June 2015

Discover Cochabamba’s heritage at the Night of the museums 2015

On the Friday 15th of May took place in Cochabamba the Night of the Museums. On this one day, 21 cultural places of the city freely opened their door to more than 15 000 visitors. This event is organized since 2012 in Cochabamba and keeps on growing a little bit more each year. However, the International Day of the Museums is a worldwide celebration settled in May since 1977. So, here is a challenge to take. Is it possible to discover all of Cochabamba heritage in only one night?

By: Claire Leduc
Projects Abroad volunteer
Le manf – France

Martin Cardenas’ insects collections
Photo: Claire Leduc

For Luz Maria Ordoñez, Head of Department Cultural Heritage and Cultural Services of Cochabamba’s city, the main goals are to “commemorate and bring the people near to the cultural centers of their city”. From 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm I walked through the streets of Cochabamba trying to explore as much things as possible. I take you with me to disclose the heritage of this wonderful city.

3:00 pm Cochabamba is quite peaceful. I’m walking through the downtown without really knowing where I am going. I thought that I would be seeing queues around the museums whereas there is not the slightest piece of excitement. In the heat of movement, I finally discover a sign indicating Martin Cardenas House. Hesitating, I enter and no one is there. The house is empty. Well, empty of people and crammed of objects. I decided to go upstairs. The parquet creaks. Respectful, I walk through the botanist everyday life looking and touching his tools. It is quite strange to have such proximity with someone you know very few about.

Martin Cardenas honry titles
Photo: Claire Leduc

But the religious atmosphere which reigns in the house is already about to vanish. A wave of teenagers invades the museum. It is now impossible to circulate. Those young people are making an enjoyment of taking ownership of the house. The few of us try to escape from the tempestuous hubbub created by the mixed of the curious “Look what is there?” and “How does this thing work?” Luz Maria Ordoñez prevented us: “This year, we opened the museums earlier so that the schools can take the youngest to the museums until 5 pm. Thus, from 6 pm, the adults and families can begin their visits.”

I run away. Downstairs, I find the last safe haven of the house: the library. Looking at all these books, I imagine what it would have been like to work in the company of so many great authors. Looking at his herbariums and insects collections I guess what a meticulous man Martin Cardenas was. And looking at his trip pictures, I meet the very serious and deep look of an adventurer who felt in love with nature. What is known for certain is that he has been adulated during his life time. It is absolutely impossible to count how much honorary titles are hanged on the walls of this house. Believe me, I tried, and when I get to more than 30, I abandoned.

Crane in the UMSS Archeological Museum
Photo: Claire Leduc

4:00 pm Yet in the streets the atmosphere changed. The city stirs. At each corner, I meet either a group of students, a tourist couple or a mother with her children. An hour ago I was the only one looking for my way in the city while from know I just have to follow someone to find a museum. As promised by Luz Maria Ordoñez, I am spoiled of choices: “in 2013 we made it with 12 museums. In 2014, we already had 19 points and this year we have 21.” Thus, I am not worried about what will be my next destination. I just have to walk, turn here and there, open my eyes and here I am, at the UMSS Archeological Museum.

To access to the displays, I have to fight. Against who? Obviously, the worst enemies that you can have in a museum: troops of delirious pupils. Boys are very excited about gigantic bones and remains of crocodiles. Girls are all gathering around hand-made bags. Some 20-years-old-students are trying to make their way to some rests of the Inca civilization. One of them confesses to me: “I really like the museums. I already came here many times but each time I discover new things. And furthermore today I am allowed to take pictures whereas it is forbidden in other circumstances.”

Luz Maria Ordoñez prevented us: “This year, we opened the museums earlier so that the schools can take the youngest to the museums until 5 pm. Thus, from 6 pm, the adults and families can begin their visits.”

As one of the most important museum of the city, the UMSS Archeological Museum gathers a prestigious diversity of pieces: vases, clothes, kitchen utensils, weapons, fossils, cranes and even mommies. With excitation, a child points at one of the dried out bodies exclaiming “Look mother, she steel has hair!” “Indeed my dear. Do you know why they conserved the bodies like this? They thought that after death, the spirit went out of the body and came back few time after to take back its body. Therefore, they had to conserve it. And look how well it is now!” “But why did she had to die?” Such a great question that the UMSS Archeological Museum will not answer.

5:00 pm A group of students is very excited about the new Gamboa museum and wants to go there. They invite me to go with them. But yet the adventure begins for us because we have no idea of where it is. We walk looking at the map. We wonder at each passer-by our way whereas unfortunately, they do not seem to agree to one another. By casualties, we fall on the mARTadero filled of pupils.

Photo: Ximena Noya

We achieve to avoid them by beginning the visit through the streets of the district. Mural paintings are waiting for us at each corner. The colors are extraordinary. Some graffiti praise the Bolivian culture while others are engaged works for ecological issue. They aim to propose an alternative way of life. On the one hand, by finding back the cultural roots of a really diverse people and on the other hand, by short circuiting the aftermath of globalization.

Obviously, we finally find the Gamboa museum. A University student takes care of us from our arrival. She exposes with a dizzying pace a whole bunch of names, colors, designs, prices and celebrities names. Quite impressive. In a 15-minutes guided tour, we must already know absolutely everything about guitars, violins and their specificities. But what is the most noticed by all the visitors remains the charango. In the 16th century, when the Spanish arrived in Potosi, they came with a 5-stringed instrument called the vihuela. It widely inspired the peasants of the region to create the now well-know charango. Originally made with an armadillo’s shell, it is now most of the time made of woods. From the 16th century, the instrument and its Aymara and Quechua songs travelled through Latin America.

6:00 pm It is time for us to come back to the 14 de Septiembre square. From here, we string together the three exhibition halls of Walter Terrazas, Gildaro Antezana and Mario Unzueta. One work impresses everyone. It is the cyclist by Graciela Gallardo Barrientos. No many women expose in contemporary art, but she challenges all expectations. The mixture of colors and painting technique by aplats create an amazing result for a subject little exploited in the field of art. However, there are much more traditional subjects painted in these museums. Most of the artists’ works deal with landscapes of small Bolivian villages, Morenada dancers or still-lives. At this hour, most of the visitors come in family but the rules are broken: it is not always the older who teach the younger. Indeed, there is no need for education to see the beauty.

Martadero Cultural Centre
Photo: Claire Leduc

From now, each person I meet raises proudly her leaflet “the night of the museums”. Some seems to rediscover their city. At a corner, I see a father who has a great deal of difficulty in channelling his entire family while he tries to find the next stage on the map of Cochabamba. An additional success for Luz Maria Ordoñez who regrets that “in other periods of the year, we only have two publics in the museums this is to say the children and the tourists. But on this one night, the museums welcome all the diversity of Cochabamba. That is the beautiful thing about the night of the museums.” And indeed, in the Floristeria, a diverse and ever-growing audience circulates around the stand of artists and craftsmen. All of them have their specialties. Some paint, others sculpture and others make jewels. A merry mess shall we say.

7:00 pm Still with bravery and energy, we decide to go to the Cultural and Pedagogical center Simon I. Patiño. It is quite a long way from here but the buses are free, are not they? Yes, but I did not take the measure of the event before we arrive in Colon square. The queue is absolutely impressive. I think that it might take the same time by walking than by waiting. So after a well-deserved break on the place already livened up by the shows outdoors, we take our courage in both hands and start a 30-minutes-walk. Even if it is a little off-centered, the visit of this center meets a big hit. In the queue, everyone hurry to get the best place. Now, the turmoil is at its height.

Mural painting
Photo: Claire Leduc

How intimidating it is to enter in the house of such a legend. Simon I. Patiño was undoubtedly the greatest industrialist Bolivia had ever known and one of the five wealthiest men in the world during WW2. If I had to choose only one word to describe this habitation, I would probably use this one: heterogeneous. The dining rooms are French, Italian, Spanish or Arabic while the blazing yellow of the exterior walls comes from Cochabamba. I do believe that this house reflect Simon I. Patiño’s character. He was the kind of man who travelled and lived through the world adapting himself to different cultures and lifestyles. The price to pay for such an adventurous personality has been to never live in this wonderful house.

9:00 pm Welcome back to Colon square. The atmosphere is more peaceful here as concerts are organized. Between the present artists we shall quote Ricardo Cox. He plays social and folklore music and sometimes celebrates Cochabamba. There is a little nip in the air. Step by step, the city becomes quiet again. I meet exhausted but delighted families going back home while students and young adults pursue the night in some pub of the surroundings talking about this outstanding experience. Obviously, I did not discover all of Cochabamba heritage in only one night. I only begin to. I am on my way back with the envy to learn even more about this town and its extraordinary culture. Just now, I have a thought for Luz Maria Ordoñez who should be getting home with a smile.

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