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The global voice of the Americas has been represented mostly, if not always, by a dominant Westernized society. Since the Spanish arrival, the consequence of such an encounter as it was in 1492 has left many scars on the land and the people, both physical and psychological. Since then, the indigenous people of the Americas have shown resilience and resistance to disappearing physically, spiritually, and mentally.

Dreadfully, colonialism has a strong hold on the narrative of our lives. The Colombian people see it, hear it, feel it, and, without thinking, perpetuate it. Standards of beauty, the practice of religion, the role of art in society, and how we perceive people’s actions to classify them as either backward or progressive are all funneled through the lens of the colonial mind. In Colombia, as well as most of the Americas, western ideologies and practices have been the norm for hundreds of years. This has led to the misconception that indigenous people and our culture are either stagnant in time or frozen in the mystical mythology of the noble savage.

I contend that history does not follow a straight line but is a large tapestry of interwoven threads, overlapping designs, complex craftsmanship, and, most importantly, a work in progress. The importance of pursuing this artistic project has directly to do with combating the ill legacies we inherited from the past. Such as the result of King Charles III of Spain banning the practice of our native language in the year 1770. Two hundred and twenty-one years later, this ban was lifted in the new Colombian Constitution of 1991. The rewriting of the constitution now gives Indigenous people autonomous rights to education, religion, and government. Two years after I was born, my native language became legal. Due to this ban lasting more than two centuries, my Muysca[1] language had become officially extinct, according to scholars, books, and, of course, Wikipedia. However, the language remains alive within us, in our names, the territory we live in, and the memory of our elders. Muysccubun[2] means the "language of people." It is not only the language that we are rebuilding and maintaining orally but a world view and the record of our presence.


The Project

I view language as transcending the realm of words and manifesting into materiality, into clay, into wood, into gold. The practice of my Muysca visual language becomes essential to my existence. As an artist and educator, I see the theoretical and the practical as important elements of my work. If these elements are considered truthfully, with passion and dedication, one can create impactful change in society. The case being made is my contribution to bringing a metal casting process native to Colombia back to our territory for us to use and reclaim. 

My adventure with this casting technique began in 2015 alongside a great friend, Silvestre Reyes Hernandez, a Nahuatl native from Mexico. He and I would meet up on occasions to play music, eat, and engage in conversations about art and history. It was on one of these days that he and I realized that, like many before us, we, too, had the ability to exit the somber feelings of our historic past and enter a river of joy through experimentation and artistic expression. Silvestre, as a silversmith, had the knowledge of metals, and I, as a ceramist, had the knowledge of clay. We put our minds and hearts together and began experimenting based on ill-informed Spanish accounts, pictures, oral histories, and our creativity. 



I began by designing and making clay kilns using a stoneware-like clay body. These kilns were small, about twelve inches tall and eight inches wide, and behaved similarly to a traditional downdraft kiln. The process consisted of making a beeswax sculpture using candles and metal tools to shape the material. Attaching wax gates, vents, and a funnel guided the molten metal to the pieces. To make the molds, a mixture of stoneware clay body with charcoal guaranteed a successful firing. Adding charcoal decreased the shrink rate and added a porous density, which allowed for the venting of gases during the smelting process as well as a soft consistency when it came to cracking the mold open. After setting up the kiln by placing the mold with the metal inside it, we fired up the kiln by blowing air with our lungs inside a bed of hot charcoal. Once the mold reached 2100 degrees Fahrenheit and the metal flowed down into the mold, we removed it from the kiln to cool down. Lastly, once it was below 300 degrees Fahrenheit, we’d break the mold and reveal the final product.


We experimented with different styles of kilns and clay bodies, each presenting obstacles as well as paths toward success. Mold-making has now become another reason for us to gather. After he and I made some wax figurines, we’d meet at my home to test various clay recipes to use for the molds. We failed countless times, yet we persisted, and each failure taught us something new. Oddly enough, we looked forward to failure. It was only slowly that we became more and more aware of the materials and the process. Sixteen months or so went by, and I continued working on this process on my own. Our daily lives made it difficult for us to meet up. After years of experimentation, I decided to focus on a specific type of work related to my culture, both technically and culturally. The process of reviving this casting technique was, to me, one element of the bigger picture. I wanted ultimately to have this process create works of art, Tunjos[3], and to present them in their proper context, as was always intended. 

In the winter of 2021, while home in Colombia, I met La Gueba[4] del Jhon. Jhon and I became friends through shared histories, interests, and the fact that we both wanted to contribute to our Muysca communities. Jhon is the leader of education at the Indigenous Muysca community of Sesquilé, a town in the department of Cundinamarca, Colombia, mostly known for the legend of “El Dorado." I proposed to Jhon that I wanted to bring this casting process back to the territory for all of us to use. I wanted the process to come home after centuries of wandering through the stories of some and the minds of many. I wanted to bring back something we all lost, and more importantly, I wanted to share this knowledge with those who felt connected to it. We have no memory of when we lost this technique; however, we do know that immediately upon Spanish arrival in the region, the production of traditional Muysca metal works drastically diminished. We have evidence of this in the museums that today hold much of our cultural heritage. Ironically, it is at one of these museums that a large part of my understanding of this casting process evolved. Not because of what was written on the labels but because of what the objects revealed. Through their physicality, they spoke of how they were made. The process was evident if one only took the time to look closely. I spent hours studying these objects from behind glass casings, and slowly, my understanding of this process became more evident. The type of clay that was used. How they were built, the engineering behind the kilns – all this came through observation and analysis.

With the Indigenous Muysca community of Sesquilé on board, we decided that a five-day workshop from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. would be sufficient to learn the casting process and to make some pieces ourselves. The effort that everyone made was incredible. Most of the community came to the workshops to learn about our history. Most made the sacrifice of coming after a long day of work to a cold, dimly lit room in forty-degree weather. This willingness to give up their resting time so they could learn this process spoke to the desire to regain this lost knowledge. We shared stories, gathered as a community in ceremonies, ate the warmest food we could get our hands on, and each night, we left the workshop with beeswax and clay under our fingernails. 


On July 28th, 2022, for the first time in almost 500 years, we, the Indigenous Muyscas of Colombia, created Tunjos using a traditional metal casting technique. We engaged in a practice that hadn’t been seen, felt, or heard of in centuries. Words lack the ability to communicate the pride, joy, and sense of empowerment we all felt. To us, this specific technique of casting metals using clay kilns and clay molds has changed how we create artwork and how we engage with the world of art. Because now, our material culture can continue to grow in our own language and tell our stories.

Reviving Muysca metallurgy empowered us by regaining a visual language we lost and by creating works that transcend the context of museums and exhibitions to function in the realm of our traditional relationships with people and the world around us. Clay and metallurgy both involve the transformation of raw materials into functional, cultural, and artistic objects. Both crafts demand precision and skill, with artisans mastering techniques through years of practice and experimentation. They hold significant cultural and historical importance, often being integral to the heritage and identity of various civilizations. Ultimately, the artistry in shaping clay and forging metal showcases a harmonious blend of creativity and technical expertise. Our ancestors invented this process; it was taken from them due to ethnocide, but today, we make them proud.


The following people contributed to the success of this endeavor.

Silvestre Reyes

Jhon “La Gueba del Jhon” Rojas

Lida Mamanche

Camilo Chauta

Yeison Marquez

Ana Francisca


Ernesto “Tiba” Mamancha

Mario Mutis Sr.

Sajana Chauta

 Doña Rosa

 Milena Cortes


The Indigenous Muysca Community of Sesquilé


Fie Nzhinga! - Thank you very much.


[1] Muysca – known as Muisca or Mhuysqa – are indigenous people of Colombia. Muysca translates to "people."

[2] Muysccubun – The language of the Muysca – translates to the "tongue of people."

[3] Tunjo are gold, gold alloy, copper, or silver figures made with the intention of becoming offerings.

[4] La Gueba has two connotations. In Spanish, this phrase refers to someone as dumb or less intelligent. It is a word often used as an insult that was recontextualized from its original meaning. In Muysccubun, the phrase La Gueba means "a student." Like many things about our culture, the Spanish changed the context of our language to make us feel more ashamed of using it.