La Pintada is a developing indigenous community in Copán Ruins, Honduras—an UNESCO World Heritage Maya archaeological site. For two years I was in close contact with the inhabitants of this small village while me and my family lived in the nearby mountains at Hacienda San Lucas.
Land reform is taking center stage in northern Honduras. As of August 22, 2011, the Honduran newspaper, El Heraldo, reported 37 murders along the Bajo Aguán River Valley. The problem—a landowner with over 3,000 hectares removed nearly 4,000 families to cultivate and export palm oil.
Land distribution in Honduras isn’t just about pitting the rich against the poor. Seven hours west, along the Guatemalan border, members of the indigenous Maya Ch’orti’ have split into two opposing factions—they can’t agree on how to manage their 30-hectare community parcel. The land in question supports nearly 55 families and sits near the UNESCO World Heritage archeological site of Copán Ruinas.
One Ch’orti’ group, CONIMCH, wants to keep the land intact, while the annex group, CONADIMCH, wants to privatize it. CONIMCH claims that if the land is privatized, it could be sold to non-Maya Ch’orti’ prospectors, thus redirecting food and profits from the community. Tension between the two groups has led people to flee their homes for fear of being murdered. There have been reports of machete and rock-throwing fights.
As a post graduate school initiative I plan to use the Dorothea Lange Fellowship to travel to Copán Ruinas, Honduras. I will embed myself from August to September and document the Maya Ch’orti’ way of life. My objective is to understand how indigenous land reform can mutate from one philosophy to another and how that affects food and social survival.
I’m interested in Honduran affairs because I’m half Honduran. My grandfather was born in Copán Ruinas and was the country’s first director of the Honduran Institute of History and Anthropology. In the 1970s he brought archeologists and anthropologists from the United States to help preserve the ancient ruins and to study the Ch’orti’ ethnic group.
You can read more about Tyler’s (my husband) award and Dorothea Lange here.
“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. To live the visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable. I have only touched it, just touched it.”
Dorothea Lange was an inspiring woman whose influential social photography and legacy has lasted until our days. Now faculty members, graduate students, or seniors who have been accepted for graduate work at UC Berkeley, like my husband Tyler Orsburn who is the 2012 winner of her prestigious fellowship, can enjoy it:
The fellowship, in memory of one of the most outstanding documentary photographers of the 20th-century, encourages the use of photography (black and white or color) in the scholarly work of any discipline at UC Berkeley.
… Applicants must demonstrate outstanding work in documentary photography and a creative plan for future work.
Will post the photographs and essay he submitted for judging, about the modern Maya Chortí indigenous peoples living in Copán Ruinas, Honduras, on this blog soon. In the meantime–congratulations my beloved Tyler!
The Mayans from Mesoamerica are one of the six founding pillars of early civilization. According to the Foundation for Mesoamerican Studies, they invented the concept of zero and devised one of the most accurate ways of measuring time in the history of the world. Their hieroglyphic writing is still very much unknown, apart from the elite few who knew it at the time and the academics who have deciphered it.
Harvard’s Peabody Museum epigrapher, Alexandre Tokovinine, believes ancient Maya hieroglyphs are the most elaborate and visually striking writing system in Pre-Columbian America. “Although some Maya texts, particularly those in the surviving manuscripts, are characterized by rather simple and straightforward execution of letters, most inscriptions on carved monuments, buildings, and painted vessels decidedly rival in beauty and visual complexity the best examples of calligraphy of the Old World,” he said.
For more than two years I was in close contact with a Maya-Chortí indigenous community while living in the mountains of Copán Ruinas, Honduras at Hacienda San Lucas eco-lodge and reserve. They are one of the last Honduran inheritors of the great Maya civilization that thrived from 1000 B.C. through 1500 A.D.
For a community of indigenous peoples whose ancestors managed to create an affluent empire and a sophisticated common writing system that was used across what is modern Central America, today they face harsh and constant economic and social struggle–certainly not an echo of their glorious past.
The lack of education sets them right at the bottom of the social system–right were the walls are made out of carton and children are raised amongst dirt. Children have to walk miles and cross rivers to get to school, most have to work while they are still infants to help feed their brothers and sisters. They can hardly afford to plant their own crops or make a self-sustainable decent living wage.
Their illiteracy affects them in their practical living. Maya-Chortí today cannot read the instructions on the pesticides they to use for their crops, which affects their health. They cannot read the instructions of a medical prescription so they self-medicate wrongly. They need help to cope with most jobs and many everyday situations, like dialing a number or reading a letter. Their lives are impaired and their greatest enemy is letters.
In contrast, our modern lives as middle class literate and even bilingual citizens revolves around the computer and information circulating in the global digital system called the World Wide Web, we are able to read books and labels and now most of us are computer literate. Indigenous populations in remote corners of the world cannot comprehend modern digital spreading, gathering or design of information because many cannot read or write. Their emergent needs are supporting a family of 10 on $2 per day, or getting to a hospital on foot that is 30 miles away. For an indigenous community that has little food, education or healthcare—digital communication and information design are the last things on their mind—unless it touched them by helping them understand the world of letters around them.
My ideal would be a world with no alphabetical words—where icons were the only language. This would help bridge the gap between illiteracy and emotional comprehension of a message. Some indigenous peoples who don’t know how to read or write the Spanish language nor their own heritage hieroglyphics’ codex, feel close to the New Maya Language pictograms because they don’t need to know the alphabet or numbers to understand it. It just comes to them naturally.
A 100% pictographic language bridges the gap between once a highly literate community now living extremely poor and undermined, and our modern era of over information. In my vision, it is the answer to include minorities who are otherwise diminished by not being able to access the physical or digital world of information around them.
Honduras is a principal source and transit country for girls and boys trafficked from rural areas to urban and tourist centers for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Niño Seguro is an original Paramedics for Children project. Paramedics for Children already works on gathering children’s birth and health data in rural indigenous towns in the Copán area. They photograph minors – sometimes for the first time in their lives. The idea of producing a photo identity card and bracelet to be able to trace them in case they were stolen for child trafficking, arose. The Niño Seguro, name and brand logo, illustrate the special protection these children receive the New Maya design spirit.
According to the U.S. Department of State: “The Government of Honduras does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and services for victims remain limited, laws fail to prohibit trafficking for the purposes of forced labor, and authorities do not employ good methods to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations.”
By supplying the exposed children with an identity document and a wrist band the delincuents will face an obstacle in committing their terrible acts.
The Niño Seguro poster design clearly enhances the safe-guarding brand concept through a dramatic photograph by Tyler Orsburn.
Vesta is a leading logistics company in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, with branches across Central America. Vesta means the fire of the home or the community, which inspired the flame image that I came up with as their brand identity.
Their owners liked my New Maya Language art and decided to use it for their offices.
To learn more about Vesta, have a look at their website, designed by Tyler and Frida (formerly known as SapoSerpiente):
An exhibition of the auctioned artists previews today and will remain open until the 12th of October–-culminating in the auction on the night of the 14th, at the Museo de la Identidad Nacional MIN (National Identity Musem), Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Los invito a la primera subasta de arte que promueve el coleccionismo en Honduras en donde las obras de Tyler (mi esposo) y mía, han sido seleccionadas por el jurado para ser subastadas.
Día: Jueves 14 de octubre Hora: 7:00p.m Lugar: Museo para la Identidad Nacional, Centro Histórico de Tegucigalpa
120 obras de artistas internacionales se subastarán.
Las obras a subastar serán exhibidas del 1 al 12 de Octubre en el MIN.
Tyler y Frida, SapoSerpiente, tendrán su primera exhibición conjunta titulada NUEVA VIDA MAYA en la Fundación Museo del Hombre Hondureño en Tegucigalpa el 8 de Junio de 2010. Para aquellos que no conocen el trabajo de Tyler los invito a ver su blog.
NUEVA VIDA MAYA realza el valor a la cultura maya de más de 2000 años de antigüedad. Su ancestral escritura es resucitada a través de las nuevas composiciones picto / gráficas de Frida Larios y a su vez reinterpretadas a través de las fotografías de la vida rural contemporánea en Copán Ruinas de Tyler Orsburn. Estas creaciones de esta pareja de esposos busca inspiración en la sencillez de vida de los Maya-chortí, sus evolución de jeroglíficos y su sensible de imagen se identifican uno a otra en armonía.
Tyler & Frida, will have their first exhibition together titled NEW MAYA LIFE at the Fundación Museo del Hombre Hondureño in Tegucigalpa on the 8th of June 2010. For those who don’t know Tyler‘s work I invite you to check out his blog.
NEW MAYA LIFE highlights the more than 2000-year-old native Maya culture value. Their ancient script is resuscitated through the new picto / graphic compositions by Frida Larios and in turn re-interpreted through Tyler Orsburn’s contemporary Copán Ruinas rural life photographs. These husband and wife creations look for inspiration in common Maya-chortí simplicity of life, her evolved hieroglyphs and his powerful images complement and echoe each other.
Museum of the Honduran Man
Restored home of Ramón Rosa in the Tegucigalpa historic centre