Announcing our Winter Competition Winner

Announcing our Winter Competition Winner

Congratulations to Claudia Forero! Claudia’s thought-provoking piece won the Sutton Writers 2021 Short Story Competition. She has kindly agreed to let us make it available to read here. 


It is not yet noon today, Thursday, at St James’s Palace, but it is already known that, if there is a Prince of Wales in the United Kingdom, thousands of miles away there is a King of the Amazon. Ramón Piaguaje is his name.

One of the halls of the Palace has been especially prepared to receive him. Prince Charles awaits him and upon his arrival extends his hand with pleasure, to which Ramon responds with a slightly bowed head and a smile on his face which is decorated with delicate red crosses.

The Prince is dressed in a dark blue suit and tie of a soft red, and Ramón in a knee-length green tunic, necklaces of natural stones crossed over his chest and a hat that looks like a bird nest decorated with green and yellow feathers. His bare feet, thick and strong, cling firmly to the richly patterned carpet contrasting with the Prince of Wales’ immaculate patent leather shoes.

They met thirty-two years after Ramón first discovered his enormous talent for painting that dense, exuberant landscape of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the same landscape that is beside him now in the form of a painting which stands on a wooden easel and, which moments later, the Prince’s assistants will take down to place on a red velvet armchair with a gilded frame and legs. The Amazon has arrived in the heart of London on a cold February morning in the year 2000.

Official cameramen capture every detail of both men’s movements. With scripted precision, they are ready for the first shots of them holding the painting standing either side of the imposing artwork. Minutes later, according to Official Protocol, Prince Charles will stand in front of his microphone waiting the hustle and bustle of the guests to quieten down before he starts his speech.

The press invited to the private event capture him talking about nature at a slow and steady pace, while Ramón listens with his head bowed and with an expression of hilarity and amusement.

It all began thousands of miles away in the Secoya Territory in the Cuyabeno Reserve, near the Aguarico River in Ecuador, when Ramón as a child enjoyed walking long distances in his Territory where his father, Cecilio, was the chief of his tribe.

Then, the little boy could have been seen walking with those same bare feet that today look very much at home on the mosaics of the great carpets of the Palace. In the past, they seemed to be rooted to a compact earth, often wet and resistant or thin and slippery due to the constant rain but Ramón was firmly grounded like the trees around him.

He always walked as if in no hurry, turning his head from side to side, listening to the sound of the tall, upright trees singing in a chorus of low tones, matching their rhythm with that of the birds that floated among the branches like clouds in constant movement while the monkeys scolded them, and the wild beasts roared in the distant depths of the rainforest.

But something different happened on one of his journeys when he was just five years old. Ramón arrived home as usual, and met Cecilio who spoke to him in Paicoca, his native language. The boy raised his eyes to look at his father, and he saw the delicate red crosses that covered his father’s cheeks as if he was suddenly seeing them for the first time.

At this instant Ramón closed his eyes, extended his arm and hand, and began to draw in the air. As he drew, his face became an illuminated moon with a big smile that rose to the sky.

‘Why do you stretch out your arm and close your eyes?’, his father asked him.

‘I draw the lines you have on your face’, Ramón said with his head still upright.

The next day Ramón sat in front of his hut silently talking to himself and observing. He was an only child, and this had shaped his character. He smelt smoke from a home wood burning stove and knew that his mother was already working. She then approached him with some bowls and cooking utensils in her hands.

‘Ramón, you can decorate these clay utensils using the paints and chalk that your taita uses to paint his face’.

From that day on there was no bowl left in his house without Ramon’s decorations. He painted them all. Then, his mother began to pass him tunics, hammocks, cabuya bags and finally they offered him their own faces as canvases.

At St James’s Palace the meeting between Prince Charles and Ramón is coming to an end on a cold midday.

The next morning, the front pages of the newspapers carried the news. Three years ago, wrote the correspondents, staff of The Windsor and Newton Worldwide Competition, went out into the world to promote the Millennium Painting Competition: our World in the Year 2000 of which Prince Charles was head of the judging panel.

On the BBC World Service page, a journalist wrote that 22,000 entries from professional and amateur painters from around the world had been received.

The representatives of the Competition, dressed in white suits and hats, arrived in the tropics where they looked overwhelmed by the heat; they have heard of Ramón, and they met him when he was already 34 years old and had already exhibited his paintings in Quito.

Life in his Secoya Community was going on as it can only go on in that village dedicated to fishing and hunting, a community of 600 indigenous people who, like Ramón, had worked and loved the land they defend, while agriculture expanded outside, stalking them very closely.

The first visitors to the region, were missionaries who arrived in 1599 and had stayed ever since. Ramón grew up with that symbiosis of both his own religion dedicated to nature and the foreign catholic religion, but he told the representatives of the Competition, that he had always painted the rainforest as he was deeply involved with its beauty and amazing existence.

Ramón continued to walk long distances in the Amazon rainforest, and he continued closing his eyes and extending his arm and hand to paint the air.

One day, on one of those walks, he stopped to greet the green river of transparent water in which the trees were reflected with blur green tonalities. Ramón observed and absorbed the landscape before him for a long time, then, he knelt looking at the sand at his feet. He touched it; it was wet but with a firm consistency. His small fingers began to dig into the surface, and he realized that sand would be useful to draw his lines, although it was a little rough. He wanted to find the precise line for his drawings and by poking and scratching the sand with his finger, his drawings began to appear on that immense natural canvas, half grey and half yellow. The trees, his beloved rainforest, were there on the sand capturing the atmosphere, the silence, the noises. Ramón’s emotion was immense.

“I couldn’t stop painting the sand after that day,” Ramón told the staff of The Competition. They, wiping the sweat from their foreheads with small handkerchiefs, listened to his story with interest and amazement, especially since all that was around was nature, small huts, water and trees, nothing even remotely associated to those basic comforts they had back home.

“One day, Ramon says, I went to the village at the invitation of one of the missionaries who told me that they had paper for me to paint on and from that moment on the Siona Secoya Community, had its very own portraitist.”

Word soon spread that deep in the jungle there was a boy who painted on natural canvases. The trees and nature itself echoed this story which was then heard by the North American anthropologist William Baker in 1993. This man was dazzled by the perfection of Ramón’s work, a true self-taught artist.

“I got my first oil paints from Mr. Baker. He saw me draw with my hand and with pencil on paper, so he told me “I’m going to bring you oils, that’s what great artists paint with” and then I felt like an artist, I told him I’m going to mix the oil paintings with colours of nature, and everything came together easily.” Ramón told the visitors with a crystalline, pure, and strong voice that sounded different when he repeated the word oil paints, and they saw his eyes sparkle and his face light up with joy.

Hours after leaving St James’s Palace, Ramón met even more journalists and artists greeting them with the same deep voice in a hotel a few steps from Marble Arch. It is now Thursday afternoon and is colder than at the Palace and the day has turned a little grey heralding a cold night with a freezing wind.

“I was sure I would win the competition.”, he had told the people of his community.

And so, it was. After the trip to the Palace where he received the not insignificant prize of £10,000 pounds for his painting Eternal Amazon, it was then removed from the Palace and is now exhibited at the Beaumont Hotel.

With the hours of travelling from his village to the capital of Ecuador, the long international flight, the ceremony at the Palace and the hotel, almost four days have passed, but Ramón

still looks fresh, smiling as he talks to journalists. He will then leave for Stockholm and then to the United States to meet with Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, a partner in the painting competition.

The front room of the hotel is crowded with journalists.

‘Here you are’, says one of the organizers to the media representatives, as he hands them a catalogue with photographs of all the finalist paintings, in which Eternal Amazon with a photo of Ramón is especially highlighted.

At the back of the hotel, there is a place adapted as a gallery where the finalist paintings are exhibited.

Ramón is seen, close to the paintings, responding to the journalists’ questions. Eugenia, one of the reporters from a Latin newspaper, approaches him.

‘Congratulations Ramón’

‘Thank you’. He speaks Spanish very well, but he doesn’t speak a word of English.

‘Did you ever think of coming to England?’

‘Before I came, I didn’t even know London and Prince Charles existed’

‘Aren’t you cold? It’s the middle of winter here?’.

‘I’ve never experienced this feeling in my life before,’ he says, ‘it’s a cold that creeps up from my feet and up through my stomach and into my head.’

‘Why don’t you wear something else?’

‘No, this is the traditional dress of my tribe.’

The journalists around the exhibition are looking attentively at each painting.

Eugenia invites Ramón to follow the tour. All the paintings are mounted on white easels.

There is Eternal Amazon, the long, green, and thin trees go up to the sky like tall, unbroken sticks. It is a dense jungle that sometimes opens at the top of the trees to allow the light to have its presence, its discreet but definitive role in the whole.

When you look closely, you can see leaves, erect trunks surrounded by foliage, vines that embrace them without suffocating them. Nothing else can be seen, but the silence can be heard, the life that emanates from the dark and compact earth of the Amazonian soil and is distributed throughout the universe.

Ramón, dressed in green, matched the painting, they are one organic art installation, one rainforest. They bring a message, the treasure of the Amazon. The journalists look at the painting, they analyse it, the trees instil respect with their presence, and there is something that throbs far away, there where the London winter can not reach.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *