Devenir Universidad | 2019

Indigenous University Project in Amazonia, 2019-2022


The quechua speaking Inga people of Colombia who live in the ecologically rich zone between the Amazonian lowlands and the Andes, invited me to co-create of their most ambitious project, an indigenous University. The aims to create an institution for research and higher learning toward life-sustaining ecological cohabitation in the Amazonian region. 

The vision for this institution is rooted in the biocultural paradigm recognizing that nature and culture are forming inseparable ecological relationships. Rather than streamlining knowledge into the utilitarian purpose of mastering and capitalizing on natural processes, the biocultural paradigm advocates for the ethical cohabitation between humans and the natural world. In light of the unprecedented deterioration of our planetary ecosystems, narratives envisioning future-oriented alternatives to Western anthropocentric science have gained a lot of traction in the humanities in recent years. The urgency to maintain the diversity of life forms on Earth has clearly revealed the necessity to also preserve the vast diversity of knowledges which coevolved with them.

In the Latin American indigenous context, despite the violent impact of colonization, the cosmovision that humans are an integral and equal part of all life systems has enjoyed a long uninterrupted history from which we have much to learn at this time. Locating the institution at the confluence of an Indigenous cosmological understanding of interaction with Earth and all species, and Western environmental science sharing these concerns, the project examines the many creative possibilities of bridging these distinct knowledge systems in fertile ways. The purpose of the institution-building project is to strengthen the indigenous wisdom, know-how and millennial experience underlying their understanding of life, to buttress these efforts with Western science and technologies, and by building an international network of partnerships. We see a major purpose of the University in driving the paradigm shift from an extractive to a generative and imaginative posture toward the territory. 

Tailored to the specific requirements for a life in the territories, the educational program will focus on environmental maintenance and restauration, agro-ecological production, Indigenous medicine, territorial history and law, indigenous language and ancestral signifying practices, and media literacy. 


Research & Cooperation

Grounded in an international partnership, the visionary indigenous-led project aims to complements indigenous knowledge systems with those occidental science and technologies which foster a supportive biocentric worldview. At the heart of our research lies the rainforest, the living cognitive territory, and the ways in which this knowledge can be protected and transmitted. In a collective effort we conduct foundational research, develop a concept and educational program for the University. We plan and build suitable architectures on plots of land adjacent to a large National Park in the Piamonte region. Together we generate audiovisual media, cartographies and architectural designs, stage public events and exhibitions and produce publications to support this goal.

The architectural part is based in a cooperation between the Architecture Studio Anne Lacaton at the National Institute for Science and Technology ETH Zurich and the PEI at the Architecture and Design faculty of Javeriana University in Bogota.

For the concept and pedagogic program, we closely collaborate with the Anthropology Department at Javeriana University, Cultural Heritage and the Art Museum at the National University, The Pedagogic University of Colombia, and Leadership of the Ecozoic/McGill University in Montreal. 


Upcoming exhibitions of Devenir Universidad

“Planet Love” Vienna Biennial at MAC, May 2021
“The Poetic Heritage” at Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong, August 2021
Installation and event at the French Pavilion, Venice Biennial of Architecture, with Anne Lacaton, September 17, 2021
Istanbul Biennial, September 2022
Art Museum at UNAL in Bogota, September 2022


The Online webs platform will go live by early September 2021.



I particularly thank Maria Belén Saez for having a peaceful and creative vision for the biocultural heritage of Colombia and for giving me the chance to become part of it. I am also deeply grateful for this unique opportunity to collaborate with the Indigenous Inga people of Colombia, a community I appreciate for their humor, care and intelligence.

Devenir Universidad received a generous grant from Coincidencia of Pro Helvetia Swiss Cultural Foundation.


The following images are from the site visit Tambor in Piamonte where the first center of the future University will be built; the meeting with Inga authorities in Piamonte in March 2021, and from 4-day kick-off meeting in Mocoa, capital of the Putumayo, where members of indigenous communites, particularly the Inga people, and several partner Universities and the UNESCO were brought together in October 2019. The meeting was hosted by Ursula Biemann and Hernando Chindoy at ASOMI, the Association of Indigenous Women Healers. It was financed by the Prix Thun for Art and Ethics awarded to Ursula in 2018.