July – Emoji Trees

Early Evening Yunnan oil on canvas 2014 50 x 150 cm Niamh Cunningham 2014


Very grateful to Sofia Ballon for this month’s tree story of a strange tree that seemed to be reappearing on her travels in Peru.


In 2015 I went on a trip to the north-central jungle of Peru with four friends.  The trip took us beyond Tarapoto where our plane from Lima had landed. We were destined to go through Gocta which has one of the highest waterfalls in the world. From there to Moyobamba a place renowned for its orchids and finally reaching the cloud forests of the southern Amazonas  Chachapoyas harboring ancient vestiges of the precolumbian culture of the same name. 


All the days spent with my friends were lovely, but it was the initial eight hour drive between Tarapoto and Chachapoyas, when I felt the closest to trees. 


As soon as we rolled onto the main road, I was surprised to see in real life and lining our travels, the same tree available as an emoji in whatsapp. Emoji design has evolved considerably since, but other than the christmas tree, I believe this was the only other tree in stock then. It was quite recognisable, circular leaves forming an elongated treetop over a slender light brown trunk. Literally, leaf by leaf, these same trees were swooshing in real life outside my window.

I immediately shared a snapchat video of the trees using the emoji. That has been lost since, but the vivid image in my mind and the sounds of my friends’ laughter at the coincidence, stay with me still. 


Before our evening arrival at Chachapoyas, we spent over three hours in Cocachimba, walking all the way to the bottom of the Gocta waterfall under the rain, in a damp and dark forest of ferns,  knobby-trunked trees, and vegetation-covered stone faces. The local birds cheered us on from their hiding spots in the canopy.


The five day affair ended back in Tarapoto, staying at a property that protects a part of the city’s forest. We have cute photos hugging enormous trees and memories of a final day well spent refreshing under their shade while dipping in the river. I have returned once more to the region, and again drove on that main road lined with “el arbolito de whatsapp”. The emojis might change and appear differently on other devices, but those trees will be safekept as such in my heart.

Sofia Ballon in Peru 


Memory Palace of Trees 2020 is an ecological art practice which invites your participation to tell a story (or give some kind of information) about trees. It is a social enquiry of how to live better with the planet and with people by simply sharing stories. You are cordially invited to tell me your story of a tree or trees. (email : niamh@niamhcunningham.com) I would love to hear from you. Throughout 2020 a story will be posted with either an artwork already made or perhaps your story will inspire me to make a new work!