This fresh edition of the Free Unions programme invites Guatemalan artist Benvenuto Chavajay to carry out the performance Returning Souls (Popol Vuh [Wuj]), inside the framework of the international seminar Collecting the Present. An activation that falls under a broader project entitled Returning Souls, with actions that look to identify, ratify and dignify symbolic elements that are part of the history and ancestral knowledge of Mayan culture and found predominantly outside their place of origin. With the aim of activating memory to translate and transcribe the silence of his ancestors, Chavajay looks to “make Guatemala’s soul return by means of the healing and dignifying role of art, thereby bringing justice to history,” in his words.
The performance involves tattooing the names of the four sacred Mayan books Popol Vuh (Wuj), Memorial de Sololá, Chilam Balam and Rabinal Achí on the souls of feet —this body part is not chosen at random: according to Mayan belief, the feet are where beauty and memory are found. After this action, a request will be made to the relevant authorities to return Popol Vuh (Wuj) — currently in the Newberry Library in Chicago — to the place where the manuscript was found: Chichicastenango, Guatemala.
Free Unions is a series of events, tours and activations that take place in the rooms of Communicating Vessels. Collection 1881–2021, the new rehang of the Museo Reina Sofía Collection. The programme is made up of different thematic strands, the title alluding to the poem Free Union (1931) by André Breton in its definition of psychic automatism as an alternative to rationalism. The transgressive spirit of that poem, which takes apart rational discourse through a lexical juxtaposition to generate other relationships and significations, governs this public programme, in which recitals, readings, debates, performances and actions in these rooms transgress the aura of the white cube.
Benvenuto Chavajay lives and works between San Pedro La Laguna and Guatemala City, creating work characterised by its strong social content and political critique. His most salient exhibitions include group shows at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), in Long Beach, California; Trans at the Centro Cultural de España en Guatemala, Guatemala City; and Los Desaparecidos at Espaciocé!, in Antigua Guatemala.