Abel Rodríguez (Mogaje Guihu) is an elder from the Nonuya ethnic group, native to the Cahuinarí river in the Colombian Amazon. In the 1990s, the Colombian armed conflict and exploitation of the rainforest’s natural resources displaced Rodríguez and his family. They moved to Bogota, the country’s capital. Now in his 70s, the artist lives on the outskirts of the city. He remains deeply inspired by the Nonuya region’s indigenous plants, creating meticulous drawings from memory. Rodríguez’s first solo exhibition opens at BALTIC, Gateshead – presenting new and existing works.
The artist creates layered compositions to preserve his knowledge of the environment. Each scene is rich in natural greens, browns and yellows. Tall trees reach up above the canopy – stretching skyward. Forest floors are bursting with detail: creatures, leaves and flowers interact. Rodríguez renders variations of leaves and bark with graphic precision. Long, palm-like fronds contrast with round and star-shaped forms. The result is a diverse portrait of life. Audiences are encouraged to look closely at the scenes – which reward viewers by revealing disguised details.
Rodriguez’s extensive ancestral knowledge of flora and fauna was passed to him by his uncle. It has since been shared with western botanists and Tropenbos – an organisation working towards a future in which trees are used sustainably for the benefit of local and global communities. At a time of climate crisis, deforestation and extreme weather, BALTIC’s show brings into the focus the importance of rainforest ecosystems. It delves into the intricate details of plant and animal life – emphasising the necessity of protecting both the world’s biodiversity and cultural narratives.
14 March – 28 June. Find out more here.
Lead image: Abel Rodríguez, Terraza Firme III, © Abel Rodríguez