The woven portrait you see above is remarkably complete and lifelike, with a unique pattern. Within the confines of its weave, it shows an old Quechua woman looking directly at the viewer. She could be the grandmother of my maternal grandfather.
Now you are looking at a woven portrait of whom could have been my maternal great-grandmother.
My great grandmother Sebastiana’s haplogroup is one of only five carried by the founders of the American continents, the common ancestor lived nearly 17,000 years ago in the northern reaches between Siberia and North America.
Sebastiana was a Quechua woman born in a little town called Vila-Vila. No photograph of her exists.
She never got old but died while giving birth to her third child, my grandmother’s brother. My grandmother was only six years old.
These portraits aren't photographs but a visual representation of grandmothers that I weaved
using Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The design of the portraits came about through a collaboration with artificial intelligence, or AI, in this particular case, I'm collaborating with a GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) program, DALLE-2. I wrote the words to prompt DALLE 2 to create a particular pattern. Programmers have named this process “prompt engineering”. It is like a game of chess in that it creates many possible outcomes, but in this case, it is creating new patterns of lines.
The program decides how to combine the lines that come from my words in order to create a new pattern that has never existed before.
Prompt engineering has given me a new way to understand the creation of an image.
I can't change the past and what happened to my people.
As a Quechua creator whose civilization was destroyed by colonization, AI is giving me the opportunity to create dignified portraits of the grandmothers of my culture.
I’m imagining and constructing my past through a collective digital memory as a form of resistance.
AI as a tool, has given me a way to build new ways of re-imagining my history and the histories of my culture that is not just an act of remembering or reconstructing a brutal past, but it becomes an act of creation, an act of resistance.
By weaving the stories of ancestral memory and artificial intelligence, "Awichas de Nadies y Todes" reinterprets my maternal ancestors and the old grandmothers of my culture.
Time, space and illusion are linked in these portraits.
The photograph above is of my maternal grandmother, Herminia, a Quechua woman who died before she turned 90, only a few years ago.
I miss her almost every day, her face was full of deep wrinkles. She liked to always tell me the story of the "Cumpa rabbit and Cumpa fox" an old Quechua tale, that has been passed down from generation to generation. My grandma always laughed a lot when telling the part that Cumpa fox drowned thinking that the reflection of the moon was made out of cheese.
In the ancient Andean view of the universe, it is believed that there is a deep connection between living and non-living things. This connection is why in our myths there is always life and death, or earth and sky.
Piqi, the creator of humanity, created Qaqa, the creator of plants. Qaqa, in turn, created Yacha, the creator of animals. At the end of this lineage is Awicha, who is both at the beginning and at the end. She is the grandmother who never dies.
A photograph of my grandmother Herminia Soto Montaño 1959.
The need to honour and reweave the past, to live in the present and create a future is our right.