Birds/Clay: Digital Artist Residency at the British Museum

26th May 2021
BY Jorge Martínez Valderrama, Nadia Ñuu Savi, Luis García Acevedo, Marco Antonio Lara, Mercedes Martínez Milantchi, Laura Osorio Sunnucks| POSTED IN Collections, Mesoamerica

Jorge Martínez Valderrama is a sound artist and inaugural digital resident of the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research. He presented 'Saa Ñu’ú' (Birds/Clay) for the first time to the public through a digital open studio via Zoom in June 2021.

Sounds and images from the Mesoamerican landscape, and traditional instruments are combined by Martínez Valderrama to create a ‘soundscape composition’ of the region using his experimental art practice. 

Saa Ñu’ú is the result of the digital residency at the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research, which aims to explore how artists connect with museum collections via images and videos to produce art within their own cultural landscape, in this case, Mexico. 

Tonindeye Codex (Zouche-Nuttall) ©Trustees of the British Museum

Martínez Valderrama worked alongside Indigenous archaeologists from three cultural and linguistic areas in Mesoamerica who reinterpret items such as the Tonindeye Codex (Zouche-Nuttall) and the Xiuhpohualli of Tenochtitlán (Aubin Codex).

This work is associated to the research project, ‘Ancient Writing, Contemporary Voices: Decolonising the Mesoamerican Quincentenary’, which critically commemorates the 500th anniversary of the fall of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, in what is now Mexico City, to Spanish conquistadores.

Artist statement

Photo: Jorge Martínez Valderrama


My artwork is an electro-acoustic soundscape composition, an ‘acoustic collage’ from an imaginary place that contains artificial sounds, some unpredictable and uncertain, that act like they had their own life force.

Saa Ñu’ú is composed of four groups of sounds: Mesoamerican musical instruments, sounds from nature (water, wind, fauna, and other ambiences), hybrid sounds, and processed sounds (via synthesis).  The interwoven development of the work presents combinations and sound crossings, textures, tones, and concepts with the purpose to generate effects and complex sensations. 

I have structured the Mixtec instruments, the sounds from nature, and the new collection of hybrid sounds that were digitally processed in different planes with transitions based on mixed elements and textures that reflect on continuous sound contexts that move gradually and transitorily.

These move from one state to another, from one character to another, from one sonority to another. This served to establish sound juxtapositions and to suggest metaphorical meanings.

The echo (reverberations) is used constantly, it symbolizes the space, permanence, and perpetuity.

Photo: Luis García Acevedo, musician

Recording Mesomerican instruments  

In collaboration with the Mixtec musician, Luis García Acevedo from the musical group Yodoquinsi, I recorded gestures, phrases, melodies and sounds from a diverse group of instruments and sound artefacts from his personal collection. The majority of the instruments are Mixtec and have been mentioned in different codices such as the Becker, Tonindeye (Zouche-Nutall) and Vindobonensis, among others. 

The instruments that were recorded include the biglobular ocarina, bat ocarina, bird ocarina, Mixtec whistle, wind whistle, ‘acocote’ trumpet, whistling vessel, conch, reed flute, cantaro, rattle, rattle strick, clay and metal bells, ‘huéhuetl’ (small and big), ‘qhu’, ‘omichikahuaztli’ palm and turtle.  

Bat ocarina – played by Luis García Acevedo

Recording Nature  

In conjunction with the technical team and guides, we did a trip along the Mixtec Puebla and Oaxacan border. There we were able to record sounds of water, wind, birds and other natural elements.

The recordings were done in Zapotitlán Salinas, Metzontla Los Reyes, San Juan Raya, Acatepec y Chazumba.  

Photo: Marco Antonio Lara, filmmaker

Marco Antonio Lara, filmmaker

Mesoamerican landscape images

Photo: Nadia Ñuu Savi, poet

Recording Voice 

The Mixtec poet Nadia Ñuu Savi recorded her voice reciting a poem that talks about soundscapes, time, cycles, spirals, the people of the rain and perpetuity. 

Yu ́va tíkàì   

Saa ñu’ú,

ñu’ú savi,  

chooni savi ñii  

yutu ñu’un   


Tiempo káka kava ra  

ñu ́ma kachi antivi, 

kikaa xaa tiloo  

ñu ́um kàtì   


Patsa ́un tachi kuiso tiempo  

ra ndaa kunchee

nikanchii vikó ra kachi, 

yu ́uku chi ́i ñuu   

yu ́va tíkàì.   


Kusu sutsa vixi, 

kusu nivi savi,  

ntakuatu yuku  

ra yuta sita,  

tachi kachi ichi ñu’un. 

kixi tiempo koo anga yu ́u,  

chikui ra savi koo tsaá,  

káka yu ́va tíkàì 

Clay birds, 

Earth rain, 

Breeze salt, 

Tree fire 



Time bends and  

smoke speaks in the sky 

A new cycle begins 

of light and shadows 


The elder wind holds time 

and with its hands recognizes 

the horizons and he names them,  

his mouth sows the world 

in spirals 


The copal sleeps,  

on top of the rain people,  

the prayers of the hills 

and the rivers breathe,  

the wind talks with the fire. 

We come from a time without shores,  

from the water and the most ancient rain,  

that walks in spirals.  

Publications related to women’s and maternal health with Wixárika communities by the author of this exhibition


Gamlin, Jennie B. (2013)
Shame as a barrier to health seeking among indigenous Huichol migrant labourers: An interpretive approach of the “violence continuum” and “authoritative knowledge”
Social Science and Medicine 97 75-81

Gamlin, Jennie B. (2023)
Wixárika Practices of Medical Syncretism: An Ontological Proposal for Health in the Anthropocene
Medical Anthropology Theory 10 (2) 1-26

Gamlin, Jennie B. (2020)
“You see, we women, we can’t talk, we can’t have an opinion…”. The coloniality of gender and childbirth practices in Indigenous Wixárika families
Social Science and Medicine 252, 112912

Jennie Gamlin and David Osrin (2020)
Preventable infant deaths, lone births and lack of registration in Mexican indigenous communities: health care services and the afterlife of colonialism
Ethnicity and Health 25 (7)

Jennie Gamlin and Seth Holmes (2018)
Preventable perinatal deaths in indigenous Wixárika communities: an ethnographic study of pregnancy, childbirth and structural violence BMC
Pregnancy and Childbirth 18 (Article number 243) 2018

Gamlin, Jennie B. and Sarah J Hawkes (2015)
Pregnancy and birth in an Indigenous Huichol community: from structural violence to structural policy responses
Culture, health and sexuality 17 (1)