‘Roads’ by Miriam Rudolph
Layered Histories: Perspectives on Colonization from the Chaco is an artist’s book that explores the complexities of colonization of the Paraguayan Chaco region through delicately layered etchings and diverging narratives of experiences and history from the perspectives of Enxet and Enlhet indigenous people, Anglican missionaries and Mennonite settlers. This collection of prints and texts has emerged from an invitation for an artist residency from the Santo Domingo Centre for Excellence in Latin American Research at the British Museum.
Along with other artists, I was invited to engage with and create an artistic response to the Paraguay collection that is housed in storage at the British Museum in London. The collection consists of indigenous artefacts, mainly from the Enxet Sur, collected by Anglican missionaries Seymour Hawtrey and Wilfrid Barbrooke Grubb in the early 1900s. This project gave me the opportunity to research the early colonization history of the Lower Chaco from the Anglican perspective, and to further explore the colonial history of my own roots – the settlement of Mennonites in the Central Chaco beginning in 1927, which resulted in the displacement of the Enlhet Norte.
I spent several months reading firsthand accounts by the missionaries, journal publications, and academic papers, publications by Mennonite settlers and scholars, as well as accounts by indigenous elders of their displacement process, in order to gather information that later informed my images and became part of the content in the form of text excerpts. The prints and text excerpts trace the events of early contacts between European missionary explorers and settlers through the changes in landscape and ways of living of the indigenous people to today’s attempts at indigenous assertion of their rights and tentative perspectives for the future. While the histories of interaction between the Anglican missionaries and the Enxet Sur on the one hand and between Mennonite settlers and the Enlhet Norte on the other hand are not the same, I felt the general colonization processes were so similar that they lent themselves well to juxtapose the different perspectives on the history of the region.
Through printmaking, I am building a visual narrative alongside the texts that not only analyzes but also embodies the issues I am addressing. The square format, the inclusion of digitally printed early maps, contemporary satellite imagery, and the grid, for example, pertain to land surveying, mapping, fencing in, enclosing, organizing, boxing in, and boxing up, referencing the act of collecting and storing the collection (also mimicked in the museum case that houses this artist’s book), as well as the colonial imposition of a certain kind of order, of will, of a way of life, and of a way of thinking. In other instances, I print on both sides of a translucent paper, allowing the paper to embody a physical barrier between the past and the present, or allowing figures to shine through that are backers of the actors on the front. I explore the imagery of lightly or strongly etched figures of men, women, and children. The translucence of the groupings of figures suggests a non-solid, precarious presence and marginal existence, a fading past or a non-materializing future. The size and the strength of the etching of the figures reflects the power dynamics between the different groupings.
We often think of colonization as a process of history in the past. However, the impacts of colonization continue to pervade everything in our lives today: social structures and systems, our perception of land and property, the content we are taught in schools, the way we think about, interact with, and treat others on whose land we now live, whose artefacts we store, who work for us, and whose experiences are not taught in schools. This artist book invites to question our biases, our perceptions, and our understanding of history, and challenges us to decolonize our thinking.
Miriam Rudolph was born and raised in Paraguay. In 2003 she moved to Canada to study Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours in 2007 and a Bachelor of Education in 2010. She completed a Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking at the University of Alberta in 2017. She has received numerous scholarships, awards, and grants. She has shown her work nationally and internationally in Canada, the USA, Paraguay, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Taiwan, and China. She is happily settled in Winnipeg with a home studio, a printing press, a big vegetable garden, her husband and child.