Gabriel Marquez and Gertrude Blom
Gabriel Garcia Marquez with a book on his head.
photo by Gertrude Blom
It is difficult for most of us now to go even a few days without being made aware of a new ecological disaster, a climate change development or the impending extinction of a species. Harder so to imagine a time when the negative effects that humans have upon the planet was not of common knowledge and was even discredited and largely ignored. Capitalism has devasted the natural world through deforestation and mass industrialization and this month we are exploring the work of two artists who have used their voices to challenge the world view surrounding these issues. This month at Sendb00ks we are excited to share with you the photographic work of Gertrud Blom to be sent out with a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Blom is recognized as the first female ecologist of the Americas and at the beginning of the twentieth century she was the first woman to combine ecology, anthropology and photography to journal the demise of the Lacondan rainforests and the harmful effects it was having on the animals and the people that called it their home. Born in Switzerland, many miles from Marquez’ native Columbia, they both grew to call Mexico City their home and dedicated their lives to preserving and documenting the essence of humanity to be found in and around the deep jungles of South America. Marquez shared his politics with Blom, remarking that “my family influenced me toward rebellion rather than toward upholding the established order.” He remembers of his grandfather that “instead of telling me fairy tales when I was young, he would regale me with horrifying accounts of the last civil war that free-thinkers and anti-clerics waged against the Conservative government.” Both of their bodies of work are centered around the natural world and use Mexico as a microcosm through which to explore the harm done globally by corruption, greed and power. As Blom so perfectly surmised: “It is not possible to help others if their habitat is destroyed.”
While Blom remains a relatively anonymous figure from the twentieth century, it is more than likely that you have heard of Gabriel Garcia Marques, the father of magic realism. He is widely considered one of the greatest Columbians to have ever lived, and his seminal book One Hundred Years Of Solitude was described by Kennedy as “the first piece of literature since the Book Of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” We have decided to send Love in The Time Of Cholera in admiration of this book as a meditation and an anatomy of love in all of its forms from “giddy adolescent love, mature love, romantic love, sexual love, spiritual love, even love so virulent it resembles cholera in its capacity to inflict pain.” It is a love story but also a reflection on the passing of time, the importance of memory and the cyclical nature of life and, like all great pieces of literature, you can feel a keen sense of his influences in this text. His handling of the time and his ability to notice the extraordinary in the mundane is comparable to Proust and James Joyce, writers he greatly admired. His exploration of the spiritual and his handling of the phantasmagorical in his text derive from his love of Kafka, his attention to the land and the importance of travel an ode to Faulkner, another hero of his.
Gertrude Blom moved to Chiapa to capture life in the jungle after an early life spent, much like Marquez, as a journalist fighting for socialist and pacifist issues. Her immigration to Mexico was due to the rise of fascism and the war sweeping across Europe and she found herself in the depths of South America setting out on a solo mission determined to preserve the isolated Lacandon tribe she found and documented there. It was in these very jungles that Blom met her husband, a fellow jungle explorer and cartographer who discovered many ancient Mayan ruins. They created a centre together named La Balum or The House of the Jaguar (out of the Lacandone’s confusion of the name Blom with their own word for Jaguar.) The magic of her story seems like something lifted straight from a Marquez book, unbelievably improbable, epically romantic and relentlessly hopeful. Both of their depictions of the area have the power to make us feel as though we been to the very places they speak of, and connect us with these issues simply by the torrential force of their creative talents.
And yet South American life is so dramatic that Bloms’ work and Marquez’ writing deals in mystical realism simply by association with the landscape. Marquez once said, “the problem is that the Caribbean reality represents the wildest imagination…It was not one of those [stories] that are invented on paper. Life invents them.” Critic Michael Wood has noted that “the world this writer grew up in was effectively a García Márquez novel before he even touched it.” His work jumps between the real, the dreamlike and the spiritual with dizzying speed and in Blom’s frozen photographs of people now lost to the passages of time, you are witnessing something sliding into the unknowable past before your very eyes. Her photographs seem as though on the cusp between reality and fiction, a diminishing tribe shown as lonely apparitions, lost amongst the trees. These traits of magic realism abound in both of their work and serve to highlight the incredible spirituality of the area, the palpable magic of the Mexican jungles.
Reading the works of Gabriel Marquez and looking through the photography of Gertrud Blom is to be confronted with the vulnerability of nature and the fragile dependence we have on it. The tribes of Blom’s affections are entirely reliant on nature to survive and many are totally secluded from society, yet the faces we see in her portraits are entirely our own, vividly emotive, connected and alive, regardless of the otherness of their existence. Dip into any page of most of Marquez’ books and the tales of his human characters share the lines with their surroundings, their landscapes playing as big a character as anyone. They both shared the fearlessness to champion communities who could not speak for themselves and advocated for change amongst the areas and peoples most in need of help. Blom risked her life many times for her work while Marquez says of his initial desire to write about his hometown at a young age: “I believed I did not need good luck in order to write well. I did not care about glory, or money, or old age, because I was sure I was going to die very young, and in the street.” He ended up founding the América Latina en Acción Solidaria (Latin America in Solidarity Action), a group of Latino artists who are confronting the social emergency facing millions of children in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Written by Katie Brown