Biennale of Sydney

Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpán

Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpanán. Photograph: Gonzalo Donoso

Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpán

Born 1952 in Kechurewe, Chile
Lives and works in Kechurewe


Oralitor, poet, essayist and storyteller, Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpán lives in his native community, Kechurewe, district of Cunco, in the Mapuche Region, Chile. 

Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpán’s thinking and writing expresses itself through an attitude of deep listening, entrenched in the Mapuche idea of ’Itrofill mogen,’ which relates to biodiversity, and an appreciation of the integrity of all living things. This notion acknowledges the integration of nature into all aspects of life, and accordingly, incorporates the belief that human beings are one with the surrounding environment. Within this, humans are removed from the centre of the networks constituting our engagement with the world. Rather, things relate to each other in ways that exclude human perception and knowing altogether.

Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpán encourages us to listen carefully to the things around us, as a means of accessing memory, learning and love. His appreciation of the beauty of nature imbues his writing with the same honest sense of wonder, and a deeply felt sincerity and openness to the Earth. Generously, he writes about the ways that Mapuche knowledge and worldviews can figure into resolving the problems that plague our times.

For the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpán’s poem Machiluwvn / Iniciación / Initiation, taken from his book, ‘Of Blue Dreams and Counterdreams’, transforms the façade of the Art Gallery of New South Wales across five large banners. These radiate with a colour that refers to ‘the Blue’ (Kallfv epew or Kalfü epeu), a significant colour in Mapuche culture that Chihuailaf Nahuelpán frequently employs in his work to refer to a deep and infinite cosmic origin. At the threshold of the gallery, these words enfold dreams into the world and the eternal into the present, inviting an attentiveness and a quietness to those passing through into the many worlds opened up by artistic creations within the gallery, and their intertwining of deep ancestral pathways into contemporary ways of being.