Testigos / Witnesses represents an extraordinary collaboration between extraordinary people. Artist and visual storyteller Gaal D. Cohen, in addition to being a photographer, is also a practicing eastern medicine doctor and thanatologist - that is, he is a Death Expert. More precisely, Dr. Cohen is a Life expert - a person who assists people in making peace with all they've experienced as they prepare for Death.
Cohen's collaborator on Testigos / Witnesses is Don Genaro Fuentes Trejo, an indigenous Otomi artisan in the Sab Pablito Pahuatlan community in central Mexico. Trejo creates Amate paper in the way his ancestors have been making it for millennia; the Otomi people survive in the face of adversity much as their ancestors have been doing for millennia.
Together, Cohen and Trejo collaborated to produce this extraordinary exhibition about the nature of life, death and indigenous vitality. The portraits of the Otomi people are by captured by Cohen, and printed in large on Amate paper made by Trejo and the Otomi people of his community.
Babyhood (2018) by Gaal D. CohenMuseo de las Americas
The Eleven Stages of Life
Through his work, Cohen has developed a theory of Eleven Life Stages. Each stage has important milestones and important developmental tasks, to prepare us for the stage that comes next.
This is the first portrait in the series. The strength and gusto with which this newborn baby cries out is indicative of what the artist calls the First Stage of the Human Life Cycle we all undergo.
This child of roughly 10 years represents Childhood, both for the Otomi and more broadly, as a shared human experience. Warmth and curiosity shine from his eyes.
Each portrait is printed on handmade Amate paper, made by the Otomi community pictured here, and lead by Don Genaro Trejo Fuentes.
Adolescence (2018) by Gaal D. CohenMuseo de las Americas
About Amate Paper
Amate is a type of bark paper that has been traditionally produced in Mexico by Nahua and Otomi people for millennia, and is strongly associated with ritual and magic.
The Power of the Paper
At certain times in its history, only shamans were allowed to create and cut Amate paper. It was even banned during the Spanish colonial period due to its association with indigenous power.
The knowledge of how to make Amate was almost lost, but experienced a resurgence in the late 20th century, in part as a way to reaffirm indigenous identity and tradition. Today, Amate is widely distributed throughout Mexico and beyond.
The Otomi The territory of the Otomi people spreads throughout Mesoamerica, with roots older than time. They are considered to be the original people on the Latin American continent, and the inventors of fire as well as calendars.
This is the portrait of Don Genaro Fuentes Trejo, the artisan Otomi papermaker who handmade the Amate paper on which all the portraits are printed, and who's friendship with Gaal D. Cohen gave birth to this exhibition.
The Otomi, or Hñäho- Ñähñu-‘Ñuhmu-‘Ñuhu, have been witness to millenia of conquest, enslavement, hardship and loss of sovereignty, but persevere through time to uphold their way of life, their culture and their spiritual values. There are an estimated 300,000 Otomi alive today, a testament to survival and resilience. For more information, visit www.otomi.org
Old Age (2018) by Gaal D. CohenMuseo de las Americas
The final portrait in this series is of an Otomi centenarian.
Preparing for Death
This person has lived through 100 years, has completed the final lifecycle and is preparing for death by making peace with each previous Life Stage.
Artist Gaal D. Cohen explains how he was introduced to Amate paper, and the artisan who made it. The birth of this exhibition! Watch the full video on YouTube.
Thank you to Gaal D. Cohen for the rights to share his images with the public; thank you to the indigenous Otomi community of San Pablito Pahuatlan, who are the subjects of this exhibition and the guardians of Amate paper; thank you to Don Genaro Fuentes Trejo, the papermaker who created all of the Amate paper on which the portraits are printed. This show was presented at Museo de las Americas in Denver, Colorado (USA) in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic. All programs were recorded and are available on our Testigos YouTube playlist.