During my experience at the artisan fair in Common Grounds, I met an artist named Alexandra. She makes recycled figures and containers: woven baskets, Christmas trees, boxes to hide secret things. All of her figures are made of newspaper and magazine paper, glued and painted. I asked her about her creations, her definition of art and creativity, and the ways in which the expatriate community and Cuencano community can better come together.
Kristen: How do you make these creations?
Alexandra: I start with newspaper paper. I tear it up and roll it, and then start to braid it together, just like you would braid your hair. After, I wrap it around a form, some type of mold, apply glue and let it sit for three days. Finally, I paint it and add any decoration and details.
Kristen: When did you start with this type of work?
Alexandra: I started 2 or 3 years ago. I left my job because I had a kid, a baby, and I had to be home with him. I didn’t have anything to do in my house. So, I started using the things I found around my house, old kitchen things, and I covered them with old papers and magazines. I used anything I could find.
Kristen: So what types of molds do you typically use then?
Alexandra: Truly, I use everything. I use boxes, containers, anything I discover. For the Christmas trees, for example, I used the cones from my children’s soccer games, those orange ones. Things like that.
Kristen: In your opinion, why is recycled art important?
Alexandra: It’s becoming important because we have a tendency, here in Ecuador, to follow what the expatriates bring in and do. They’ve brought this format of recycled art. They’ve brought recycling, and now we recycle more. We look for and eat more organic food. Just two years ago, there wasn’t a single garage sale and now, that’s the popular way we buy and sell things. All of these things have been brought in by new people. We now try to use less of the things that we know will harm the environment.
Kristen: What is your definition of creativity?
Alexandra: Fun. Enjoyment. If you don’t like what you’re doing, you have to repeat it until you make what you want. Stick with it.
Kristen: What are your goals for your business selling your creations?
Alexandra: For me, it’s more about using my time in a different way. It’s a destresser. I have my children, my office for work in my house, and when all of the schedules of everyone are finally done, that’s when I can make my art. Sometimes, it’s at 11 or 12 at night, but that’s ok with me. I don’t answer the pone, don’t check my email. I rest. I totally disconnect.
After these questions, our conversation veered. Alexandra and I talked about the expatriates and the opportunity to better connect the communities of Cuencanos and expatriates. For example, she told me that at this type of fair, there are so many expatriates with interesting things: different sauces, different types of wine, pork sandwiches from North Carolina, jewelry, and more. It would be a good opportunity to mix the communities. She hopes that Cuencanos can come in the future and bring their food, their art, their traditional works, and the expatriates can learn more about the Cuencano culture here, the authentic culture of Ecuador. We agree, this would be the ideal, but it’s not typically the case.
Alexandra was the only Cuencana there. It is hard, I imagine, selling your work or food in a fair filled with expatriates, especially when there is a gap in language and many expatriates still don’t speak many words of Spanish. But, despite the language divide, Alexandra did try to communicate with the people there using broken English words and still speaking in Spanish to describe her work, and the patrons did try to communicate with her. She sold her woven creations, but she affirmed what it thought: it certainly wasn’t easy with the language divide. So then where, and how, can we find the middle ground for these communities to come together? Is there a space where the expatriates and the Cuencanos can integrate, can communicate without fluency of either language but through emotion, through intention, through heart?
Lord Tennyson, a British writer of the 19th century, said, “I am a part of all that I have met.” And so we are connected; we mark one another. For the expatriates living here in Cuenca, we must acknowledge our influence and impact on the world and communities here. We must walk with open ears and alert eyes. We must learn from the customs, from the people, from the values, like the emphasis on family, that permeate the livelihood of this Andean city. We will not be the same after our time here; our lives will have been changed. And for the Cuencanos, I hope that they can continue to teach us, to influence our ways, to share their own ways of being and living. It is an exchange, an intercambio, that hopefully leaves both unique parts stronger when woven together.
Our lives, as of now and well as our future paths, are merged as Tennyson says, and so they are also like the braids of Alexandra’s recycled paper. Interwoven. Before, our lives were separate, two different pieces of two different papers, each with its own words, its own story. But with glue, with time, with dedication, our papers take new form. They are converted into a new creation, a woven braid as strong as the hair of the Cuencana women I see walking down the streets every day. Our stories become much more complex and much more beautiful when they become a part of one another.