PUYO, ECUADOR — A handful of urban artivistas in this small Amazonian city in Ecuador started out 2019 by bringing the walls of the public works offices a new type of mural that Puyo has never seen before.
Local artists Estiven Mera “Steep”, Pedro Tapuy “Pedrote”, Israel Vinces “Irki”, Jordy Yucailla “Jah”, and Miguel Tapuy “Supay” are part of an emerging scene creating visually interactive pieces that express their cultural roots in the Amazon. Locals and tourists can now come to Calle 20 de Julio to see a long wall of tropical birds found in Latin America. I’ve gathered here with them after weeks of brainstorming and planning this collaboration, and curious passersby are beginning to gather and ask questions.
These birds were left unidentified on the wall on purpose; we want people to get excited to do their own research and learn about these birds. The interactive part comes in here, where that pique of interest arises to investigate where these birds come from. To help facilitate the curiosity of learning more about these birds, our organization, Mi Kyung Creative has plastered a QR code on the wall, where bystanders can quickly scan the code and enter into an online world to see who the artists are, what their inspirations were, and learn about the tropical birds and their birdsongs.
The idea was inspired by the first Christmas Bird Count in Pastaza, which took place in January of 2018. What makes the province of Pastaza unique in the Ecuadorian Amazon is its diverse elevations that expand from 1,200 meters down to 100 meters. Registering these bird species is crucial to the Audubon Society, as well as to local efforts to protect, conserve, and promote reforestation.
Despite its astounding diversity, Pastaza has not attracted the attention of other better-known provinces, such as Napo, which is recognized worldwide for its amazing birdwatching. Pastaza, however, is a birdwatching paradise under the radar. With this in mind, the interactive mural was brainstormed to become a form of visual entertainment for the public with the purpose to not only please the eye, but to also educate the community about the diversity of birds that are found in both Ecuador and in South America.
Each artist was given the task to choose one bird species that is common to the area, and one bird species that is rare. We hope to animate the community by showing them that they can identify the common birds, while giving them an incentive to investigate the more rare and exotic birds painted by the artists. With the celebration of diverse birds in the area, we hope to also help raise birdwatching tourism in the region, which will also give an incentive for conservation efforts made by local farmers and communities.
Conservation in the Pastaza region is a sensitive subject. While the answer to conserve and protect may seem to be obvious, the push for cattle ranching, mining, hydroelectric dam building, and petroleum extraction are tempting ways to sway the communities and public authorities to make fast economic income. Imagine living in an isolated region in the Amazon, where the modern world has been welcomed, and jobs to maintain yourself in this modern world are scarce. Your options to make a living are small, and when a big company comes into town proposing the idea to give jobs to the community, while also destroying your land, the decision isn’t always so easy when you need to provide food, shelter, and clothing for your family.
Through the interactive mural, we hope to shed light on a sustainable option locals and communities can consider. Eco-tourism and birdwatching tourism can help promote conservation efforts while also giving global awareness to a diverse part of the world. If done in a manner that does not exploit nature or the local culture, eco-tourism can be a great long-term sustainable option for economic income. We also aim to animate the youth to enjoy the art of muralism, where the younger generation can use art as an outlet to cultivate their creative energy.
¨ I chose to paint the toucan because this bird represents wisdom in the Kichwa culture of the Ecuadorian Amazon,” shared Irki.
Kayla Vandervort is a cultural investigator and founder of Mi Kyung Creative, a nonprofit using art to promote sustainability, culture, human rights and the conservation of nature. She has lived in South America since 2011, participating in cultural exchanges with indigenous communities in Peru and Ecuador.