vrijdag 29 oktober 2010

The afforestation of the Arctic

Global warming is melting the ice and creating space for weeds. All this is disheartening but I will be interested to learn how the primary people of the North will learn to exploit these new biological niches. The images show the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index of the globe and the arctic.

Vico and the Forest

Amazonian Garden shot in the Columbia

Giambattista Vico (1668 –1744) is one of those cornerstones of philosophy you sometimes hear about. I have CTRL-F'd my way through his New Science. What I got was an interesting view on the forests as an obstructing domain of bestial barbary. Deforestation as the purification ritual of civilization.     
This was the order of human things: first the forests, after that the huts, thence the villages, next the cities and finally the academies.

The use of "head' for man or person, so frequent in vulgar Latin, was due to the fact that in the forests only the head of a man could be seen from a distance.

Prometheus stole the first fire and brought it to the Greeks on earth, who therewith set fire to the forests and began to cultivate the land.

The poets however gave it also the monstrous form of Pan, the wild god who is the divinity of all satyrs inhabiting not the cities but the forests; a character to which they reduced the impious vagabonds wandering through the great forest of the earth and having the appearance of men but the habits of abominable beasts.

Hercules has come down to us as the founder of the Olympiads, the celebrated time-divisions of the Greeks (from whom we get all we know of gentile antiquities), for it was he who set fire to the forests in order to prepare for sowing the lands whereon were gathered the harvests by which the years were reckoned.

The plough shows only the point of the share and hides the mold board. Before the use of iron was known, the share had to be made of a curved piece of very hard wood, capable of breaking and turning the earth. The Latins called the moldboard urbs, whence the ancient urbum, "curved." The moldboard is hidden to signify that the first cities, which were all founded on cultivated fields, arose as a result of families being for a long time quite withdrawn and hidden among the sacred terrors of the religious forests. These [cultivated fields] are found among all the ancient gentile nations and, by an idea common to all, were called by the Latin peoples luci, meaning "burnt lands within the en- closure of the woods." The woods themselves were condemned by Moses to be burned wherever the people of God extended their conquests. This was by counsel of divine providence to the end that those who had already reached the stage of humanity should not again become confounded with the wanderers who still nefariously held property and women in common.

From these lands, it will be found, cities were called arae, "altars," throughout the ancient world of the gentiles. For they must have been the first altars of the gentile nations, and the first fire lighted on them was that which served to clear the forests of trees and bring them under cultivation, and the first water was that of the perennial springs, which were necessary in order that those destined to found humanity should no longer wander in bestial vagrancy in search of water, but settle for a long time in one place and give up vagabondage. And since these altars were evidently the first asylums of the world (which Livy defines generally as vetus urbcs condentium consilium, "an old counsel of founders of cities," as we are told that within the asylum opened in the grove Romulus founded Rome), hence the first cities were almost all called altars.

Every clearing was called a lucus, in the sense of an eye, as even today we call eyes the openings through which light enters houses. The true heroic phrase that 'every giant had his lucus' was altered and corrupted when its meaning was lost, and had already been falsified when it reached Homer, for it was then taken to mean that every giant had one eye in the middle of his forehead. With these giants came Vulcan to work in the first forges--that is, the forests to which Vulcan had set fire and where he had fashioned the first arms, which were the spears with burnt tips--and, by an extension of the idea of arms, to forge bolts for Jove. For Vulcan had set fire to the forests in order to observe in the open sky the direction from which Jove sent his bolts."
Thus in their science of augury the Romans used the verb contemplari for observing the parts of the sky whence the auguries came or the auspices were taken. These regions, marked out by the augurs with their wands, were called temples of the sky (templa caeli), whence must have come to the Greeks their first theoremata and mathemata, things divine or sublime to contemplate, which eventuated in metaphysical and mathematical abstractions.

The confusion of tongues came about in a miraculous way so that on the instant many different languages were formed. The Fathers will have it that through this confusion of tongues the purity of the sacred antediluvian language was gradually lost. This should be understood as referring to the languages of the Eastern peoples among whom Shem propagated the human race. It must have been otherwise in the case of the nations of all the rest of the world; for the races of Ham and Japheth were destined to be scattered through the great forest of this earth in a savage migration of two hundred years. Wandering and alone, they were to bring forth their children, with a savage education, destitute of any human custom and deprived of any human speech, and so in a state of wild animals.

donderdag 28 oktober 2010

Radical Anthropology #4 is available for download

Noam Chomsky is the shaman of the industrial-military complex, welcome to the intellectual highlight of the year! The fourth issue of the annual Radical Anthropology journal has just been made available as free PDF.

Kitkiddizze (the Snyder home)

Building a cabin in the woods (Thoreau, the Unabomber) is the all American form of dissent and Gary Snyder, the favourite essayist of all cryptoforesters, has followed the tradition. Kitkitdizze (the native name for bearclover) was built in the summer of 1970 in the deforested gold-mined foothills of the Sierra Nevada and has become something of an emblem in his personal mythology: the sage-poet living on a 100-acre homestead where "He pays the property tax, but claims no more right to the land than the other creatures that live on it". Kitkitdizze lives the philosophy of "reinhabitation: moving back into a terrain that has been abused and half forgotten – and then replanting trees, dechannelizing streambeds, breaking up asphalt". Snyder is a man of practical skill and his house combines features of traditional Japanese farmhouses and native American earthlodges.

Listen to the Guardian:
Deer peep through the foliage at the visitor on the three-mile unpaved road to Snyder's ranch. On a walk in the surrounding pine and black-oak forest, he points out claw marks on a tree-trunk made by a bear - the same bear, perhaps, that features in a recent poem eating all the pears from a fenced-off tree by the house. A wildcat dispatched his chickens. Until recently, the family had only an outside lavatory some 50 yards away, which, he says wryly, "could be dangerous in the mornings" - pumas also lurk among the pines, though seldom seen - but the Snyders now have the luxury of an inside bathroom with a polished wooden tub. He called the place Kitkitdizze, a local Wintun Indian word for the surrounding low ground-cover bush, also known as mountain misery. "We had our hands full the first 10 years getting up walls and roofs, bathhouse, barn, the woodshed. I set up my library and wrote poems and essays by lantern light." Kai, Snyder's eldest son, was a child when work on the house began in 1969. He has memories "of heat and dust and a lot of people working, and me getting underfoot". In the beginning, says Kai, now in his late 30s, "all our water had to be pumped by hand, which my dad did every day for about 40 minutes. It was good exercise, I guess. All the cooking was done on a wood stove, and our heating was produced by the same method. It was like a 19th-century lifestyle in lots of ways."

woensdag 27 oktober 2010

Cube condensations

Everybody in my little world knows and loves the condensation cube (Hans Haacke, 1963), it is an acrylic plexiglass biosphere of 30 cubic cm and holds about one centimeter of water. “The conditions are comparable to a living organism that reacts in a flexible manner to its surroundings. The image of condensation cannot be precisely predicted. It is changing freely, bound only by statistical limits. I like this freedom.”

It's power is immediate, it was to me and I have only seen the above pic, but why? It has nothing to do with art-world drivel that "the piece may be read as criticism against the closed system of the museum or gallery which attempts to control and contain." It also has nothing to do, as I read somewhere, with the 'fact' that it poses a hard 'question' about screens and surfaces; the Cube as a fivefold surface instead of one as in a painting. No, the power of the Cube is the no-frills directness with which it senses, shows and uses (the condition of ) the envrionment it is in. The simplicity of it can't be beaten, and even if the condensing only works in the controlled circumstances of a museum (??) it wouldn't matter. The Grass Cube (1967) and the Grass Grows (1969) are relevant today for their ecological approach, and when Haacke writes “I’m more interested in the growth of plants - growth as a phenomenon which is something that is outside the realm of forms, composition etc., and has to do with interaction of forces and interaction of energies and information,” he is talking the same language many artists are still using, but the Condensation Cube is not just relevant, it is essential. The Condensation Cube doens't show things, it 'knows' things. In a sense the 'condensation' is already saying too much. I wish the eskimo would exhibit it in an arctic open air artfair...

dinsdag 26 oktober 2010

The forest-garden within

Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff's 'The Forest Within' explains what the rain forest looks like to a people who have been part of it for thousands of years and for whom the forest is not nature but culture. 
It has been suggested that nature is hostile, violent and unpredictable, and that the Indians try to bring order into this confusion by categorising it. This may be so in some cases and some societies, but from what we have learned from the Indians, it is man and his basic impulses: food, sex, power,security, which are chaotic and must be controlled, while nature,far from being disordered offers many practical models for human behaviour and adaptation. Nature has its definitive structures and rules, its periodicities, the Milky Way, plant growth, animal behaviour, crystals and flowers, colours and odours. The chromatic scale of the rainbow, a phosphene perceived in a drug-induced trance, a seasonal fishrun or a bird migration, a meandering river in the forest; they are all models which offer security together with a wealth of intellectual and emotional stimulation. 
The following images are all remarkable photographs of swidden fields that give a good feel for their, to us, chaotic appearance. Amazonian gardens are part of the forest, not separated from it.  

vrijdag 22 oktober 2010

The utopia experiment

The Utopia Experiment (April 2007-September 2008, pics) was conceived by Dylan Evans as a scripted experiment in post-crash primitivism in which volunteers lived in a small community in the Scottish Highlands as if society as we know it had collapsed. From the comment section following an article by Evans and twitter-buzz it appears that the results of the project were, euhm, confusing (?), with Evans himself pulling the plug because he thought his volunteers too weird and social group dynamics moving into unwanted trajectories. James Durston observed it for a month and wrote a report for The Independent. Go read it, fascinating stuff. After noting that his desk skills (typing, googling, etc) are inadequate for yurtian self-sufficiency Durston learned that one learns very quickly, and that soon after one can pass on these new skills to newcomers. This is not that strange because, after all, gardening, foraging, simple construction work, do not demand special skill or intelligence; they are part of our core capabilities as humans.   
I spend most of my time in the garden, mainly because I consider it the most urgent aspect of setting up a self-sufficient community. Others, though, have different priorities. Tommy is here to see how the artistic and cultural sides of the community develop, and gets straight down to painting a welcome sign. Graham, a 19-year-old architecture student, is keener to build things, and starts hammering together the compost bins. Carla is more experienced in communal living than any of us and moves between spinning wool, making cordial and salting the pork joints from one of our butchered pigs.
In fact there is evidence that, all through the project, new arrivals have been able and willing to slot into whatever gaps need filling, as well as discovering their own. Take Dougie, a 49-year-old from Aberdeen with wanderlust. Tommy and I quarrelled fiercely with him on two occasions after we thought he behaved rudely to visitors to Utopia. In those moments, I questioned whether someone so antagonistic was appropriate for the project. But during his week on site, Dougie collected armfuls of chanterelle mushrooms from nearby woods, picked winkles and mussels from the shoreline and introduced rabbit roadkill to the Utopian menu. Without him, Tommy and I, the only other volunteers, would have continued ignoring our surroundings as a potential source of food.
That kind of personal knowledge, I soon notice, passes quickly to other members of the community. Within a day I discover that dandelion roots and stinging nettles make nutritious side dishes when cooked correctly. A week passes and I am baking my own bread and making dinner for nine people. Two weeks in and I have built a bunkbed, made a chess set and put up a sturdy support for a clutch of runner beans. Indeed, it quickly becomes apparent that the major challenge at Utopia is not the learning, which is contagious: the more one does the more one feels liberated enough to continue doing.    

donderdag 21 oktober 2010

The Unabomber's cabin

According to Wikipedia Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, built his own cabin in remote Montana, and I have to say: what a total failure of imagination. You would expect that a child prodigy in math would come up with a creative way of solving some obscure problem in geodesic dome design to underscore energy effiency and sustainability. Instead kaczynski constructed the dullest cabin ever: a stereotypical middle-class free-standing family house in mini-format based on the Walden template. Where is the garden gnome Ted? What strikes me the most is that it doens't seem that he has used locally sourced wood, in fact his cabin seems to been made from materials bought at the hardware store. This tells us that his body may have have been in the woods but that this mind was still in the city.  
The cabin was exhibited in 2008

woensdag 20 oktober 2010

Weeds are the fall-out of mass species extinction

[just in: One in five plants, one in five mammals, one in seven birds and one in three amphibians are now globally threatened with extinction]

Weed does not exist, as noted earlier, but David Quammen's 1998 article The Planet of Weeds' asks for closer thinking on the subject. As he is finding out about predictions for expected loss of species in the coming decades he also learns about the natural world we will end up with. As many specialized animals and plants will vanish a few robust and opportunitic species will step in and do even more damage: the weed species.

Listen to David Quamman:
 What do fire ants, zebra mussels, Asian gypsy moths, tamarisk trees, maleleuca trees, kudzu, Mediterranean fruit flies, boll weevils and water hyacinths have in common with crab-eating macaques or Nile perch? Answer: They're weedy species, in the sense that animals as well as plants can be weedy. What that implies is a constellation of characteristics: They reproduce quickly, disperse widely when given a chance, tolerate a fairly broad range of habitat conditions, take hold in strange places, succeed especially in disturbed ecosystems, and resist eradication once they're established. They are scrappers, generalists, opportunists. They tend to thrive in human-dominated terrain because in crucial ways they resemble Homo sapiens: aggressive, versatile, prolific, and ready to travel. The city pigeon, a cosmopolitan creature derived from wild ancestry as a Eurasian rock dove (Columba livia) by way of centuries of pigeon fanciers whose coop-bred birds occasionally went AWOL, is a weed. So are those species that, benefiting from human impacts upon landscape, have increased grossly in abundance or expanded in their geographical scope without having to cross an ocean by plane or by boat--for instance, the coyote in New York, the raccoon in Montana, the white-tailed deer in northern Wisconsin or western Connecticut. The brown-headed cowbird, also weedy, has enlarged its range from the eastern United States into the agricultural Midwest at the expense of migratory songbirds. In gardening usage the word "weed" may be utterly subjective, indicating any plant you don't happen to like, but in ecological usage it has these firmer meanings. Biologists frequently talk of weedy species, meaning animals as well as plants.

Regarding impoverishment, let's note another dark, interesting irony: that the two converse trends I've described--partitioning the world's landscape by habitat fragmentation, and unifying the world's landscape by global transport of weedy species--produce not converse results but one redoubled result, the further loss of biological diversity.

Wildlife will consist of the pigeons and the coyotes and the white-tails, the black rats (Rattus rattus) and the brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) and a few other species of worldly rodent, the crab-eating macaques and the cockroaches (though, as with the rats, not every species--some are narrowly endemic, like the giant Madagascar hissing cockroach) and the mongooses, the house sparrows and the house geckos and the houseflies and the barn cats and the skinny brown feral dogs and a short list of additional species that play by our rules. Forests will be tiny insular patches existing on bare sufferance, much of their biological diversity (the big predators, the migratory birds, the shy creatures that can't tolerate edges, and many other species linked inextricably with those) long since decayed away. They'll essentially be tall woody gardens, not forests in the richer sense. Elsewhere the landscape will have its strips and swatches of green, but except on much-poisoned lawns and golf courses the foliage will be infested with cheatgrass and European buckthorn and spotted knapweed and Russian thistle and leafy spurge and salt meadow cordgrass and Bruce Babbitt's purple loosestrife. 

 Earth will be a different sort of place--soon, in just five or six human generations. My label for that place, that time, that apparently unavoidable prospect, is the Planet of Weeds. Its main consoling felicity, as far as I can imagine, is that there will be no shortage of crows.

dinsdag 19 oktober 2010

Emily Carr had vision

A few years I visited a retrospective on the Canadian painter Emily Carr, who is best known for her attempts to create a native (as in vernacular, not as a ethnic attribute) artistic vision on Canadian nature. At the time I was most annoyed by three pretentious art-snobs, all woman, who were mocking here amateurish style and awkward colour palette. Negativity always comes cheap. What struck me about Emily Carr is that I could really get, sometimes even borrow, the feeling she was trying to capture and the awesome spectacle of nature that she wanted to record. And I think that her unrefined technique actually communicated her vision and intents better than a more accomplished technician could ever have. I was especially struck by a painting of a totem-pole popping up in the landscape which I thought represented the pleasant feeling of arriving in a village after a horrible week-long journey through the wilderness. 


vrijdag 15 oktober 2010

First contact drawing & writing in the Amazon

These are a small number of recorded reactions of people of Amazonia to their first contact with drawing-on-paper and writing. The first question is: what do adults who have never drawn  (and who perhaps have never seen pen and paper before and are illiterate) draw and what does it look like? 
Here is my collection...

Awi (2000) collects the photos of Michel Pellander, drawings by indians from various tribes and an accompanying text, in Dutch, by Marion Hoekveld. The book does not offer explanations to individual drawings, but one can guess. The following discussion has several noteworthy observations. The  translation is mine, the images that follow are wonderful. 

Do indians from the Amazon, when they put pen or pencil to paper for the first time, draw like children? The intense concentration and curiosity to make something appear on paper is similar. The differences lay in experience of age and the experiences of a different environment. Indians usually have no concept of a horizontal line, nor do they have the habit of looking from left to right as you do when reading, nor do they have a concept of top and bottom. 
In the first drawings of the Arara the beginning is often the centre, from which the paper is filled circling from the inside to the outside. A picture they can study with similar intent while they keep it upside down; the rotation of the image does not seem to make a difference. The straight line is the first thing they learn.
To draw is to communicate. To capture an animal on paper is to draw everything which is there in reality, to give him two eyes even when he is drawn sideways. De Arara sometimes make a kind a X-ray drawings. They draw that what can't be seen, the bones inside an animal. The Yanomami draw their spirits, the upper world, the nether world, the rain, the thunder, but also the goldminers. They also draw sky maps, stars, and the moon. Stars are actors in myths of origin and they offer clues on time, direction, seasons, on agricultural cycles. Slowly Waiwai draws his territory. In his mind he follows rivers and tracks. De leaders of the Waiapi can draw cartographic maps; they have been involved in the demarcation of their territory and know every minute detail of it.
They also draw decorative motives: butterflies, turtle shields, snakes, fishbones, They have become abstracted. Ornament always refers to nature, they always have meaning. They are turned into patterns, on the skin, on earthenware pots, on wooden benches. In this way drawing has meaning.
Slowly but concentrated Kamaratxia Awa is drawing on paper, his thoughts seem to run through his felt pen, his hand freely above the paper. When he begins to draw, only after he has examined the pens very carefully, a world starts to appear which suggests am enormous ordered and controllable space. A world which is created from scribbles and dots.
By Karhitxia Awa

By Karhitxia Awa

By Werena Waiapi

Amazonian 'First Contact Drawings' first became prominent with Levi-Strauss' Tristes Tropiques, read the quote below, the pictures of Caduveo face paint are forever etched into every one who has ever seen them.

That the Nambikwara could not write goes without saying. But they were also unable to draw, except for a few dots and zigzags on their calabashes. I distributed pencils and paper among them, none the less, as I had done with the Caduveo. At first they made no use of them. Then, one day, I saw that they were all busy drawing wavy horizontal lines on the paper. What were they trying to do? I could only conclude that they were writing or, more exactly, that they were trying to do as I did with my pencils. As I had never tried to amuse them with drawings, they could not conceive of any other use for this implement. With most of them, that was as far as they got: but their leader saw further into the problem. Doubtless he was the only one among them to have understood what writing was for. So he asked me for one of my notepads; and when we were working together he did not give me his answers in words, but traced a wavy line or two on the paper and gave it to me, as if I could read what he had to say. He himself was all but deceived by his own play-acting. Each time he drew a line he would examine it with great care, as if its meaning must suddenly leap to the eye; and every time a look of disappointment came over his face. But he would never give up trying, and there was an unspoken agreement between us that his scribblings had a meaning that I did my best to decipher; his own verbal commentary was so prompt in coming that I had no need to ask him to explain what he had written. 
And now, no sooner was everyone assembled than he drew forth from a basket a piece of paper covered with scribbled lines and pretended to read from it. With a show of hesitation he looked up and down his list for the objects to be given in exchange for his people s presents. So-and-so was to receive a machete in return for his bow and arrows, and another a string of beads in return for his necklaces and so on for two solid hours. What was he hoping for? To deceive himself perhaps: but, even more, to amaze his companions and persuade them that his intermediacy was responsible for the exchanges. He had allied himself with the white man, as equal with equal, and could now share in his secrets.

The following drawings are from Portuguese paper called 'ONISKA: A poética da morte e do mundo entre os Marubo da Amazônia ocidental' (PDF-link) which looks really worthwhile and I wish I could read it. The drawings are probably representations of Marubo cosmology. 

The following images were used as illustrations in "Xingu, the Indians, their Myths", a  1970 book of Amazonian myths collected by Orlando and Claudio Villas Boas. The drawings are made by Wacupia. Kenneth S. Brecher in the foreword to the English edition tells us many relevant details about this First Contact Drawing-maker
The drawings which illustrate this book were done by a Waura tribesman called Wacupia, who using pen and paper for the first time, produced a fascinating record of the animals, spirits, and material culture of the Alto-Xingu. The drawings were done over a period of several months and in secret, as Wacupia feared they they might be interpreted as witchcraft by the rest of the tribe. The Xingu tribes paint their bodies and certain material objects in highly symbolic geometrical patterns, but they would have no interest in or occasion for drawing as a means of record or pleasure. The Waura do frequently resort to witchcraft, and I believe that Wacupia was very interested to see if he could [...] employ drawing as a means of reviving the dead or gaining control over the spirit of the object in question.

The following images are from the Xikrin, (Kayapo village) and were provided by malokeletrika.blogspot.com, who add "Xikrin women are responsible for body painting application to adorn men and women bodies, adults and children, with specific designs depending of sex, age group, ceremonial groups, etcetera. When women are solicited for paint in paper sheets, they reproduce the drawings in the paper sheet, as if that were the human skin. Xikrin men, when  asked to draw, produce a large array of spontaneous shapes, from the most figurative to most abstract."

There is little for me to say about these Mehinaku spirit drawings, they are screenshots from Carla D. Stang's  'A walk to the river in Amazonia: ordinary reality for the Mehinaku Indians'.

The First Contact Drawing image below is one of my favourites. It belongs to the following passage from Algot lange's "The lower Amazon; a narrative of explorations in the little known regions of the state of Pará, on the lower Amazon" (1914). What I like about it is that it is a map, so it should go here.

The sun now is setting; not a sound is heard in the maloca except some japlm birds chirping around their suspended nests, and a couple of arara parrots which are roosting in the tall Brazilnut tree at the end of the maloca. Otherwise all is silent. I am pleased to see for the first time a couple of these parrots at rest and "at home."
I find this is the best hour to record my observations of the day as only the old chief has enough patience to sit by my hammock to bother me. He watches intently the movements of the pencil over the paper and now and then he points at some word, looks at me grinning, and says something. I give him the pencil and my note-book. He seizes the pencil awkwardly and after some minutes returns it. He has tried to imitate handwriting and feels proud (sec page of note-book). Then he asks smilingly for the book again and draws some more, shows me the drawing, and ejaculates Kari Katu Kuyamhira (Good white relative). This is the figure marked "A" on the right of the illustration. The scrolls represent his idea of the surrounding forest. Old Tute also joins in these attempts at writing longhand and his effort is presented on the same sheet.

Joe Kane observed the following on First Contact Drawing by the Waorani but gives no example in his book 'Savages':
Miniwa spoke no Spanish, but he was, as near as I could tell, absolutely without fear. His gaze was so penetrating, so intense, that whenever it came to settle on me I felt very much as if he intended to "hunt you like a wild pig." ... One day he reached down, yanked my pen out of my hand, and, gripping it like an ice pick, drew on the page. He made a series of half circles, opening first one way, then the opposite way, back and forth. When he finished he pointed to one of them and said a whole lot of things, of which I caught only one word: Menga. It would be weeks before I understood that Miniwa had drawn a map. The half circles represented watersheds, with creeks and rivers running one way, then another. In the middle, at the biggest divide, we would find Menga: still on the ridge, still, for all intents and purposes, beyond contact.
Dan Everett adds the following on the Pariha in his book 'Don't sleep there are snakes':
The Pirahas would 'write stories' on paper, which I gave them for this purpose at their request. These inscriptions consisted of a series of identical, repetitive, usually circular marks. But the authors would 'read' their stories back to me, telling me something about their day, about someone's sickness, and so on - all of which they claimed to be reading from their marks. They might even make marks on paper and say Portuguese numbers, while holding the paper for me to see. They did not care at all that their symbols were all the same, nor that there are such things as correct and incorrect written forms. When I asked them to draw a symbol twice, it was never replicated. They considered their writing to be no different from the marks that I made. In classes, we were never able to train a Piraha to draw a straight line without serious 'coaching', and they were never able to repeat the feat in a subsequent trials without more coaching. Partially this was because they see the entire process as fun and enjoy the interaction, but it was also because the concept of a 'correct' way to draw things is profoundly foreign.

There is of course only one proper art of the Amazonia and that's bodypaint, all are taken from this excellent French blog.