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June 13, 2013

Artist Aymar Ccopacatty uses plastic trash to create awareness and beauty


Aymar 5Aymar Ccopacatty, worked with young people at the Union Nacional de Communidades Aymara (UNCA), Puno, Peru, to knit recycled plastic trash into a wiphala flag—a symbol of history and pride among Andean peoples.  

“My creations address the issues of our human imprint in daily life, using a balance of bright colors and cultural symbolism to create environmental awareness and creative potentials of modern refuse as art material amongst the Aymara and beyond." 

 —Aymar Ccopacatty

Aymar Ccopacatty, an Aymara artist who combines modern materials with the ancient traditions of his people, has built looms, spun yarn, knitted, woven, and made collage-paintings, all using plastic refuse. The trash, rescued for its attractive texture or color, comes from his daily life at Lake Titicaca, an ancient and ecologically sensitive environment on the border of Bolivia and southern Peru. 

In 2012, Aymar was chosen for the Artist Leadership Program of the National Museum of the American Indian. The first part of the program, in Washington, D.C., centers on doing research in the museum's collections and exchanging ideas with fellow artists. The second part requires each artist to return home to conduct a Youth Public Art Project or Community Artists Workshop. Aymar chose to work with young people in Puno, Peru. What follows is the project he envisioned when he applied to the program and a photo essay of the actual experience this spring. 

Union Nacional de Comunidades Aymaras (UNCA), based in the city of Puno (pop. 119,116), is the main organization representing the Aymara of Peru since the 1980s.  The organization has been a uniting force in many different manifestations to protect our cultural identity, territory, and way of life. The Aymara in the post-colonial context have often put an emphasis on education, especially in the urban context; this to defend ourselves first under Spanish colonial rule and now under a corrupt and often racist national government. Many educated Aymara youth feel shame or pressure to abandon their identities; UNCA is a uniting force, which has been able to pull these youths together from many different Aymara communities around Lake Titicaca. The Public Art Project would involve urban Aymara youth hand-selected for their creative promise; the workshop would be given in our Aymara language as the textile process has many technical and important names that should be re-learned. The final product would be inaugurated for our winter solstice of June 212013, and exhibited publicly before being permanently shown in UNCA’s cultural center.

The national social pressure to assimilate has caused much cultural erosion over the last few decades as the Aymara find our way into the 21st century; the youth are exposed to all the modern pressures—alcohol, poverty, lack of opportunities—and tempted into alienating foreign religions. Our millennial textile knowledge is on the verge of extinction. Youths of today have much less chance or reason to appreciate our traditional textiles and the spiritual-metaphysical knowledge written in them. This project looks to increase our self-esteem while giving youths a deeper knowledge of our textile tradition and having them practice aspects of this tradition with recycled plastics cleaned from our Mother Earth.

The Public Art Project is based upon the textile techniques and materials employed in my contemporary art practice: exclusive use of recycled plastic trash into textile work of all kinds.  Utilizing traditional Aymara techniques such as spinning, knitting, and loom weaving, community Aymaras will create a large-scale wiphala from recycled plastic bags. The wiphala is our traditional flag and a symbol of our agricultural cycle marking the solstices and equinoxes based on astrological observation of the Southern Cross, also known in Aymara as La Chacana. The wiphala would measure 12 x 12 feet or larger, if possible, and would be made in a square proportion; It would be knitted, crocheted, and or woven. The colors of the wiphala are the colors of the rainbow, so we would take full advantage of the colors donated to our Mother Earth by the plastics industry. The re-collecting of discarded plastic bags would be part of the program; the community would be instructed to keep an eye out for certain colors, and the work would be made from our daily footprint of plastic use in modern life. 

The city of Puno, Peru, seen from Lake Titicaca.

Irma 3
Aymar and his assistant, Irma, cutting strips of plastic trash to be used to make the flag. 


Flag plastic 5
Plastic trash in the flag's colors. 





Materials and tool 5
Materials, tools, and the flag in progress.






Workshop participants knit the wiphala in sections, then joined them to make a large flag. 


In addition to leading the workshop at UNCA, Aymar worked with the San Juan Children's Center in Puno to show young people how to knit keychains in the form of miniature ch'ullu, Andean caps with earflaps. Teaching traditional arts doubles as a way to teach Andean history and, especially, Aymara language. Aymar also hopes that by selling the keychains they make, the children at the center can earn a little money to help their families.
San Juan Center 1
Aymar offering a hand to one of the students at the San Juan Children's Center. 
San Juan 2
Preparing materials for the keychains.








Keychain plastic 6
Plastic trash can be found in any shade imaginable. 










Wiphala flag on display
People stop to examine and touch the wiphala on display at the Terminal Terrestre in Puno.


A woman offers coca leaves to the wiphala.

All photos by Keevin Lewis, NMAI, Puno, Peru, May 2013


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Aymar Ccopacatty deserves widespread recognition. He is a high example of the artist as social activist -- social heart.

This is fabulous. Truly fabulous in all aspects.

We should have more people like these, caring for the environment, beautifying and raising awareness that Mother Nature needs us to take care of her; all at the same time. I always recycle and re-purpose the boxes and plastic packaging I get, but not to an artistic extent and to raise awareness for the need to recycle.

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