My buddy, below, comes by most afternoons for a bottle of Inca Cola with me at the diner I sit at at. She and I posed for a photo, for her a very solemn occasion, a matter of summoning up all of ones dignity-- the photo will last forever, and one must be up to it. She looks fine to me. The teenage girls behind the counter go into hysterics when the lady kisses me. I smile. I'm a lucky guy.
My gal-pal is a Shipibo Indian, one of many tribes from the jungle hereabouts in Iquitos. But the Shipibo have the smarts to monopolise the concept of Native here, all other tribes being more or less unheard of by tourists. There are lots of tribes here, but only the Shpibo seem to have hustled themselves into the minds of the tourists. With this particular p.r. hustle they have also created an art style that is now more or less "Shipibo." One sees it on the side of a building at the Plaza de Armas downtown. To my eye it looks derivative of Paul Klee, but what do I know about art? It's now the Native Standard, i.e. Shipibo Art.
My buddy takes it all very seriously, as do I, even if I can't bring myself to pay for large piece of embroidery like those she carries with her all day every day to sell to tourists, most of who are likewise unable to afford her work. She also sells necklaces to tide her over till she hits on Howard Hughes. She gave me one, perhaps in payment for a soda one day, and now I wear it in spite of it making look like a hippie. I lack the lady's demeanor, and thus look like a pot-smoking goof wearing a bead necklace. But it was a gift, so I have it on. Maybe I should stop smiling. I find that hard to do.
Embroidery sends some tourists into the ozone zone of weirdness, some of them paying hundreds of dollars for knitting these ladies do as a way to pass the time and to generate some cash. I've seen grown men who at home are likely tyrants in business, titans, too, men who command thousands of people in daily efforts to make the Modernist economy work as it must, babbling and in tears over some piece of cheap cloth an illiterate peasant woman like my friend here embroiders as she shoots the shit with her claque of lady friends on the bench at the park. I cringe when I see men from major cities in America falling over themselves praising the genius of embroidery by a native lady.It's not really special, sorry to write. It's embroidery.
|Detail from 3X4 foot embroidery, Shipibo embroidery, 2012, Iquitos, Peru.|
My buddy sits at my table and sips soda and embroiders as we chat. Her friends come by and giggle because my buddy has a crush on me. Then they go off across the street and sit on a bench and embroider and gossip about us.
I have a relationship with a lady that I think many American corporate executives would kill for. I chat with this gal and have fun. For me it's not special. For those lost in the world of commerce back home, this is "the real thing." To be with an actual "Shipibo Native Person" is the high point of their trip. And then the tourist will wallow in sentimentality going on about the beauty of the work and how long it must take to do so and how cheap it is at twice the price, as if it has any value at all beyond what one is stupid enough to pay. But it's not about the work or the lady: it's about the encounter with "authenticity." I could barf, thank you very much.
I assume some ugly, dirty NGO hippie came up with this doodle design and toldenough smart people that it is so arty that tourists would go for it if they say it's "Native Art." I kind of like it now that I see so much of it that I'm used to it.
But really, it's the usual liberal arsehole racism at work. To make such a fuss about embroidery by a Native lady simply because she lives in Iquitos, far from California or New York, and that she lives in a shantytown in the Amazon is to dehumanise my buddy. She ain't special. She's an old lady with a whole whack of grandkids who want motorcycles and electronic stuff. She's not much different from Sarah Palin, in that she works and has ideas about right and wrong and loves her family and wants good for her community. Then, because she is not Sarah Palin but rather an illiterate lady from the jungle, she embroiders to sell stuff to tourists who hate Sarah Palin with such violent intensity that such people become two-legged animals one would fear if met in the silva here.
The deep dirtiness of the tourists who go on about the genuinness of life amongst the natives is enough to make me want to torture them with blunt instruments and burning cigarettes.
Embroidery, for the mass who don't get is, is for ladies who don't know how to do anything interesting. Emroidery is one of the curses imposed on weathy daughters of the up and coming business classes of the late 18th and 19th centuries. It was meant to keep them from playing with themselves in their otherwise totally boring lives of not a damned thing to do otherwise. Embroidery was a feminine waste of time deliberately concocted to keep ladies of high station from committing suicide from boredom. Women weren't allowed into employment, and thus they sat, as my buddy and her friends sit, doing not much of interest that brings in some bucks if they luck out and find an idiot tourist with a lot of money. Embroidery is something of a curse on women. I like some of it for what it is, and I've liked it since the late 60s when a girlfriend in highschool embroidered flowers on my bell-bottom jeans to piss off my parents.
Mostly I sit with my buddy and we sip soda and shoot the breeze. She embroiders as we talk. I should probably take it up myself and try to make a living. I could hire a native girl to sell it for me to old American tourists.That would be crafty, according to me. And...
It works for me.
A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:
Occasional-Walker-D-W/dp/ 0987761501/ref=sr_1_1?s=books& ie=UTF8&qid=1331063095&sr=1-1
And here are some reviews and comments on said book: