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

    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 Related links About Malú: About the exhibition: About our conversation:

  • Welcome to DNAtaly blog posts or Hello plant world!

    I am pleased to welcome you to this series of blog posts. I will blog about news, upcoming events and curiosities about my research projects, visits to museums, herbariums, botanical gardens and fieldwork —all the things between bioinformatics and archival work. Mainly all the things that generally will not go in scientific journals or official channels for popular science. Sampling Cinchona barks at the Economic Botany Collection - Kew RBG, 2018. With the great help of Kim Walker and Mark Nesbitt. Please be kind, it was my first year as a PhD student. More in life than science I absolutely love science. But I live for art. So occasionally you will find some photography and drawings like photo essays or visual poetry. See you here Let's start a conversation. Feel free to reach out or write in the comments below :) Always happy to talk about plants, traditional knowledge, biodiversity, genomics, Indigenous peoples, alkaloids, etc (also art!!).

  • VIPO 22 goes Peruvian with bitter potatoes

    I am very proud and grateful I was given this *golden* opportunity by Villum Fonden to continue pursuing my dream to research and unleash the potential of Andean flora and Natural History Collections, this time #bitterpotatoes. Taken from: Unravelling genetic origins from the potato to cinchona.© Cat O'Neil for Wellcome Collection. What's the rationale behind this study? The crop diversity of our food systems has diminished in the wake of globalism. Baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, fries, chips, etc., are all based on a single crop species, Solanum tuberosum, which is cultivated worldwide. Other potato species have been domesticated for food but are cultivated only in South America, for example, the bitter potato species: S. ajanhuiri, S. juzepczukii, and S. curtilobum. These species possess desirable traits such as resistance to drought and frost and early maturity. Taken from Recetas de Bolivia* However, their bitterness and toxicity prevent them from being widely consumed, even when they are mitigated by Indigenous traditional techniques, consisting of freezing and drying processes that produce chuño. Why potatoes? A short and honest answer would be, "I'm Peruvian". But potatoes are one of the most consumed staple food in the world. Additionally, potatoes are grown in regions where malnutrition and poverty are prevalent. Therefore, we must diversify the consumption of the common potato (Solanum tuberosum) so that it also includes its relatives, such as bitter potatoes. This will allow small-holder families to achieve food security and escape poverty. Taken from Huacho** for the Potato National Day in Peru (30th of May). Why *old* potatoes? The current bitter potato material can be genetically contaminated from being bred with other and foreign varieties; therefore, historical herbaria samples will give us access to the original genetic material. I will sample from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. What is the project about? In my project, I will resolve the complex trajectory of where their bitterness is genetically coded and how their bitterness level has been shaped by indigenous selection processes over time. To achieve this, I will compare and contrast Kew’s unique historical bitter potato collections (~80 years old), as well as fresh material from seed banks in International Potato Center. These samples will be analysed with genomic and chemical techniques, enabling me to explore the genetics behind their environmental resilience and reveal their change in diversity over time. I will also apply ecological modelling analyses to identify the best environmental conditions to grow bitter potatoes in the present and the following decades, as climate conditions challenge existing crops. As a result of this project, I will demonstrate that these overlooked plant species represent a solution to food security. Also, what is VIPO? It is a special call earmarked for women in research. In their own words, they said: "to support researchers at the stage in the university research career path when large numbers of women are leaving science and technology at the Danish universities." Check out the call and my other colleagues' projects awarded here. References * **

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