Peruvian artist unveils BBC mural, sends message of social and environmental justice

Peruvian artist and Indigenous activist Jaime Luis Choclote Martinez recently unveiled a new mural in the Glenn Hubert Library at the Biscayne Bay Campus (BBC).

"Amazonia" mural in the Hubert Library at BBC.

“Amazonia” mural in the Glenn Hubert Library at BBC.

The mural, titled “Amazonia,” is 20-feet-wide and 8-feet-tall and is located behind the main service desk at the library’s entrance. “Amazonia” is a tribute to mother nature, the mythical stories and cosmologies derived from her, and the Amazon’s biodiversity, including its lands, water and people.

The unveiling marked the end of Choclote Martinez’s two-week visit to South Florida, during which he presented his latest works at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Museum. He also gave a series of talks at BBC and the Modesto A. Maidique Campus.

“Choclote’s mission to revitalize indigenous cultures plays an important role in protecting the biological diversity of the Amazon,” said Jim Riach, environmental sciences professor in the Department of Earth and Environment. “It was important for him to come to campus so our researchers, students and members of the community could learn how art and the humanities can be an integral part of conservation efforts.”

Choclote Martinez uses diverse art forms, including painting, writing and comic books, to raise awareness on the importance of Amazonian culture and the struggle for survival faced by the people, animals and environment of this region.

According to Riach, the indigenous peoples of Peru, particularly the Yagua communities, were mandated by the government to give up their traditional religion and language in exchange for Western faiths and Spanish in the 1960s. In order to sustainably manage extensive areas of Amazonian rainforest, a rights-based approach to conservation is needed. A rights-based approach is one that recognizes traditional concepts of territory and incorporates traditional cultural knowledge, beliefs and ways of life of the local peoples.

“For decades, Yagua children have grown up feeling ashamed of their culture and, as a result, don’t know the language or traditions. The cultural erosion is significant and goes back at least two generations,” Riach said. “Now, they have comic book superheroes from their own cultural heritage which they can look up to. These comics and works of art serve to revitalize interest in learning about this heritage and, hopefully, will maintain it long enough to apply it to environmental protection strategies. The works have become a source of empowerment and pride.”

The cover of Catasho Maca by Choclote Martinez.

The cover of Catasho Maca.

Choclote Martinez, a native of Iquitos, Peru, has exhibited his work throughout South America, Spain and the U.S. In his writings and comics, Choclote Martinez incorporates traditional indigenous stories, cosmologies and myths with factual events to create works that raise social and environmental awareness on Amazonian issues. Given that some of the villains in his works represent the logging and oil industries, his works are controversial and receive political resistance. To date, he has not been able to publish his works in Peru. However, with support from the Kuyayki Foundation, Choclote Martinez was able to secure copyrights for two of his comics during his trip, Catasho Maca and Fallen Angel.

At 2.1 million square miles, the Amazon basin supports the world’s largest rainforests and spans parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. It is home to more than 14,000 species of mammals, 1,500 species of birds, 2,000 species of fish, 1,000 species of amphibians, and an estimated 16,000 species of trees. Despite a global resurgence in research efforts during the past 30 years, little is still known about the Amazon.

Choclote Martinez’s visit was sponsored by the Kuyayky Foundation, Global Indigenous Group FIU, and Riach.

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