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Atit berá


Work selected for the 59th “Margaret Whyte” National Visual Arts Award, 2020


This work proposes a visual interpretation of a Charrúa legend transmitted orally by Martín Delgado Cultelli, an active member of the Charrúa Nation Council, to the artist. The legend refers to the first contact between the Spanish and the original inhabitants of the Río de la Plata. According to the story, upon observing the appearance of the Spanish ships on the horizon, the "ñandús" (type of bird similiar to the african rheas) went from town to town alerting the residents of their arrival. The last ñandú climbed to the sky to save itself, leaving the image of its footprint in the stars. Curiously, this image is formed with the same stars that build the well-known constellation of the Southern Cross, a Christian symbol par excellence created by Western navigators and astronomers and used as a compass on their trips to America.

This painting recreates the night sky of January 20, 1516, observed from  current Punta del Este, the date and site of spanish conqueror Juan Díaz de Solís´ landing. The Southern Cross is replaced by the foot of a ñandú and stars from adjacent constellations are used to illustrate the body of the bird; the other constellations are represented as we commonly know them. The "ñandú constellation", which does not appear in star charts or in astronomical applications or programs, appears as an inadequate, incongruous, and yet possible symbol: after all, these figures are nothing more than men´s invention to help them organize and understand the universe. "Atit berá", which means “ñandú´s foot” in Charrúa language, transforms an oral story into a symbolic image, destabilizing the Eurocentric order that has imposed its way of interpreting the world.


Note: To recreate the position of the stars on that date and latitude, the Stellarium software was used.

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