11 Dec, 2019 | Renata Lazcano Silva
José imagines an animal that is a mixture of fox and eagle (11 years, Challapampa)
Photos: Courtesy of Mateo Caballero and Natalia Peña
A ‘micro revolution’ of art, education and play
This story begins in 2018 at 4,100 metres above sea level in the small town of Challapampa, on the Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca. Mateo Caballero, a photographer, visual artist and musician, and Natalia Peña, an artist and teacher, met a woman there who said that her community was waiting for their ispayas to pray in order to solve a dispute they had with the Challa community, on the north of the island. The ispayas are the children of the community, and the adults hoped that they could come up with a solution with their prayers to nature and the elements.
The fact that the adults would look to their children’s wisdom for a solution to a problem they couldn’t solve themselves was fascinating for the two artists. An idea sparked in their minds. ‘We had to somehow get closer to this knowledge,’ Caballero says. ‘And the most fabulous tool to approach children’s wisdom is art.’ For Peña, art and education are the salvation of the planet. ‘Art is a fundamental tool for knowing oneself, for life,’ she says, ‘art not only as a subject in the curriculum, but also as a methodology to learn and teach from creative thinking.’
Emely took us to a cocal on the way to the cemetery. "The power to sow" (10 years, Chicaloma)
Thus, by combining the powerful tools of art and education, the Mitologías Imaginarias (Imaginary Mythologies) project was born. ‘The objective is to use art as an excuse for children to make new characters, new mythologies, and, through them, to soak up their wisdom,’ the couple says. With the cooperation of the director of the local school in Challapampa, Caballero and Peña started the project in April 2019, spending a week with 15 girls and boys between 8 and 10 years old.
Mornings were spent at the school, with the couple reorganising the classroom to create a space to break up the routine of a traditional class. Caballero and Peña started the kids off with meditation to help them be present and mindful of their surroundings. Then came art – crafts, paintings, storytelling and more. The children created imaginary characters using masks they constructed and other crafts. In the afternoons, the children went on different excursions, and Caballero and Peña listened to them and learned about the plants, animals and local myths that the children shared with them. ‘It was deliciously tiring,’ the couple says.
"My other lives in the forest and on earth." (Javier, 9 years the most shy of the course in Challapampa).
The workshop went beyond arts and crafts. It followed five stages: story, collective fabulation, exploration of the territory, reimagining of characters and imaginary mythologies. The children learned to use critical thinking to analyse the ‘why’ of their own creations. Once their characters were ready, pictures of the ‘mythological’ creatures were taken, with the children receiving a copy. The couple also recorded the entire project using video and photography.
Teamwork, taking the town in Chicaloma. (From left to right: Josías, Nadir, Ángel, Jhael, Emely, Alexandra and Ramiro)
Six months later, in October 2019, Caballero and Peña headed to Chicaloma, a village in the Yungas region, to start their second adventure. They adapted the workshop for 20 children of the same age, and there was a presentation of the children’s artwork at the end of the programme. Peña says that the long-term plan is to continue traveling and connecting with more children and communities. The masks, characters, photographs and videos are elements that allow them to show children’s realities and to learn how their stories are told. The future objective of the project is also to generate change through the teachers as well, because they are the ones who are teaching the children.
Peña calls this project a ‘micro revolution.’ She and Caballero aim to provide a play space for children where they can learn, through art and education, that it is possible to emotionally connect with what they are doing. Peña and Caballero say that the most moving aspect of Mitologías Imaginarias is how they connect with many different people, and the realisation of how generous human beings can be when they are given the opportunity to share. For them, Mitologías Imaginarias is a project with a life of its own, born out of love and the desire to do something, little things, to generate changes little by little.
To learn more about the project visit the Mitologías Imaginarias Instagram profile @mitologiasimaginarias.
Natalia and Mateo. ‘Playa de la Sirena’, Challapampa.