Ta Sba Balamil Ta Ch'ulel ~ On The Face Of The Earth And In The Soul
A Visit To San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
Click on each image to view each artwork
“There is no question in the mind of a Tzotzil why people dream. They dream to live a full life. They dream to save their lives... For the Tzotzil it is the inner reality which motivates... The reasons for all the disagreeable happenings in life are to be found in the soul. Dreams are the means to 'see in one's soul' or to 'see with one's soul'...”
Robert M Laughlin, The People Of The Bat
In March 2014, as part of the Dreams & Divinities art initiative, a group of artists travelled to the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, in the heart of the indigenous territory of the Tzotzil Maya people. The event included an exhibition (in which I exhibited two artworks: Toci Coatlicue Teteo Inan and a Mayan Inscription), international cultural exchanges as well as several indigenous ceremonies and social events.
To prepare for this journey, I decided to learn the Tzotzil language to speak to the (often monolingual) Maya people, and to research deeply into their beliefs, worldviews and religious beliefs. In particular, the Tzotzil Maya pay close attention to their dreams, and they consider that Westerners and non-Maya Mexicans who ignore their dreams live only half a life. This insight was the basis for this series of artworks. I sought to experience the journey to San Cristóbal in indigenous terms - or at least as much as any non-Maya visitor can - taking note of my dreams, seeing the landscape in native terms as a living agent and plunging myself into the hidden world wherein one sees with one's soul. From this intention a sketchbook of some thirty dreams, visions and impressions sprang into life, of which these seven were transformed into fully realised artworks.
This fully integrated life is exemplified in the Tzotzil expression which forms the title to this series, Ta Sba Balamil Ta Ch'ulel. The first part of the expression, ta sba balamil, means 'on the face of the earth' and refers figuratively to the events and perceptions of waking life. The second part, ta ch'ulel, is more subtle: literally it means 'in the soul', but ch'ulel also refers to one's dreams, and the implication relates to the Maya belief that in dreams, one's soul gets up and wanders about the earth. The closely related word ch'ul means 'holy, sacred, ensouled' and is often used to refer to anything of mystical or religious import.
Thus the title of this series means several things, all at once: In Waking Life and In Dreams, Upon the Earth and In the Soul, and the Mundane and the Sacred. All are, in the Tzotzil Maya view essential for living a full human life. I hope these artworks communicate something of that fuller experience of the landscape of Chiapas and the indigenous world.