“Slow it down…your minds and hands make it happen.” This is a message that master carver Jill Benavente passes onto to her apprentices as they journey together as artists. Their hands and the hands of many other artists are key tools in the strengthening and decolonising of contemporary indigenous Chamorro culture on Guåhan /Guam.
For the past few months Te Papa has been working with Humanities Guåhan to better represent the arts of Guam’s indigenous Chamorro people. Nina Tonga and I collaborated with Dr Kimberlee Kihleng (Executive Director) and Monaeka Flores (Coordinator for Marketing and Programs) to develop a co-collecting project representing the artforms of carving, weaving and blacksmithing.
Kimberlee and Monaeka worked with the selected artists for several weeks, and on our arrival in Guåhan we visited their workspaces. In this first of three blogs, we share messages taken from our conversations with them and take a close up look at their hands that they use to weave, carve and forge what it can mean to be Chamorro.
Francisco Lizama (master blacksmith)
On the qualities of a good blacksmith: “A love of metal (holds up knife)’ This is what I mean…”
On metal: “You can tell it is a good metal, if it’s like the 4th of July when I do this…” [applies grinder]
Mark Mansapit Benavente (weaver)
On process: “There are some zen moments, when there is no sound, no talking, just the sound of leaves moving…”
On process: “I love that I can be creative, there is no wrong way to weave…”
James Cruz Bamba (weaver)
On beginnings: “when you first start it is by rote…once you start being able to see the inner workings, the matrix “the green leaf, the yellow leaf…” (laughs) it builds up your analytical skills and abstract thinking.”
Jill Quichocho Benavente (master carver)
On process: “I let the material tell me…I’m here! Finish me!”
On leadership in the arts: “In our culture we are the heads, we can do whatever we want…our purpose here is to train our women to stand our ground…”
Angela Therese Santos (carver)
On challenges: “for me it is time…trying to meet the needs of everyone, it is time consuming”
On rewards: “Seeing her (Jill’s) face when it is done…”it’s not going to get finished on its own!”
Kerri-Ann Borja (carver)
On creativity: “when I look at certain shells, I see possibilities…taking something in its raw form and creating something from that.”
On decolonisation: “Colonisation erases ones culture and replaces it with another…this in its own form is a way of decolonising…it leads us to ancestors”
This project is the pilot for future co-collecting activity in the region. It will bring Te Papa’s collections up to date with the cultures of modern-day Guam, and advance the museums aspiration to document the cultural diversity and ever changing lives of contemporary Pacific peoples.