– Autumn/Winter 2017

Amo la montaña/I Love the Mountain

Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui

In Ecuador, the volcano Antisana seen from Papallacta, 2013. Photograph: Libertad Gills. Courtesy the author

I’d like to begin with a few notes in order to clarify what I am doing in Ecuador and where these ideas come from. I am a practitioner of an intellectual craft I have christened Sociology of the Image.1 At its root is my experience as a university student, when I discovered that sociology was the only discipline that could connect me with the political-creative work that I consider my authentic and inescapable vocation. I did not choose art, although as a girl (playing the ‘game of the future’) I would tell adults I would like to be a painter. I was as much in

  1. See Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Sociología de la imagen: Miradas ch’ixi desde la historia andina, Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón, 2015. In the course I teach on 'Sociology of the Image', I tend to participate in the final exam, presenting my own visual essay along with my students, not only as an exercise in dismantling ‘pedagogical authority’ (Pierre Bourdieu) but also to express what I have learned in each classroom situation and the larger landscape in which I teach my course. ‘Amo la Montaña’ was my final essay for the masters’ course in visual anthropology at FLACSO Ecuador, Quito in July/August 2010. I am grateful to the students on that course for the stimulating human and intellectual interac- tion we experienced on that occasion, and to Libertad Gills and Edward Cooper for their photographs. The essay was read fragment by fragment while I executed certain actions, dressed in white. I was accompanied by my yoga teacher supporting the performance. The stage was an empty classroom, with a small table in the centre on which were scattered some photographs in disorder, over a blue poster board. The element fire governed the first fragment: I wanted to conjure a misfortune that had just befallen me (the theft of my travel allowance and documents) and I burned a 10 dollar bill in a clay pot. The element of water dominated the second: while someone read it, I sat under the table and, in a lotus position, chanted an Aymara mantra, drinking in sips from a glass. To conclude the third fragment, everyone began to blow the photographs to represent the element air. Finally, upon uncover- ing the blue poster, the fourth fragment could be seen, sprinkled with lumps of soil. Since the original photos have been lost, I have reconstructed the images in the Situationist style, appealing to students, friends and my children, Clea and Kilko.

  2. See Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1987, trans. Kristin Ross), Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991.

  3. These Andean languages share 30 percent of the lexicon and have a similar pattern of suffixation, their similarity making them quite confusing.

  4. This story was told to me many years ago by the Chaco poet Jesús Urzagasti and is also recorded in his autobiographical novel En el país del silencio (La Paz: Hisbol, 1987).

  5. Refers to a variety of alpine tundra ecosystems, more commonly found in the northern Andes.

  6. Siwingqa: dragon fruit cactus (cereus pitahaya); chillka: medicinal shrub native to South America (baccharis latifolio).

  7. Castellanisation meaning a forest or group of qiñwa plants.

  8. The community grouping that comprises the basic element of Andean social organisation, composed of various subgroups.

  9. The summit of a mountain. Also refers to the condor, or an authority at various levels of Andean

  10. The highest point of a road or hill, where we rest and perform a brief ritual to ‘get rid of our exhaustion’.

  11. Sacred mountain.

  12. The southern cross.