Unchi is the Ngobe Bugle tribal name for Alexis Rodriguez. His tribe is one of seven indigenous tribes of Panama, of whom there are about 3,500 residing in Costa Rica. Unchi has become the mouthpiece for the legends of his people; he has breathed new life into the rich culture and cosmology of this tribe.
Music and drawing are the vehicles he uses to capture the stories of his ancestors. His group, committed to cultural preservation and promotion, is known as Proyecto Jirondai. The group have eloquently expressed their mandate, which they see as a global as well as a specific impetus. The following translates from the jirondai.com website:
“The Native American languages will disappear in this century, if the people who know them cease to repeat them in the air every day. The loss of our planet’s biodiversity threatens our balance, similarly, when a language disappears, a word, a unique idea, we lose the potential success as a species. We need words to heal and understand. Jirondai Project is dedicated to research and development of projects based on the respect and understanding of our diversity, and employs artistic production as a forum for village leaders, allowing them to speak to the people and the world through new means.”
If music is powerful and subliminal, so is art. And Unchi has taken the mystical legends of his people onto paper, capturing the transformation, metamorphosis and healing embedded in the spirituality of nature, shamanism and an animism that catalogued the importance of every animal in their cosmology. His tribal stories are rich and explain how the ancestors celebrated unity in the diversity of their communities – a fitting paradigm in today’s troubled and fragmented world. As such, Unchi’s role as an artist brings wisdom and faith to his people, and to those of us not of his tribe, that the primordial instincts of love and trust in their land lives on.
At a first glance the art of Unchi seems childlike, even simplistic. It really needed his interpretation, which is included with the art pieces we have available in the gallery and our website, to permit us to enter his world of shamans, sacred animals and animals shape shifting into humans and back. The sacred dante is seen in one painting as morphing into a woman to be a companion for man, and the male figure is seen conversing with a snake as knowledge of healing plants and cures is imparted to him. A hill is a ‘house’ which is entered into by a waterfall, which is the ‘door.’ The world re-created by Unchi is fantastical but deeply rooted in the unconscious of his ngobe bugle ( Ngöbe-Buglé ) people.
Galeria Namu currently has two of Unchi’s paintings on the website under the indigenous arts > ngobe bugle category; click to view here to see the first item, therein, click on the blue Next Product to see his second.