The Yine women reconnect to their ceramic tradition a generation after their elders.
Melanie Dizon
October 27, 2023

GAYO | remembering the clay spirit with the Yine of Monte Salvado

In August 2023, the Xapiri Ground team shared an intimate two weeks in the Yine community of Monte Salvado, along the Las Piedras river basin in Madre de Dios, Peru. It was there that we created a workshop around the recuperation of their traditional ceramic arts through the spirit of the clay, whom the Yine refer to as “Gayo”; personified as a life-sized mask with very distinct features.

A Gayo mask in process / Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Las Piedras River at dawn | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Children on the riverbank at sunset | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Various members of the community shared their stories with us about “Gayo”, who inhabits the deep recesses along the riverbanks. He is a demonic spirit who would punish children with “ishanga” or stinging nettle to scare them away for playing too long in the river. He would appear draped in banana leaves with a large and frightening clay head. And thus, “Gayo” would become the catalyst in connecting us all to the cultural memory of the Yine ceramic arts.

Clay hands | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Harvesting river clay | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)
Collecting clay pigment | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Burnishing tools | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Each of the women involved with the workshop labored with care to create their own “Gayo” mask; a process of sharing that brought much laughter as well as mistakes and learnings. In reality, most of the women hadn’t touched clay for many years, making this time together a moment to re-remember and re-connect to their ancestral practice. 

Emily, Vilma in group working the clay forms | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Mask in progress | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

"I learned to make pottery only recently. Of course when I was a child, I would watch my grandmother making pottery, but I never thought of making it myself, thanks to gayo's project I am learning."

Salome Sebastián Vargas (Workshop leader)

Salome Sebastián Vargas | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Emily works the clay / Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

"For me, the experience has been about how to remember and relive a beautiful experience, a return to working the soft clay. At first we hadn’t done the process well because; as my mother told me, ‘the clay has its own rules’, and we didn’t exactly follow the rules, such as: not to laugh when one is connecting with the clay, not to allow the visits of men, and to be very serious in the process."

Emily Urquía Sebastián (Yine artist)

Vilma preparing the clay | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Lourdes creates her mask | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

"The experience we had with this Xapiri Ground project was so beautiful, we are remembering how to make our ceramics! We’re so happy to have learned how to make the "Gayos" and I’m proud of all the women who took part in the workshop. Thank you!"

Salome Sebastián Vargas (Workshop leader)

Gayo masks drying | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Salome in the open pit firing process | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

The women bear witness | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

"For me, the workshop that took place in the Monte Salvado native community has been very fruitful not only for me but also for the women, the men and the children of Monte Salvado because to remember our cultural past allows us to remember the Yine demon “Gayo” and therefore passes from generation to generation."

Emily Urquía Sebastián (Yine artist)

The future generation observe Emily | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Firing process | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Gayo is coming to life | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

Together, we and the Yine women of Monte Salvado have agreed to the mutual development of this work in honor of “Gayo” and the future of Yine ceramics. What you will see on exhibition is the evidence of this incredible process.

The Yine ceramists complete their first Gayo masks | Photo: Davis Torres (©2023 Xapiri Ground)

A special thank you to Emily Urquía Sebastián for the years of friendship and making this project possible, to Salome Sebastián Vargas for leading the women in this ongoing work of Yine ceramics, and to all the members who participated in bringing "Gayo" back to life.

This exhibition will be on show at the Xapiri Ground gallery from October 27, 2023 - March 7, 2024 with featured photography by Davis Torres.