On a mid-February afternoon, as I was finalizing guidebook research in the unassuming Altiplano town of Oruro in Bolivia, I made my way to the last stop on the itinerary – Casa Arte Taller Cardozo Velasquez (Junín 738; catcarve.blogspot.com). I had read about this private museum/studio of a local artist family and it peaked my interest. In fact, I was longing for something more serene and offbeat in Oruro, to take me away from the water bombs, spray guns and screaming kids leading up to Carnaval.
The moment I walked into the courtyard of the Cardozo Velasquez family house, I knew I found that special place I was looking for. Gonzalo, the head of the family – an intense man exuding subtle authority – welcomed me into their world. One of the five daughters, a sweet well-spoken teenager, gave me a tour of the workshop where they produce their work. Gonzalo’s sculptures are all over the courtyard – with a towering piece devoted to Pachamama (Mother Earth, according to Andean beliefs) at the center – as is beautiful pottery made by his wife María and paintings, photographs, collages and drawings by the five daughters: Nayra, Wara, Tani, Lulhy and Kurmi. A plethora of unusual art objects by family and friends grace the whimsical little house.
After the tour, we sat down in the cozy library and talked for hours over tea made with fresh medicinal herbs from the garden. I learned about the Sunday morning workshop that the family has been doing with the children of Oruro – they go out into the streets and paint with kids, producing fun colorful canvases. On each first Friday of the month they hold a k’oa ceremony in the courtyard of the house, a ritual blessing to the Pachamama in which a “mesa” is burned over coals. The “mesa” consists of incense, decorated sugar cubes, native herbs and various other objects, depending on what you’re asking Pachamama for. This ritual is open to anyone who happens to be in Oruro on a first Friday and has an open mind and respect for the Andean culture. So do stop by if in Oruro. I wish I could have stayed for a k’oa.
It’s easy to get lost in this magical world of the Cardozo Velasquez family. As I walked away, packed with lots of new thoughts and ideas, I felt renewed, inspired and somehow more in touch with the world around me. To see a family so deeply rooted in their surroundings and connected with the traditions of their corner of the world gave me a sense of comfort and a surge of creativity. It felt like accidentally stumbling into a parallel universe – one that you leave physically but, spiritually, it stays with you.