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'Methodology for healing': Hanes visiting artist shares ancient wisdom through art


For Guatemalan and Mayan Q’eqchi’ multimedia artist Sandra Monterroso, art is inextricable from life.

Monterroso, who describes herself as a thinker and researcher, delivered a talk on Thursday titled “Decolonial Threads: From Healing and Thinking Life through Art” as part of the Hanes Visiting Artist Lecture Series.

The Visiting Artist Lecture Series brings established and emerging artists to UNC’s campus to discuss their work and help students learn about varying pathways of art-making.

“Whoever writes, makes manuscripts, whoever paints, sculpts, makes music — is alive first,” she said during the lecture.

Monterroso shared video and photo selections of her performance, sculpture and textile art, accompanied by verbal reflections called sentipensar, or feeling-thinking.

An idea central to her art creation is the sharing of ancient knowledge to heal what she called the “colonial wound” — a phrase which she said encompasses the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the Americas, the destruction of traditional knowledge and the ecocide of local environments.

“The main question would be how do we heal these historical wounds, these cultural wounds, these colonial wounds? By finding other epistemologies,” she said during the lecture. “For example, in my thinking-feeling — sentipensar in Spanish, as I said — for artistic practice, I enter into Maya Q’eqchi’ wisdom — Indigenous spirituality — as a methodology for healing. That is, I approach this other wisdom in order to interpret it from the symbolic space of art.”

She said she comes from a postwar generation in Guatemala, where dictatorships enforced silence through censorship.

“For our generation it was very important to express ourselves, and performance art was a media where we can say that through our bodies,” Monterroso said. 

In a video performance she shared called "Lix Cua Rahro / Tus tortillas mi amor" — in English, “Your tortillas, my love” — the artist speaks Q’eqchi’while she grinds corn with her mouth to make tortillas. She then shapes and presses the tortillas with a heart stamp and fills them with blood from a wound on her finger.

Parth Shah, a writer and an adjunct professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, attended the lecture and said that performance was one of the most striking takeaways for him.

“I know that this kind of imagery repulses people, and it's seen as 'savage,' but I love the point she made at the end about [how] these are technologies," he said. "These indigenous practices have their own merits as well, and we in our modern reductionist scientific society will push away these kinds of things as dirty, or as regressive, but to see someone create this performance that's honoring millennia-old food practices — I found that really rebellious and energizing to see.”

Monterroso links performance with her origins as a Mayan artist, connecting ancient knowledge and culture with contemporary art. She incorporates achiote and Mayan indigo — pigments with spiritual and healing properties — to dye textiles that she uses for her sculptures and sometimes her performances.

One of her recent textile projects, called "Rombo para sanar heridas," or, “Rhombus to Heal Wounds,” is embroidered with traditional Mayan recetas, or instructions to make remedies for physical and spiritual healing. She drew the text for the remedies from a book that was passed down through her family. 

UNC senior Brenda Palacios Rodriguez, who is working on an independent project researching arts in her own Qatanum culture, said she loved how Monterroso visually expressed traditional Q’eqchi and Mayan knowledge and connected it to a holistic ecological system. 

“I think that's so valuable and so important a perspective that many of us should definitely reflect on more and connect to, because at the end of the day, it is all connected,” she said. “And art is a beautiful way of expressing that.”

@dthlifestyle |

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