This is a second edition in Paris for the art of Paraguay, this little-known country with multiple influences which was built on the traditions of different indigenous peoples and colonizing societies. Few know him! Surrounded by Brazil (north-east), Bolivia (north-west) and Argentina (south-west), this territory of 406,752 km2 (nearly 7.5 million inhabitants) suffered the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, the longest and most terrible of all those in South America. After the 1989 coup, the road to democracy was long and difficult. But Paraguay has turned its wounds into strength. And from its multi-ethnic population was born an incredible diversity which today constitutes its artistic richness, particularly in the fields of ceramics, textiles and graphics.
In this land, as mysterious as it is seductive, there reigns a community of artisans with fierce vital energy and touching poetry, awakening in us this desire to discover something inaccessible. Their work has a beauty that transports us, speaks to our imagination. But everything still needs to be done to get them out of an overly reductive ethnic framework. The boundary between artisans and artists remains blurred. We know it. Some will come out of the hat, others not. This is the law of any emerging market.
Historical events - we remember the war of 1864 with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, the three countries linked by the Treaty of the Triple Alliance which decimated its population - have long delayed the emancipation of the Paraguay. His art remained in the shadows, visible only in indigenous art fairs, before being shown in Biennales in South America and entering museums (Moma in New York, Pérez in Miami, Fondation Cartier in Paris). But he still has to find a place in this world of contemporary art governed by a system of galleries and fairs to make himself known internationally.
The arrival of the Minister of Culture, Adriana Ortiz Semidei, formerly head of the Paraguayan Institute of Crafts (IPA) from which she resigned in June 2022, is a sign. Visiting to defend the traditional art of the Poncho to UNESCO, she was there, Friday, to see the hanging of Tekoharte, in a space rented until this evening, Sunday (Pal Project gallery), at 39 de rue de Grenelle (Paris 7th). The name Tekoharte is an association of Tekoha - Guarani word meaning the land that makes us what we are - and of Arte - the art of different ethnic groups who draw their inspiration from the heart of the land where they are rooted. This platform was born as an obvious choice for Patricia Foissac and Marie-Pauline de Longueville, two friends, two strong personalities who each have a special bond for this country and its treasures.
The first has lived there for over 30 years. Her father had a ranch there, and after studying in France, she returned home and sold the property to pursue real estate. The second moved there in 1998 to live there for seven years with her three daughters and returns regularly. She was involved, with her husband, in the management of a livestock property. “The Tekoharte project is close to my heart,” she says, “because it keeps me connected to this endearing country, where I loved the people and life with my whole family. It is imperative to pass on know-how that can be lost.” Today there are 19 indigenous communities, 500 villages, 40,000 artisans including 3,000 ceramists, living exclusively from their art.
“Accessible for hours by 4x4 on tracks, these communities live very remote in areas that are being deforested. For only five years, Paraguay's public policy has been to safeguard, recover and democratize this know-how, whether it be forest fibers made with vegetable dyes or clays fired in earth ovens, by creating schools of backup. And by bringing this craft back to the city, to Asuncion, the capital, so that residents can reclaim their identity,” explains Minister Adriana Ortiz Semidei, coming from the village of Ita where there are 600 women potters.
“In Paraguay, ancestors pass on to their daughters, and they, in turn, to theirs: the secret of clay and the beauty of shapes, shaped by hand. Juana Marta Rodas and her daughter Julia Isidrez are among the most renowned contemporary ceramists in Latin America, explains the Tekoharte duo. Their art combines the Guarani heritage with the Jesuit influences brought by colonization. Both have each developed a personal style and language, coming from the same technique and the same immemorial tradition inherited from their ancestors, their rounded ceramics present unexpected zoomorphic features, moving away from their utilitarian functions to become real sculptures ".
The result is black clay ceramics, modeled with coil, fired in a wood oven, burnished and smoked with mango leaves, in the family home transformed into Casa Museo Juan Marta Rodas. Julia Isídrez (56 years old) and her mother Juana Marta Rodas (died in 2013) are among the best known. Julia made herself known in Paris, at the Maison des Cultures des Mondes, in the Paraguay esquivo exhibition, in 2010 then at the Fondation Cartier in 2013, where her pieces entered the collections thanks to its president Hervé Chandez, who came in Paraguay to see her work in situ.
Julia will be part of the journey of the curator of the Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art in 2024, the Brazilian Adriano Perdosa, 57, artistic director of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP). Due to his South American origins, this former deputy curator of the São Paulo biennial in 1998 and co-curator of that of 2006, is sensitive to his art. And he has already ordered it. Which inevitably should increase its rating. For the moment, prices, not yet aligned with American ones, according to the wishes of the Akhoarte duo, range from 1,400 euros for a specimen with open-mouthed spines, to 3,000 euros for a wineskin with round breasts, up to 9,000 euros. for the largest sculpture with strange intertwined animals. Those of his student, Jorge Enciso (born in Asunción in 1972) are more accessible, from 600 euros.
Also see the ballpoint pen drawings on paper from the Nivacle community of the central Chaco, whose shadows and contrasts give rise to monochrome black and white works (from 300 euros). And also the tissues of the Nivacle and Manjuy communities coming from the fiber of a plant called Karaguata. The collection of these plants in the Chaco, the extraction of their fiber, the natural dyeing and the braiding have been the exclusive work of women since the beginning. The patterns and colors allow us to identify their ethnicity and geographical origin, thus taking us on a fantastic journey...