Soaring spirit

By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  October 9, 2007
alize his international reputation.
Ccopacatty’s current exhibition, “Lost Ancient Empire,” at the Hoxie Gallery in the Westerly Public Library (through November 3), gives viewers an opportunity to absorb four of his giant murals and a large sculpture indoors, at their own pace, in a high-ceilinged space where nothing feels cramped. In addition, a short film made by his son Aymar presents an intimate look at the landscape and the culture of the small village in the middle of Lake Titicaca where Ccopacatty was born (his native tongue is Aymara; his people are descended from a pre-Incan civilization known as Tiwanaku).
But it is the decimation by Spanish soldiers of the Incas and the native tribes who lived under them that dominates the two largest (and related) murals in the show, each of them 7’x45’, covering two whole walls of the gallery. Commissioned in 1992 for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of America, these paintings were originally hung, one above the other, behind a symphony orchestra at SUNY-Purchase, New York, that was premiering a Columbus-related work.
On the far left, Columbus’s three ships are clearly visible, floating serenely, though the fish in the ocean beneath them are as angry and vicious-looking as the soldiers’ dogs and horses in the second mural to the far right. Murderous dramas — silver-armor-clad soldiers about to stab an Inca ruler or soldiers killing each over stolen loot — are played out against golden Inca idols and scores of skeletal faces peering from a blood-red background. In the second mural, the action is focused on the leaping horses, with swords for tongues, falling onto the native people holding shields, bow-and-arrows and bolos (a rope with a stone poised to fly) and, in a final horrific scene, on four horsemen who are drawing and quartering a bloodied, naked man.
What engages the eye from these paintings is Ccopacatty’s marvelous sense of movement and of perspective. The soldiers and horses seem to jump out of the canvas, the native people along the bottom edge could be us, the viewers, cringing from the onslaught. The artist’s representation of the massive destruction and mayhem wrought by the European conquerors has its roots in the mural art of Latin America with inescapable references to Picasso’s “Guernica.”
A mural done 10 years later (6’x25’), titled simply “9/11/2001,” depicts human beings, stripped to their muscular form, fleeing the burning buildings and smoke behind them, their arms held up in anger or in supplication. One of them carries another on his shoulders; a mother clings to her child; a man kneels in anguish; a body tumbles down from overhead. The sky behind them is a faded flag, its stars and stripes barely recognizable through the haze.
The fourth mural, “Dream of United Nations” (1989, 7’x25’), has fleeing figures similar to the ones in “9/11,” but these are hounded by war mongers with gun barrels and pitchforks, their evil-twisted faces flashing fire from their eyes, their heads sprouting horns. It’s a cynical representation of the world’s nations who are not united but wreaking havoc on one another; it couldn’t be timelier with the continuing war in Iraq.
The larger-than-life stainless steel figure in the middle of this show, “Last Survivor,” is a more hopeful image, despite its title. Head held high, shoulders and arms thrown back, feet solidly planted it mid-stride, it ilLustrates three-dimensionally what Ccopacatty accomplishes in all of his works: the unquenchable dynamic of strength and striving in human beings despite physical assault and emotional devastation.
Ccopacatty, who has lived and worked in a converted West Kingston schoolhouse for the past 20 years, will hold an open studio October 27 and 28 from 1 to 5 pm. More information about his work can be found at
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