In Estera (Mat) Alexandra explores the multiple possibilities of constructing interactive documentaries on the web. Using Super 8 film she captured the making of a Mat made out of weeds used for medicinal purposes. She asked Alejandro a traditional mat maker in San Basilio de Palenque (Colombia) to make one using weeds. These plants are commonly used to shield children from wicked witches – the Mohana’s kidnappings, bad eye and other forms of evil spirits. Estera (Mat) is an exploration of the importance of weeds in the daily life of the people in San Basilio de Palenque. The interactive notion of the work offers the user the multiple views to explore the importance of medicinal plants and believes in the formation of free territories in San Basilio de Palenque. San Basilio is the first free town founded by runaway slaves in Colombia and in South America
Estera (Mat) focuses on the history of seeds that were brought by slaves that were taken from the African continent to South America. This is a documentary about the history of Palenque de San Basilio and the memories that reside in the biodiversity that grows wildly in and around the town. This documentary will explore how the African diaspora in Latin America was consolidated thanks to the migration of plants and seeds brought from Africa and are used in traditional medicine, diet, and rituals. These elements proved to be decisive in the formation of the new free territories and continue today as strategies of resistance. The project examines the way in which migrant plant species transformed communities and territories in colonized territories.
Estera (Mat) presents a mixture of a number of visual material in videos (HD) and super 8mm films, as well as Ambisonics sound recordings of different soundscapes, traditional music, funeral rituals and interviews with elders who use traditional knowledge in their practice. Most importantly the project is a photographic and drawing archive of invasive, medicinal plants (wrongly considered weeds) and grow in the streets, sidewalks, abandoned lots and the country side of the town.
The mat is a rudimentary object, intended to cover the ground in warm climates and used as a bed, rug, cradle, or carpet. In this documentary, the mat is conventional in appearance only. Traditionally made with palm, it is here derived from the bark of matimba, mata ratón, and mauve, among others.
This project arose from my research on medicinal plants, which are ever-present in the rituals surrounding the care of infants in San Basilio de Palenque. While engaging the relationship between art and environmental studies, I have looked for new ways to group and classify plants based on living memory. I have concurrently sought to bring these reflections into artistic production. And that is where the mat comes in: its fabric allowed me to integrate the roots, bark, and branches of some of the plants involved in childcare from the prelude to conception, pregnancy, delivery, and the months following birth.
Through the hands of the maestro Alejandro, farmer and craftsman, we partake in a double weave: that of the object and that of the community relationships. While the master makes the mat with a combination of plants that I selected and that we gathered together, I notice his doubts about the resistance of these new materials. Only a few meters away a grandmother washes clothes in a washtub, two other women prepare caballitos (papaya candies), a man peels cassava, music is playing, another craftsman observes the scene, and the police show up, while children play nearby. Children are the great treasure of Palenque. Constituting nearly 60% of the population, community life largely revolves around them. Knowledge about the plants that accompany childcare is far from being stable; midwives are disappearing as young women prefer to pursue other trades and professions.
While this knowledge is becoming diluted, some men inside and outside the community give it shelter within the traditional art of healing.