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Crossing a large field of yellow ears of corn, dancing with the swaying of the wind as if in rhythm. As I crossed the stream, I knew I was close to the community. From afar I was guided along the road by a large antenna which looked closer and closer: Mullaka’s Misminay.

Since I arrived for the first time and talked with the women of that community, I felt that they possessed a great inner strength; a kind, noble strength. They all spoke Quechua to each other and laughed. I did not understand more than “manan” and “arí” (“nada” and “si”). Something that really surprised me was the inconsistency between their physical appearance and their ages. There were several who looked older than me and turned out to be younger, and there were others who looked like schoolchildren and turned out to be 25.

We were all women and of very different ages. From little girls, like Ñurka, 3 years old, Yessica’s daughter, to Dominga, a lady who walked with a cane and brought a worn-out stool to sit on inside her blanket. Occasionally the husband of one of them would come by on a motorcycle to bring an errand or to say hello while he was on his way to another place.

The first day we were a group of ten women and one man. The one who seemed to lead the group was Blanca, also known as Lupe, daughter of Eufracia. Blanca is eighteen years old and is the best at identifying what is clay and what is not, within the different ranges of soils in the sediment.

We made a brief presentation, and then, we excitedly went to collect the clay located a few meters from where we had gathered. We got a shovel to extract the clay and also a sack where we could deposit it. It was a very fun task. I was still not acclimatized to the altitude, so as soon as I dug a little with the shovel, I got tired. We all thought it was funny.

The clay on the ground itself felt cold to the touch. After collecting enough, we returned to our initial meeting point. Here, several committed to bring clays from different areas the next day, and so it was. That second day was Saturday so we were accompanied by a larger number of children. We were a solid group of twenty people, surrounding two sheets of craft paper spread out on the floor preparing the clays, and after about an hour of soaking and drying the clay, Milchora, a 45 year old lady with a warm smile, arrived, who had gone to the trouble of traveling 16 km by donkey to bring a special type of clay to the workshop. After several attempts, we discovered that it was the best clay: Chumpitay clay.

Plates and cups were used as molds. Everyone was excited to use the molds to quickly build their pieces. However, most of the clays were difficult to work with because they had a sandy consistency. The clay that performed best was the Milchora clay. Those 10 miles were definitely worth it.

Over the next week, we met several times to build pieces such as bowls, plates and cups. We used both molds and hand-building techniques. Some days when I would arrive, they would surprise me with pieces they had made on their own in their spare time.

Little by little, they mastered the techniques and I asked them if they had made pottery before, to which they replied that they had not, only adobes. They definitely have the ability in their genes. We ended up with a considerable amount of pieces. Some of them even made little ovens for cooking like what they have in their homes, but in miniature version.

One of the last days I went to say goodbye and ran into Yessica and her daughters. They were sitting outside their house peeling beans on a sack next to their chickens. She offered me a parboiled corn which had the biggest beans I had ever seen in my life. The chickens kept coming closer and closer, looking at me sideways, waiting for me to invite them.

We sat there for about an hour next to the animals, talking. She was peeling beans and I was practicing a basketry technique they taught me using corn husks. Now I am obsessed with this material.

Walking along those narrow paths surrounded by wild flowers, hoping not to meet any bulls on the loose, crossing the field of spikes back and forth accompanied by Apu, a MIL dog, as well as sitting down to rest in the middle of Apu Wañinmarcca while drawing the sheep grazing a few meters away, was an incomparable experience.

I want to go back and feel how the sky clouds over my head announcing a storm, wake up to the sound of the rain that seems to be inside the room and laugh with the ladies of the community without even knowing what I’m laughing about because I don’t understand Quechua.

Valeria Figueroa
Mater team author

Plastic Artist Valeria Figueroa is a sculptor from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. She has been dedicated to research and production of ceramics for five years. She has led workshops with ceramists such as Aura Luz Pilco, traditional ceramist from the community of Chazuta, as well as with Carlos Runcie Tanaka. She was part of Taller Dos Ríos where she worked as a production assistant and teacher. She has participated in various group exhibitions and held her first solo show "Fosa Común" in September 2018.

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