Peru - Biennale Architettura 2016

Our Amazon Frontline

The Amazon rainforest is our common frontline: constant battles are being fought to preserve the greatest source of biodiversity, oxygen production and climate regulation of the planet. 

The Amazon is also the battlefront between the ancestral vision of its inhabitants and the modern vision that western society has over this territory.

If we were to learn from the indigenous knowledge, now endangered by hegemonic “western civilization”, we would open an unforeseen insight about medicine, nutrition, and the sustainable production of the rainforest. The dissolution of this last frontline would have global implications and it would even change the way we see our world.

The Peruvian Pavilion tells an unprecedented action in this sense: fighting poverty and preserving the Amazon Rainforest through education.

In 2015, "Fundacion Weise" and the "Patronao Cultural del Peru" launched a national competition to select the curatiorial members in which they were asked to develop the theme of the exhibition and also design the pavilion.

Out of 68 submission, the proposal of Sandra Barclay and Jean Pierre Crousse was selected to represent Peru at the 15th Biennale of Venice

The exhibition immerses us in the Peruvian Amazon through visual actions that show the immeasurable mystery of its inhabitants and give a true " radiography " of the impenetrable lushness of the jungle.

The visitors follow a ribbon printed with the faces of the Amazonian children by Musuk Nolte, and the footprint of the jungle, the “Amazogramas” created by Roberto Huarcaya. This ribbon is suspended from a wooden canopy, in permanent equilibrium. Also suspended, a group of tables and chairs brought from the Amazonian schools, reveal the precarious and harsh conditions in which teachers and students interact today.

The balance of the fragile and undulating ribbon compels us, as in the Amazon rainforest, to be responsible for preserving its balance.

The “Plan Selva”, a large-scale public program in our amazon region that rebuilt and rebuilds hundreds of schools scattered in inaccessible places without services, with a new educational program that favours multiculturalism and rescues the native languages.

The starting point for the project is an attentive dialogue with the Amazonian communities. It proposes a kit of modular parts that allows adapting to particular pedagogic requirements, topographical conditions and size of communities. The result is a climatic-sensitive modular architecture, respectful to the Amazonian way of life

This project sets a unique precedent in a Peruvian public institution: it relies on architecture for a massive educational program, restores dignity to a population that was historically relegated and offers a space for the balanced encounter between two apparently irreconcilable worlds.

The Amazon has been traditionally seen as a land ripe for conquest, heavy with hidden treasure. With its overwhelming otherness, it offered a titanic resistance to the pursuit of conquest and domestication by ‘Western Civilisation’. Traditional education policies and programmes have failed as well.

• The amazon students have the lowest rate in reading comprehension and maths skills in Peru.
• More than one and a half million students in Peru speak a native language as first language, but lessons are given mainly in Spanish.
• Average commuting time between students’ dwellings and school is 5:30 hours, more than three times that in the rest of the country.

• Out of a total of 15 thousand schools in operation in Amazonia, more than half require urgent heavy renovations.
• In Amazonia, Almost half of the educational infrastructure is at constant risk of flooding, and only 15% has access to water, sanitation and energy public networks.

The experience of Andres Nuningo, Chief of the Aguaruna and Huambisa Council, shows the consequences of the failure of domenstication:

"In my land, mornings were peaceful. I gave no thought to clothes because my house was isolated, surrounded by my fields and the jungle. I would contemplate serenely the immensity of the Santiago river and its natural life while my wife lit the fire. I would freshen myself up in the river and then go for some thorny catfish on the canoe or I would fish for some bream on a cast net, with the first lights of the sun. Without any worries about what time it was, I would go back home. My wife greeted me cheerfully; she cooked the fish and gave me my cuñushca, while I warmed myself by the fire. We would chat then, my wife, my children and I, until conversation winded down. Then she would go to the fields and I would go with my son to the jungle..."

"...Walking through the jungle I would teach my son about nature, our history, everything according to my judgment and the teachings of our ancestors. We would hunt and go home, happy, bringing game. My wife, so happy to see us home, would be freshly bathed and coiffed, dressed in her new tarache. We would eat until we could eat no more. If I felt like it, I would rest. If I didn’t, I visited the neighbours and worked on my crafts; then my relatives would come over and we would drink masato, share stories and, if the feeling was right, we would end up dancing all night long..."

"...Now development has changed everything. There are set hours in the morning for work. We work at the rice fields until late and return home empty-handed. The wife, what a long face; she barely gives me some salted manioc. We hardly ever talk anymore. My son goes to school, where they teach him Lima stuff. After the harvest I have to put on a fight to get my pay, which is next to nothing. Everything goes to the truck driver and the retailers.

I hardly manage to take home some tuna cans, some spaghetti, and the worst is that this kind of agriculture is shrinking our communal plot and soon we will have nothing. I can already see all my fellow countrymen rummaging in the garbage dumps in Lima."

As told to José Álvarez, Director of Biological DIversity, Peruvian Ministry of Environment

New perspectives are emerging in Peru. The Ministry of Education is preparing the way to learn from the wisdom of indigenous people in order to search for alternatives to the actual extractive and depredatory model. Plan Selva is an action without precedents from the Peruvian Government, and is changing the way of understanding and acting in this territory. In Plan Selva, architecture is one of the main actors in this transformation, together with new multicultural policies, participatory approaches and innovative management. A dialogue between the two worlds will take place in these spaces, thus furthering the transmission of ancestral knowledge to new generations.

"For centuries, the many peoples that inhabit the Amazon have learnt how to decode the wisdom written in nature. This knowledge has allowed them to achieve a balanced relationship with their habitat and to survive the dangers of the Western world, which have put their very existence at risk, and still do. In no other place are the cycles of life as evident as they are in the Amazon...

...Photography is my means of approaching the Amazon. I let myself be guided by intuition and by that precise instinct that suddenly awakens wildly, becoming light, becoming images that allow us a glimpse within them, while at the same time withholding that which allows them to survive, and is mysterious by nature."
Musuk Nolte, 2016

"I felt the Amazon’s story, its image, needed to be written in light by the Amazon itself. In order to achieve this, what could be better than unearthing a primeval photographic procedure, the photogram. This technique obtains exact reproductions of the object by direct contact, without resorting to lenses or cameras.
Only thus could I hope to comprehend in photographic works of monumental dimensions the entire baggage of experiences and at the same time the dualities in Nature –life and death, order and chaos, reality and fiction– coexisting in the Amazon, this primitive, overwhelming, misterious, ever changing and aggressive land.
This experience could be synthesized by the words of a group of Amazon dwellers who participated in it: 'The Amazon has allowed you to take part of her spirit with you. She has given herself to you.'”
Roberto Huarcaya, 2016

Towards a multicultural approach.

Native Community in Peru

More than 1 million 400 thousand students in Peru belong to a native community and speak a native language as first language. These children and teenagers require an education appropriate to their culture, in harmony with their social and natural milieu. This is the Intercultural Bilingual Education that is being implemented and is a national policy that caters to the needs of our indigenous population.

The intercultural bilingual school (IBS) provides an infrastructure that allows for collaborative work, multigrade school methodology (one teacher for two grades or more), communal participation, contact with the natural environment and an intercultural atmosphere in the relationships between students, teachers and parents. An IBS furthers the strenghtening of students’ personal and collective identity and strives to shape citizens that flourish in the social and natural milieu of the Amazon as well as in other sociocultural scenarios.

The intercultural bilingual school (IBS) provides an infrastructure that allows for collaborative work, multigrade school methodology (one teacher for two grades or more), communal participation, contact with the natural environment and an intercultural atmosphere in the relationships between students, teachers and parents. An IBS furthers the strenghtening of students’ personal and collective identity and strives to shape citizens that flourish in the social and natural milieu of the Amazon as well as in other sociocultural scenarios.

An IBS curriculum takes into account the body of knowledge, practices and values of each local native culture, conjoined with the knowledge of other cultures and with science. In addition, it fosters teaching / learning processes that assume as their educational axis the social and productive activities of the community and preserves native world views that foster harmony with nature and the sustainable management of natural resources (an approach known as Buen Vivir, or Good Living). In order to attain this it is crucial to ensure the participation of different actors in the school, such as parents, elders and wise men of the community who are the custodians of culture and language and transmit this knowledge generation to generation.

Educational processes are developed in their first language and in Spanish, and both are learned as areas. This presupposes teachers that know the culture and speak the students’ language. In secondary school they also learn English as a foreign language.

Native languages go through a process of normalisation with the speakers themselves in order to define an alphabet and basic writing norms. This is the basis for the manufacture of educational materials for students and teachers.

"We have launched an educational reform based on four action guidelines: reappraising the teaching profession, improving learning, ensuring an efficient management of the school system and bridging the gap in educational infrastructure. We aim thus to build a country of equal opportunities. This means, rather than giving everyone the same service, giving each person the service they need. In the case of architecture, for example, the spaces for our students must take into account their geographic, climatic and cultural conditions. They need environments where they can study with motivation, comfort and, most importantly, joy."                                                                     Jaime Chanduvi, Peruvian Minister of Education
Peru has only recently turned its gaze to the Amazon. This new perspective heralds a new paradigm: the preservation of the Amazon rainforest through education. In this process, architecture provides a space for change and assumes the role of witness to this great transformation. “Plan Selva” will enable the inhabitants of the Amazon to become part of society as important actors in the global community, disseminating their millenary wisdom themselves and providing new insights into our world.
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