The symbolic wealth treasured by the aboriginal heritage and the meaning of many of the practices and rituals associated with the ancient habitants of the Canary Islands are, in many cases, unknown. Following centuries of scientific studies, many contradictory speculations and popular myths still endure today that produce in the current population of the islands a confusing or even unknown imaginary about the culture of the society which preceded them. The weakness of this connection is, for many people, a symptomatic consequence of what has been perpetuated by the colonial process begun in the fourteenth century.
Many of the studies of the archaeological heritage and the many scientific studies carried out since the last century give an account of the complex use the ancient inhabitants of Gran Canaria made of geometric elements, light and colour as a means of symbolic expression. Used in architecture, ornamentation and cave paintings, these samples are still visible in unquantifiable archaeological remains and enclaves throughout the geography of the islands.
Such has been the development and popularity of this iconographic symbolism that today it represents a whole identity-defining universe underlying any allegory on the indigenous aborigine population. Popular manifestations, advertising, artistic influence … the presence of this stereotyped symbolism can be found everywhere in the islands despite the fact that any real knowledge of their meaning or uses is unreliable or purely speculative. It is precisely this paradigmatic fact, that we can never know for sure what the most representative elements of a culture actually mean, that has inspired this photographic project.
Exploring and studying a certain part of the archaeological, landscape and architectural heritage of Gran Canaria over the last five years has allowed me to elaborate a series of visual hypotheses which speculate on the social practices as well as the aesthetic representations of the aboriginal culture. This work, divided into different chapters, is devised as a series of speculative devices that question our relationship with conventionally accepted narratives, giving rise to new readings in the collective imaginary. Each one of these visual hypotheses within the project examines codes associated with the symbolism and practices of the ancient inhabitants of the Canary Islands and, by doing so, suggests a kind of permanence of the aboriginal expression and an unconscious connection in the present. They conceive the possibility that a store of wisdom, ways of doing and a taste have lingered in the collective imaginary, transforming themselves into new manifestations. The plausibility of the assumptions of these hypotheses is scientifically tentative, sterile and obviously uncertain. However, it is precisely in these shortcomings, in this deliberate uncertainty, where the reason for them to be examined resides.
In this project, photography is used as a means to question the truthfulness and certainty of the prevailing narratives, proposing the historical event as an uncertain fact. From this malleability, a photographic practice linked to archaeology wishes to explore the possibilities for an alternative narrative to influence common expressions and beliefs.
The underlying thrust of this series of speculations is none other than to suggest the ability of each individual to generate new myths, new certainties, thus insinuating the fragility with which the beliefs and narratives that define a cultural identity can be constructed.
The brief selection of images shown in this article come from the first of these visual hypotheses. Called Hypothesis. Be Form photography is used as a tool with which to compile purported evidence that supports the assumptions put forward. In this case two types of very precise images taken in two different kinds of highly specific places are deliberately related. Both of them were conceived as meeting places for coexistence and rituals. On one hand, the cave as the paradigmatic space of the original society and, on the other, the shopping centre as the site of contemporary rituals, as a ‘cave’ where the society of Gran Canaria takes refuge in the global capitalist colony. The formal associations of both kinds of cave underscored in the photos announce a speculation that brings us closer to the possibility of inheriting a relationship with the form, with forms. Accordingly, in one cave and the other, the photos replicate primary forms discovered in each one, presenting themselves as hypothetical evidence able to validate the hypothesis.
The cave, dug into mountainsides and ravines all over the geography of the island of Gran Canaria, as is also the case in many of the other islands in the archipelago, was a paradigmatic construction in the social organization and ways of life of the ancient inhabitants of the island. Spaces that provided refuge and protection and could be used to fulfil the needs of everyday life and also exceptional rituals and where a society could be distributed according to the position of the individuals in it.
The globalized model that has led to the construction of countless shopping centres, has been incredibly popular and successful in the island of Gran Canaria. The island, and more particularly its capital city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, is one of the cities with the greatest density of built commercial space per inhabitant in the whole of Spain. This eye-opening fact asks us all kinds of questions. One of them would suggest the possibility that the shopping centre is the cave longed for by contemporary Canarian society.
If there is one thing that this project suggests, then that is that asking questions could mean creating a bond, observing a way of allowing yourself to be, and that a discourse can become a question. Because asking questions can also be the beginning, the possibility, of a discovery.
Hypothesis is no more than an invitation to the possibility of reinterpreting the predefined, of generating an intimate certainty with which to call for the exercise and the right to redefine ourselves.
Rafael Arocha – Biography
Rafael Arocha (Gran Canaria, 1978) is a photographer and a teacher. His work addresses a heterogeneous universe that reflects an intimate echo engaging with power, perception and the certainty of both individual and collective conflicts.
He started as a self-taught photographer and worked as an assistant to professional photographers for several years. He has presented his work in solo shows at the ArtPhoto Bcn festival (2021), Santa Lucía Photography Biennial in Gran Canaria (2021) and Gran Canaria Foto (2017) among other events. He has also taken part in the group exhibitions In/Out: Un mapa possible (CAAM, Gran Canaria, 2020), Un Cierto Panorama. Reciente fotografía de autor en España (Fundación Canal Isabel II, Madrid, 2017) and Nuevos Relatos Fotográficos (Arts Santa Mónica, Barcelona, 2016).
He was awarded 1st Prize at the International Image Festival of Mexico, the PX3 Photographie in Paris and the Fotointerpreta grant, in Barcelona. His photo-book Medianoche won the award for Self-Publishing at the Cordoba Photography Biennial in 2015; that same year he was shortlisted for the Rencontres Book Award (Arles, France, 2015).
The publication of No Caption with Arnau Blanch won the Fedrigoni/PrivateSpace Award for self-published books in 2013. In recent years Arocha has also worked as a cultural manager and teacher, organising photography training and research projects, like Imaginar la Memoria, recently developed in collaboration with the sociologist and visual artist Silvia Navarro.