Travel to the depths of the South American rainforest via Gateshead with a visit to Mogaje Guihu’s first solo exhibition, presented at BALTIC. The artist – whose Western name is Abel Rodriguez – is an elder from the Nonuya ethnic group, native to the Cahuinarí River in the Colombian Amazon. His intricately detailed paintings and drawings (initially rendered in felt-tip pen) depict the incredible wealth of plant and animal life indigenous to his ancestral home, from where he and his family were displaced in the 1990s as a result of the Columbian armed conflict and exploitation of the land’s natural resources.
As well as being incredibly beautiful to look at, Mogaje Guihu’s work contains a vast repertoire of knowledge relating to the local ecosystem of his region, and the spiritual, healing and nutritional properties of its vegetation, passed down to him by his uncle and recorded from memory. Though he rejects the label of ‘contemporary artist’, Mogaje Guihu’s work has gained significant prominence over the last five years, most notably appearing in Documenta 13. It is also highly valued by many botanists and biologists – serving as an important record of a unique and rapidly disappearing corner of the world.
The exhibition is accompanied by an intimate film portrait of the artist by Fernando Arias, which provides further insight into Mogaje Guihu’s life and values. Over the course of the short video (featuring a sound score that combines traditional indigenous instruments and electronic rhythms with traditional chants by Mogaje Guihu), the artist meditates on subjects such as his relationship to time, Western medicine, alternative systems of knowledge, and the damaging impact of humanity’s mistreatment of the Earth fuelled by capitalism.
This is exhibition presents a welcome and much-needed opportunity to step out of the polluted air of the city and immerse yourself in a tranquil yet vibrant world of green.