Thursday, May 7, 2020

More on China

Before and during our stay in China, I took Chinese lessons. Both teachers spent time introducing sounds, kanjis, and hours explaining words and expressions. It was intriguing and difficult. Every word, expression and kanji has layers of symbolic and historic meanings, intricate and complex. It is a language that is very hard to pronounce due to the different tones, and very complicated to translate, because it uses metaphors to ancient knowledge and onomatopoeia (using a term for a word that sounds like what it is describing.I did not even scratch the surface of the language, and I have a very superficial understanding of the Chinese culture. I wanted to stay longer, in hope to dive deeper into the root of the Mother of Asia, but I had to leave earlier than expected. I mourned that dream during several months, but maybe it wasn’t for me to understand it more than I did.

Having said that, here is what I do understand about Chinese. They are the most disciplined people hive, each following carefully its duty tirelessly, and without apparent doubts of the purpose, means or end result of a mandate. The trust and obedience to their president, the leader of the Communist Party of China is rewarded with experiencing a peaceful and safe country, and punishment with harshness in a penitentiary system where people receive a questionable fair trial. As a result, people massively obey in to fear of being taken away, rather than love to the Communist principles. Policies and decisions are made vertically, and people follow the orders from government with apparent tranquilly and bitter resignation but without protest.

The CPC system causes for visible contradictions, which exacerbated my fascination for the Chinese culture. For instance, how to conciliate communism with religious devotion? In December, we visited Putuoshan Island a pilgrimage centre. We took a bus from Shanghai and then a ferry from Shenjiamen. Putuoshan Island is a centre for pilgrimage with its 30 to 40 Buddhist temples, and around 4000 Buddhist monks and nuns from China and around the world. I had anticipated a forgotten site with ruins and poverty. However, what we found was serious devotion from Chinese from across the country, who would give donations and walk silently for hours-on-end in exchange for miracles on pregnancy, passing exams, obtaining jobs or promotions. We stayed at an AirBnB where the host asked us if we would kindly refer to her as our friend if anyone asked. It is forbidden to host tourists. We walked along the towns, crossed fields and mountains to reach the temples, took a minibus around a mountain top where a grand temple sentinels a humongous effigy of Quan Yin or Guan Xing (the female bodhisattva of compassion and mercy). Her image is visible in many places, with numerous devotees. The temples and the impressive sites somehow survived Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Perhaps the area was too isolated for the people’s liberation army, or perhaps some monks and nuns were able to hibernate, camouflage or flee during the harshest persecution. Maybe some came back or there are new ones who are populating the monasteries. Moreover, the current system has not been able to crush the spiritual needs and beliefs of all in its ruthless requisite for uniformity. Fascinating and troublesome.
Quan Yin
Camphor tree
Temples in PutuoShan
Cinnamon tree 
Beach and temple
Ear Cleaning Museum
Metal design
Cobble stones
Traditional wooden houses facing canal

Monday, May 4, 2020


Jose and I spent a year in China and a year in Japan. I am still digesting the experience, but the luxury of time during the quarantine has enabled the Asian dust to settle down. Now I can write about it. I owe it to myself, and to my friends.

We flew to Shanghai in August 2017. Often during the weekends, we would go for hikes to small villages and forests using Meetups, as well as WeChat, the most popular application in China. It is a government screened app that combines Facebook, WhatsApp, Zoom and bike-lending applications such as Mobike and Ofo. It enables you to pay at restaurants, taxis, museums, etc., and you can transfer funds to friends which is very handy. It has a built-in translator, thank goodness! However, it is unmistakably a means of social control, as people are graded according to political tendencies. China is beginning to reward good behaviour giving bonuses and facilitating access to credit. Despite all of its flaws, WeChat was one of the things I missed about China.

My favourite part of China were the wet-markets, where the depth of culture is palpable. I never saw pangolins or bats for sale, but I did see other assorted critters Chinese have learned how to cook and enjoy. In our shopping routines, we mostly went for live shrimp and different types of fish. We were fascinated by their many ways of processing eggs and did try them all, and the incredibly diverse vegetables and fruit they produce. We would always go to the same sales ladies, and they gifted us with wide smiles and often a small tribute to encourage our return. The wet-market of our neighbourhood suffered from the opening of a modern supermarket, with the excess packaging and products modern people love. Before our departure from Shanghai there was a brick wall in front of the entrance, ending the business.

I found Chinese people are a lot like durians, which are large fruits that grow in Asia. Dry and spiky on the surface, but fleshy, rich and waxy inside. Somewhat like a jackfruit, but different. It takes time to get used to the foul smell, but as other acquired tastes you cannot stop loving it. The Chinese people I met were rough on the outside, but once you are allowed in their homes they are generous and open, and even willing to share their deep historical roots with illiterate foreigners like me. I am humbled and grateful with them. Thank you Bing Bing, Vera and Li.
Bing Bing
Building a terrace
Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Ceramic female figure
Ceramic container
Art shop
Street at night

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Remember Breathing

On Sunday April 9th the show Remember Breathing will open at Carriageway Studio, Almonte, until the end of the month. I have a new group of pieces related to the awareness of living in a body, and some of my older work on the same theme. The new pieces are porcelain plates with cotton embroidery and ink drawings. I used pieces of my mom's trousseau and added red threads of embroidery and draw ink drawings. This artwork is an reminder to be body-present.

I will offer a workshop on printmaking, similar to the ones I offered in Mexico two years ago. During the two hours the participants will create mono prints using Akua inks and the Pin Press.

La Cueva

I spent ten days at La Cueva where my parents live. It is a beautiful house in the outskirts of Villa de Leyva, Boyacá. It is slowly turning green and luscious after 5 years of compost, red worms, soil improvement, natural fertilizers, and tons of research on what grows well in this arid land. They have found species that were known to Muisca people before Spaniards came to the Americas, such as malanga, yacón, bore, sweet potato, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, uchuvas, feijoas, beans, prickly pears, fique, caña brava and guava trees. La Cueva also has species brought by Europeans such as valeriana, sugar cane, blue berries, and rasp berries. Other plants come from Middle East such as pomegranates, figs, fava beans and oranges. La Cueva has samples of all of them, and more!

La Cueva also hosts chickens, ducks, sheep, and two dogs: Rumba and Conga who keep visitors entertained and welcome. As I write, the concert of frogs and crickets outside keep me company. I am preparing to leave and my heart sinks at the idea of not coming more often. This corner is a homage to hard work, creativity, and a constant study and exploration of nature. The most remarkable aspect of this place is that everyone who comes here feels loved and respected. My parents are indeed incredible people who have always lived in coherence with their values, generators of life and ideas around them, gathering people around as they move in life. I admire and respect them dearly.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Preparing for China

In preparation for China I visited Colombia. I flew from Canada, my home for the last fourteen years. (What does it mean that the three countries start with C?) During my visit we went for a hike to the beautiful Paramo del Rabanal, 1.5 hours from Ráquira, Boyacá. The air was light, it was a sunny and clear day, and we saw lots of stunning plants. We admired the frailejones and brought a few flowers for brewing tea; we found small white orchids, we feasted on agraz, a black edible berry, and we admired this vast extension of land with this particular ecosystem. With this visit to the paramo I felt rooted to this rich country where I belong.

My sense of belonging was also fostered by amazing people I visited. For instance, the lovely couple Cecilia Parody and Gonzalo Bernal are taking a sabbatical year to begin a book-exchange project across the country. Small libraries run free of charge and with no late-fines. It works thanks to volunteers of all ages who support the idea. They called the project La Hoja, meaning sheet of paper or leaf. So far they have initiated 55 book-exchange sites around the region in the last four years. La Hoja works wherever people want and need to read: in prison, hair salons, schools, cafes, and homes. The second person that left a strong impression was a judge who allowed the community aqueduct of Chaina to continue to own land housing facilities that serve around 1500 families. Despite juicy bribes from wealthy opponents who wanted the land for private use, this judge righteously enabled the aqueduct to continue operations on-going for thirty years. Hooray for an example of honesty and courage! And last, I participated in free cultural activities that improve civility, sensibility, community life. We went for a free concert of chamber music at San Francisco Convent, an ancient structure built in 1750. We took part in two life drawing sessions organized by a group of artists that have gathered for 5 years. We witnessed the rehearsal of a youth string orchestra under the direction of our friend Tomás Ojeda, who is starting a foundation for the arts in Villa de Leyva called AfinArce. I also saw my parents living the life they chose, helping others, walking the talk, growing food, creating and supporting artists, following their passion and convictions coherently.

The people of this country, their resilience, creativity and ingenuity give me hope of a better future in this crazy world we live in. I will carry them with me to China and they will make me proud of where I come from.
Paramo del Rabanal
Friends enjoying clean air
pre-Columbian pottery found at the páramo
Swimming at Piedras de San Pedro Reserve

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Preparing for show in April

The next show will be in Carriageway Studios in Almonte, Ontario, during the month of April. I am working on remembering to breath to deal with fear to dogs on the street, on politics, and other public places. In this time of bigotry, all immigrants and people on the periphery of mainstream ideology, colour, religion or gender -  face the possibility of humiliation, discrimination and sometimes extradition. In Canada people may diss you, or just not give you the job. So remembering to breath is a key to deal with all of it.
Ribcage, bronze in drawer, 32 x 27 x 8 cm,  1995

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Jose and I spent ten days in China, invited by the Montessori School of Shanghai. We spent week in Shanghai - with 34 million locals, and then a few days in Hangzhou - with only 9 million, called "Heaven" for its beauty. I loved the people; the unusual food; the design and perfection of its traditional arts; the galleries of contemporary art and the museums that guard and exhibit ancient knowledge; and I loved the green and luscious landscape. I was impressed by the efficiency of the massive transportation systems of which we used metro and train; the audacity of new architecture and the traditional buildings beautifully kept. Most of all I loved the sense of adventure in an unknown and foreign culture. 
Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Hangzhou

Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Hangzhou at night

Clay deity at Shanghai Museum

Brush store

Shanghai airport

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Artifact Archives

As a BFA student at Concordia University (1984-1987) I took part in Artifact Artists Collective. After 30 years we decided to show the archives we stored, and to get together again to remember and celebrate everything we stood for during those formative years. We have all changed and evolved in different directions, but we share a common experience that remains meaningful for each one of us. Here is the blurb and some photos of the show in September 2016.

Blurb for the show Artifact Archives
Drawing on mylar over an archival letter to Artifact 
Drawing on mylar over an archival letter to Artifact
Blink Gallery
The Artifact gang

Where is your heart?

In September I had the show 'Where is your heart?" at Blink Gallery. See the blurb, poster and video. Check for more images at the webpage

Where Is Your Heart?

This show is an invitation to experience the beauty and complexity of the internal body. For me it is an exploration of the intricacies of our inner anatomy and the immense aesthetic possibilities of its internal structures. The two human scale cut outs are an invitation for connection to our internal health and balanced inner life. The lymphatic and nervous systems work as metaphors to social, spiritual and environmental connections. The shapes can be read as anatomical configurations, but can also have other meanings in relation to the richness and elaborate depths of the inner life or the way we perceive the world. They can be read as streams of water; as the trajectory of elements under a microscope; or as the path starts leave as the night advances.

The title of this exhibition is an invitation for you to think and feel your own body: to feel your organs, to reflect on your systems. Perhaps in my work you see the connections I intended, and certainly you will see new ones based on your own background. With this art show I hope to challenge your perception of your own body, raise awareness on the instant changes your body is going through, and invite you to experience it with a more open and imaginative way.

Maria Gomez-Umaña
September 2016

Friendship Channel

Friendship Channel was my first collaborative art project with BLINK Art Collective, shown at Chinatown Remixed.

Chinatown Remixed is an initiative by local Ottawa artists to have venues open their doors to artists to show their work along Chinatown venues. This year three BLINK members, Genevieve Cloutier, Jess Alysworth and myself proposed Friendship Channel, project that was selected by the jury. Friendship Channel, is a poem written collaboratively along the silhouette of the water and tributaries of the Ottawa River. We sketched it on paper; designed it using Illustrator, and finally had it CNC cut at Maker Space. Then we painted and and varnished it. We chose red because it is the colour of good luck in China, plus the colour of blood. As Genevieve puts it,

I like red because it's the BLINK Art Collective colour. Also the word red is in the [Friendship Channel] poem... "red oranges"..."  In China, the orange symbolizes life, a new beginning, and prayers and wishes for good fortune"... (…) it also touches on many other symbols that bring up a lot of emotion... love, blood/menstruation, desire...

This piece is shown at the window of Shanghai Restaurant during September and October, as part of the Chinatown Remixed 2016.
Friendship Channel by Blink

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Blink Gallery Season 2016

BLINK summer season is opening on Thursday June 2nd at 7 pm. All the artists from Blink Collective will be showing work, and on September 15th, I will have a solo show called Where is your heart? In both exhibitions I will be showing me new anatomical objects, some hearts and other beautiful organs, vital to our life.

Do you wear your heart on your sleeve? I invite you to come and see where I wear mine!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Art in the School House

We are beginning a new venture: Entrepreneurship in the Arts. Bozica Radjenovic and myself are bringing art to Kanata, finally. We are offering two weekly sessions, one is art classes for teens and the second is live model sessions for adults. They happen four Wednesdays this spring.
Check our our poster and our website! 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Song Mural at Art Place

Art Place is an arts residency organized by Ottawa Arts East Art Council. Alicia Borisonik and I were selected to deliver the program Song Mural at Alexander Community Centre in Ottawa. Starting in November 2015 until February 2016 we had weekly sessions of music and visual arts for a group of teens, 13 to 15 year olds. During the first sessions we collected stories that eventually became a rap song. The music composition took shape in a mural on canvas that is currently displayed at the Community Centre.

Thanks to AOE Arts Council, thanks to the staff at Alexander Community Centre, and many thanks to the youth that participated in this project. We loved it and we would to do it again!

Initial prep for the Blink Show

The Public Library of Ottawa has a new room called Imagine Space where residents can learn how to use and have access to two laser cutters and a 3D printer, for free. I started going last year and this year I am becoming a regular. For my show in September I have been cutting shapes of organs and I have been using the cut-outs as a matrix for printmaking. It is a work in progress and I am very exited to see where this takes me. The show will be called "Where is your Heart?"

Experimental stages

Friday, January 22, 2016

There's Room in Gallery 101

Tomorrow Saturday January 23rd is the opening of the show There's Room at Gallery 101 in Ottawa, where I have an installation called "Connections". I will do a performance during the opening, in which I will be reacting to the interactions with people who approach me. The performance Connections will result in a finished installation that will remain in the gallery during one month. I will post more images and a short video in the weeks to come.

Here is what I wrote for the show:

As a new comer in Canada I am continuously decoding social behaviours, which are natural and unnoticed by local people. Learning how to use these clues is essential for survival, as means to become part of a community. I have been fascinated by different shapes and motifs of interaction between people. In this performance I will have an opportunity to observe and document how people interact with me, or not. As people connect with me I will connect strings from the panel "YOU" to the panel "ME".  If visitors don’t interact with me nothing will happen.

Petra Halkes, the curator of the show, wrote about the name There's Room,

I really like the title of the exhibition that I am curating at Gallery 101, There's Room, inspired as it is by a Cree word for “welcome” that translates to mean There’s Room: “Tawaw” Curator, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, shared this word with us at the We Are Cities roundtable discussion group at Gallery 101, November 28 2015, where we spoke about indigenizing the English language. Check out the event on Facebook.