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New exhibition: Decolonising witchcraft: Portraits of traditional healers in Bolivia

3-25 March 2017, The Peltz Gallery

3-25 March 2017,The Peltz Gallery, Birkbeck, University of London

Copyright David X Green
"I just want health for me and my children, my home, and I just want to be happy in the home and outside my home.
I hope nothing happens to me until I'm at least 70 years old.
After death, the family does a mesa [sacrificial plate] so you go on to another home, another place."

Doña Eva

Decolonising witchcraft portrays the women whose livelihoods play a central role in the culture and health of Bolivia. Sidelined as ‘witchcraft’ or ‘folklore’ by Western approaches to medicine, their stories are explored in the context of President Evo Morales’ decolonisation project, which challenges the systems that have marginalised indigenous knowledge. The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of free events.

In tourist guidebooks these women are referred to exotically as ‘witches’. Locally however they are known as chifleras and amautas; the former prepares the materials for traditional healing rituals while the latter conducts the ceremony. The items used in these rituals include coca leaves, desiccated llama foetuses, the q’oa herb, alcohol and brightly coloured llama-wool and sugar figurines. These practitioners have long standing relationships with their clients and may be the first ports of call for those seeking assistance and guidance with their physical, emotional and/or spiritual well-being.

This collaboration between the photographer David X Green and the geographer Dr Kate Maclean (Director of Birkbeck Gender and Sexuality) involves portraits accompanied by quotes from the women, discussing how they came to this profession and their role in the community. 

Associated events

Exhibition opening (Panel discussion and private viewing)
3 March 2017, 4-6pm panel discussion and 6-8pm private viewing and drinks reception
Decolonising Witchcraft: Implications for Knowledge and Health
Speakers: Frank Somers of the Amesbury and Stonehenge Druids, Peter Wilkin, PhD Environmental Anthropology, University of Kent, and Dr Jasmine Gideon, Senior Lecturer, Geography, Birkbeck.

Closing event:
22 March 2017, 7pm-8pm
Dr Patrizia di Bello, Senior Lecturer, History of Art, Birkbeck will talk to photographers David X Green and Marcel Reyes-Cortez about the visual and ethical challenges of documentary photography. The talk will reflect on Green’s experiences working with communities of indigenous health practitioners in Bolivia and Reyes-Cortez’s work documenting the cultural practices of death and mourning in Mexico.
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