The Way We Are Now began after Piers Calvert stumbled upon this image of painted Okaina girls in the Colombian Amazon in 1908 by a self-styled British explorer : Thomas Whiffen. The depicted style of body-painting, almost certainly lost today (less than 20 Okainas remain), filled him with curiosity to see to what extent body painting traditions were still carried out across Colombia’s many indigenous tribes.
Inspired by a sense of adventure drawn from growing up adventuring in the forests of the Sussex countryside, Piers set off across Colombia to record what he could of the indigenous body painting traditions that were still maintained.
With a palette of organic colours, the portraits serve as a time capsule, a snapshot, a record of how things are amongst some of Colombia’s indigenous groups right now.They are a celebration of the beauty and diversity of these ancestral arts that may or may not have stood the test of time over the past 200 years, with in many cases some very dark moments in their history.
‘In these times of cultural assimilation, traditions, past-times and languages are being lost across the globe, and merged into one great homogenous soup. Anthropologists, linguists, scientists, photographers and videographers are all scrambling to record what they can from thousands of different cultures that are fast disappearing, lest they soon be gone forever.’
‘In Colombia’s case there is particularly little photographic record of indigenous groups, since the civil conflict, now going for over 50 years, has generally made working in the jungle very difficult. The only photographers to have spent much time in the Amazonas, Vaupés or Guaviare in recent decades have been conflict photographers, and they have been covering just that. Whilst we have seen a steady stream of images, coming out of the comparatively safer jungles of Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela for many years now, there has been a noticeable absence of considered photographic portraiture coming out of Colombia apart from that done by ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes who was there in the 1950’s.’
‘What is almost certain is that these pastimes will continue to dwindle going forward, and thus my work also stands as a reference point from which to look forward to the future, in this age of momentous cultural upheaval, and will hopefully one day be a useful benchmark to look back on.’
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