Located in the Rímac district of Lima, Cantagallo preserves the living Shipibo-Conibo culture. Formed by families who migrated westward from the Ucayali province of the Peruvian Amazon to the nation’s arid capital during the 1990s, the Shipibo-Conibo community has managed to maintain their customs, art and language. Perhaps more impressively, the artisans of Cantagallo and their stunningly rich culture thrive in living conditions that none of us would choose to live in: with no access to potable water, electricity or a proper sewage system.
But none of that compares to the current threat of Coronavirus which, reportedly, has appeared in over 70% of tested Cantagallo residents . It is a startling number that has put its residents, and the traditions they have so passionately preserved, at high risk. And as longtime Cantagallo resident and artist Roldan Pinedo points out, many of his neighbors are professional artisans, meaning that even if they manage to steer clear of the virus by isolating they have no means of income to buy food, medicine or hygienic products.
A native of the San Francisco community of Yarinacocha (about an hour by boat from Pucallpa), Roldan migrated to Lima in the mid 1990s alongside his wife, painter Elena Valera, and young children. In search of greater opportunities for himself and his family, they initially faced bouts of hunger, loneliness, and feelings of displacement upon arriving in the capital.
Finally, at the turn of the century, Roldan found hope—and a home—when he was told there was land available in Cantagallo. At the time, there were less than 20 other Shipibo-Conibo families who had settled in the area north of central Lima, but it was enough to establish the first urban native community in Peru’s capital.
Twenty years have passed since Roldan and his family moved to Cantagallo yet the Shipibo mythology and the rich nature that surrounded his childhood have never left his craft. For the past three years his family has been constructing a new house, likely to incorporate more studio space. The artist and his son, Harry, have exhibited numerous times in Peru, sell virtually through Ruraq Maki, and have gained international interest with shows in the U.S. and Europe.
Respectively, father and son use natural paints upon fabric to translate key components of the Shipibo culture that are so exotic to other parts of the world: the geometric design system traditionally referred to as kené (or kewé); Ayahuasca visions; tropical flora and fauna, and scenes of homeopathic cures. To further detail the deep connection to tradition, Roldan’s paintings are signed with his Shipibo name, Shoyan Shëca (a name he shares with his grandfather, meaning ‘restless mouse’).
The paintings are quite the juxtaposition to the reality in which they live, yet demonstrate the resilience of a people who strive for a better future. At the moment however, the Shipibo-Conibo neighborhood is taking it one day at a time, as they have seen resources deplete as the community’s population has only increased.
“Prior to the pandemic, we had just over 200 families living in Cantagallo…now, there are upwards of 2000 people sharing this pocket of Lima,” informs Roldan, as we speak by phone. “People from the jungle who had come to Lima, Ica or other nearby areas to work seasonally or temporarily came to Cantagallo to pass what was supposed to be a short quarantine. For many it was high-risk or simply impossible to make the 800-km journey back to the jungle. They found a home here because they are all, in a way, part of our extended family.”
While the government has helped with food donations, portable toilets and the occasional water supply via tanks, Roldan notes that it simply is not enough to satisfy all the families that now reside in Cantagallo—especially considering that nearly every resident’s source of income has been denied due to quarantine restrictions.
As they check in with family members in their native Amazon—one of the regions most vulnerable to the virus outside of Lima—some artisans have continued to produce artisan goods with whatever materials remain, with the hopes to sell them as soon as the lockdown is lifted.
“I haven’t been painting. I’m not able to go out and buy materials, and I don’t know when I’ll have the money to buy them again. Only in the last few days have I had the energy and interest in picking up the brush again,” the artist shares, trailing off with a dip of sadness in his voice. “Luckily, I have various paintings that were completed prior to the pandemic, that I am currently trying to sell in order to support my family and continue working.”
To purchase paintings directly from Roldan, call +51 941 659 343 or write to him on Facebook.
Cover image via Roldan Pindeo Facebook
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