Xunaxidó. Wor(l)ds within Wor(l)ds

“COP 27 agrees to help climate victims but resolves to do nothing to stop fossil fuels”
-CNN November 2022
This documentary narrates through Zapotec women voices the entanglement of language, culture, myths, beliefs, natural catastrophes and the quotidian experience of these women in their communities. A material I worked with to create an installational work in a Zapotec community of black clay women artisans from Oaxaca, Mexico. It is the continuation of “Oaxaca. Earth moves”, a project which explores the earthquake suffered in Mexico in September of 2017, through my work with black clay in the house-workshop of a Zapotec woman who hosted me during several periods of time.
This installational work entails a process of Alchemy, where memories, past and futures, hopes and myths collide with the daily experience in these communities.

The earthquake event is framed within the present outcome of the COP27 together with the Mesoamerican myth of the cycles of creation, death and rebirth and the role of women as repairers and weavers of their community bonds.
This final piece which was set in the museum of the black clay community where it was made (San Bartolo Coyotepec), consisted in an installation of around 200 unique pieces of black ceramic, disposed in a way that their totality could be used as a device for the counting of the days of the pre-Columbian Zapotec ritual calendar. It was disposed as a weaved tapestry of local black ceramic and immortal flowers, symbolizing Earth and its destructive aspect from which life emerges again. Thus dwelling between its complementary opposites as life provider and annihilator.
The piece also served as a renovated “cosmization” of the place , marking the geographical location of the community in relation to the cosmos. At the very centre of this “tapestry” disposed in the form of a quincunx , was placed a Mesoamerican Zapotec figurine of Nouichana, the generative manifestation of the Great Goddess, today assimilated in its Christian version as the Virgin of Juquila (Séjourné 1953). Furthermore, other artisan women from the neighbouring community of San Antonino Castillo Velasco, who work with the immortal flower, and can be seen in this video, were invited to use the piece as a platform to perform and share their daily ritual with the museum visitors and the community at large. This ritual consisted in four steps: First, they performed a permission request to Mother Earth to carry out their sowing activities without harm. This followed by a declaration of good intentions and petition for a positive outcome, blessing the nurturing soil. This was followed by the cultivation of gratitude for the fruits received and, finally, the ritual ended with the harvesting and sharing of those gifts (flowers in this case) with the audience, as a way of enacting that gratitude with others in a sense of reciprocity.
The installation was set one month after the outcome of the COP27 summit, where it was agreed to help natural catastrophes victims but resolved to do nothing to stop fossil fuels (Kottasová 2022). Being the earthquake in Tehuantepec’s Gulf one of the most violent in the last one hundred years, and known by all, the way economic help never really reached the most affected population to recover their homes, the sound of the installation -included in this video- incorporated the declamation of the poem “The Mother Sun” in Zapotec and Spanish by its author, the Zapotec poetess Irma Pineda Santiago native to Juchitán. There she describes very blatantly, through the Mesoamerican myth of creation, the chain of interdependence for our own survival, reminding us indigenous principles in relation to our environment that we must not forget. From local to global and through the cosmic, this way of approaching this project keeps on building under posthuman principles for the work of critique and knowledge sharing.

This video gives another layer and dimension to the entanglement of stories around this project, for which I also produced a deployable book of illustrated poetry which further explores all these overlayed meanings, as well as concepts of the Mesoamerican oral literature tradition and its forms of representation.
Construction-destruction-re-construction. Life, death and rebirth. And women, Xunaxis on Earth, situating themselves around that axis on which the world is held.
Myths tell the deepest truths.
Xunaxidó is a loom that keeps on weaving and evolving, producing different outcomes or rather, taking different forms according to new nuances that are further developed, as well as to the geography and to the audience is shared with, through film, poetry, illustration and immersive installations; in Mexico, Holland…; in museums, academia, artistic and indigenous communities. Thus, the research content goes on acquiring different and complementary narrative formats. The intention is to give back, create a space for different voices and at the same time, generate new knowledge through sharing and exchange. It is an exploration to break away from ingrained patterns of thought, acknowledging other forms of knowledge beyond hegemonic academic research. It also looks to democratize knowledge, making it accessible to broader audiences, without losing its rigor. It is the cultivation of a trans-mediated and nomadic critique which connects the local with the global and the cosmic.

  • Elena Pérez Guembe
  • Elena Pérez Guembe
  • Elena Pérez Guembe
  • Ceiba tree
    Key Cast
  • Cándida Santiago
    Key Cast
    "(Voice over)"
  • Arturo Pérez
    Key Cast
  • Taco seller
    Key Cast
  • Adelina Pedro Martínez
    Key Cast
  • Inés Fabia Reyes
    Key Cast
  • Francisca Simón García
    Key Cast
  • Teresita Reyna de Jesús
    Key Cast
  • Irma Pineda Santiago
    Key Cast
    "(Voice over)"
  • Biushita Flor Ancestral
    Key Cast
  • José García
    Key Cast
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Xunaxidó. Mundos dentro de otros Mundos
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short, Student
  • Runtime:
    8 minutes 41 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    June 16, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    3,500 EUR
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    Yes - TU Delft School of Architecture
Director Biography - Elena Pérez Guembe

Elena Pérez Guembe is a licensed architect, currently undertaking a PhD at TU Delft in the Netherlands. Elena has worked in the offices of Zaha Hadid, Rafael Moneo, and Nicholas Grimshaw. Her work has been exhibited at the 2018 Venice Biennale as well as at the 2019 Lisbon Triennale and the recent 2023 Romania Biennale. Her design work and writing has been published internationally: DeArq Magazine (Colombia), Hipo-Thesis (Spain), Global Art Affairs Foundation (La Biennale di Venezia), Routledge (UK/USA) and others. After teaching at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's (RPI) School of Architecture in Troy, New York she moved in 2021 to TU Delft (Netherlands) as a PhD researcher. Her transdisciplinary research "Architectures of Care. From the Zapotecs to the Cosmos" combines critical thought and praxis through hermeneutics and material culture as architectural discourses. It aims to explore diverse epistemologies and forms of inhabitation using artistic approaches to move beyond patterns of exclusion and bridge worlds that have been historically apart.

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Director Statement

"In open dialogue one holds one's self available to be surprised, to be challenged, and to be changed."
-Rose, D.B. 92004) 'Reports from a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonisation'. University of New South Wales Press, p.22