Benvenuto Chavajay works often with childhood memories of his home village at the rocky banks of lake Yatitlán in Guatemala. In his sculptural installation Soft Chapina Benvenuto has found a way to recreate what he calls his garden wherever he goes, by choosing to locate his most personal reminiscences in the most unchangeable element of his surroundings: the stones. As a result, his garden — a metaphor for place and rootedness — is made up of stones tied together by the plastic straps used for sandals in his community. According to Chavajay, plastic, which appeared in his village in the 1970s, transformed his culture: “For better or worse, the plastic which reached the indigenous communities, changed their whole cultural, social and anthropological structure. The culture became sort of ‘plasticized’, it was no longer a question of the natural order of things. That material left its mark on us.”
Plastic, a material protagonist of the capitalist world, floods every space, permeates every culture, has invaded every corner of the globe, leaving great impact on the environment and a large part of the handcraft tradition adrift, like basketwork.
Soft Chapina, the title of Chavajay’s installation, creates a contrast between natural and industrial materials. At first one is tempted to think that stones, in their geological time, are eternal in opposition to the disposability of plastic, however, the other single element that might outlive us all like the stones will do, is plastic. Chavajay has been a witness of these processes of cultural changes in his community that involve the use of plastic sandals, as well as all sorts of plastic containers that have replaced traditional ceramic and gourd recipients. The artist has also noted that since there is no word for “plastic” in their native language Tz’utujil, the word “gourd” became a synonym for “plastic”. If you say “hand me a gourd” in Tz’utujil, they’ll pass you a plastic recipient. Ceramic objects, made with the clay of the lake basin of his village, or utensils are hardly in use any longer, replaced by the culture of plastic.
About the artist
Benvenuto Chavajay Graduated from the Rafael Rodriguez Padilla School of Plastic Arts, where he currently teaches. His most recent exhibitions include in SITE Santa Fe, New Perspectives on Art of the Americas, San Diego (2016), X Bienal de Centro America, Costa Rica (2016). Who Are You, Museo MOlAA, Los Angeles (2016), 10 Mercosul Biennial, Porto Alegre (2015), I Bienal del Sur, pueblo en resistencia, Caracas (2015), KADIST Foundation, San Francisco (2015) and Indigeneity, Decolonialiaty and Art, Fredric Jamson Gallery, Duke University, Durham (2015).
Among his distinctions are: First prize at the Juannio Latin American Art Auction (2008); the “Promising Talent” award of the Botran Foundation (2002); was a finalist at HABITART, Contemporary Central American Art (2003), and won first prize at the September 15th Central American Competition (2004). His work, that ranges from performance to sculpture, explores indigenous identity, decolonial theories, and the reshaping of everyday aspects of community life.