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A conversation about Malú Cabellos' exhibition “Árbol de la Fiebre”

Updated: Mar 26

On the 31st of August 2023, I was kindly invited to a conversation with curator and researcher Ricardo Kusunoki about Malú Cabellos's beautiful exhibition on her project "Árbol de la Fiebre".

Here, we discussed the exhibition and the Andean fever tree and their importance from different perspectives.

All photo credits: Malú Cabellos & Centro Cultural Inca Garcilaso

a. How Malú brings to attention such an iconic, economically and culturally important tree as Cinchona, also known as the Andean fever tree, quino and cascarilla, to our attention. The facts we, Andean peoples, know about the Andean fever tree are few; several are myths, or yet to be unravelled, or relatively unknown. Thanks to Malú's approximation in the field, we can see the cascarilla trees in their natural habitat of the unparalleled Andean cloudy mountains (ceja de selva).

b. At the beginning of the exhibition, we see textiles hanging from the ceiling. Here, we're transported (back) to the Eastern slope of the Andes. We see the tall trunks and lush leaves around us. We're also met with a central red textile. A metaphor for the bark extract? Is it a warning? Does it show blood? Does it signify the energy leading the life-death cycle?

c. How Malú's work documents the Cinchona tree and the species interacting with her, like mosquitoes, lichens, etc. Most photos and films are close-up shots, so immersive that we feel we're also closely interacting with the tree. Plus, with the bright, intense colours, I become a pollinator, continuing the life of plants.

Some zenithal photos and videos, as is the case for Muralla Verde. Then, the photos are printed and folded, giving them a three-dimensional trait and more accurately embodying our forests: a "photographic sculpture" by Villacorta, this exhibition's curator. Here, we are parrots flying over the Cinchona forests.

We see the trees and their interactions through Malú's macro-lenses.

d. Parts of the exhibition convey different meanings. While seeing Herbarium, Malú sheds new light on plants and what would be considered "typical" herbarium displays to give them a free and perhaps more accessible form. Adding yet another dimension to our plants.

As someone who works with herbarium specimens from botanic gardens and museums, I think Herbarium must be liberating for the plant's spirit.

This series doesn't end there. We can also see prints on a cloth from barks' outer texture. Barks that have been used for hundreds of years to treat fever and gave hope to many, power to few and pride to some.

The bark prints inevitably remind me of my PhD thesis, which mainly focused on unravelling the evolutionary processes of the Andean fever tree. While seeing Malú's printed barks, I immediately recognised the shape of lichens dominating the print presented. They also remind me of the sampling time, not in the field but in the botanic gardens. They have been kept for hundreds of years, and even outside their habitat, the barks carried lichens, keeping the memory of that kinship alive.

e. On Apropiación, red tokapu (Incan geometrical motifs) disrupts historical western depictions of quina (Cinchona bark) harvesting activities in our Amazonia. In my viewpoint, this series invites thought-provoking questions. Is tokapu disrupting and appropriating the engravings displaying the overharvesting of our tree? Or are the exploitative activities disrupting the natural ecological process in the cloud mountains?

Overall, a fantastic exhibition that allowed me to experience a tree and forest I thought I was familiar with in new ways. Malú's refreshing lenses invite us to question our knowledge, ponder our experiences, reimagine history, and perhaps hint at a future with hope.

And I can't wait for El Árbol de la fiebre website to be launched!

Recorded talk

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