Perhaps it was a ridiculous and utopian undertaking: we wanted to restore bananas their heterogeneity with some colouring pencils for children, some of which we found right there, in Base Chocó.