In Converstion with

Cholita Chic: Visualizing the Cholitas of the Future

Through their pop art, the duo, Cholita Chic, visualizes the cholita, who for them became the symbol of a physically, intellectually, and emotionally emancipated Andean woman. Inspired by the Latin American Chicha artistic movement, Cholita Chic iconizes and extols this super woman that the cholitas represent.

C&AL: Talk to me more about the aesthetic influences of Pop Art on your work. What led you to appropriate and reinterpret that style?

CC: In the 1960s, paralleling Andy Warhol’s Pop movement, there was an artistic movement in Latin America called Chicha, and that was Andean popular art. The concept is practically the same, but it did not have the global impact that Pop art had. Popular art here was focused on music, particularly on cumbia, which is the only cultural element that all Latin American countries shared, and typography to create posters. We decided to appropriate that aesthetic and that creative mode, and we incorporated the use of photography, and we created a post-Chicha movement, focusing mainly on day-to-day images of women. What came out of that was something obvious, something we somehow created as a movement in and of itself, which we call Chicha photography.

C&AL: In your work, there are six axes: the border, migration and globalized territories as well as folklore, women and indigeneity. Can you talk about how those six axes intersect in your work?

CC: I think it’s about the territory where we live, Arica. Here, we have three borders—the Chilean, the Peruvian and the Bolivian. Arica historically has been a disputed territory. Before it was Chilean, Arica was Peruvian, and Bolivia wanted to access the Chilean Sea, which is Arica’s. Peru and Bolivia became allies during the War of the Pacific at the end of the 19th century after which Arica became part of Chile. Yet, the city of Arica does not belong to any country. Here, there is no Chilean, Peruvian or Bolivian identity. Rather, a multicultural community has formed here, because of the border. The work moves through the idea of cross-border women, attempting to dismantle the social, political, economic, and judicial patriarchy.
Cholita Chic are the first women to take off their skirts and opt not for an indigenous life, but rather for an independent university and professional life. They are a visualization of the independent indigenous woman of the future.

C&AL: Can you tell us about this imaginary you are creating about indigenous women and the Andean American experience and how audiences are receiving it?

CC: Creating Cholita Chic was like a political responsibility because it was something that had not been seen yet. As a photographer, one always looks for a story to tell, and as a designer, one looks for a visual solution to a problem. Subconsciously, we started creating visual solutions to problems that we didn’t even think existed. Cholita Chic started out as something small and has grown to such an extent that it is now part of Latin American art history.
We did not expect that Cholita Chic would have the impact it is having. A hashtag #cholitachic was even created, which many young girls use who attend events and identify with what Cholita Chic represents, an independent, entrepreneurial Andean woman, etc. In the end, our practice is generating collective memory.

C&AL: Can you explain how you establish an Andean-American message with regard to the Chile-Bolivia contingency?

CC: Arica has its own identity, and the women from here have their own identity. That’s why we talk about an Andean-American identity; in that way we eliminate the imaginary border lines and base ourselves more on territorial existence, which is real. We work with visual language and try to make it as sensitive and inclusive as possible. On the other hand, we rely on the research of anthropologists, curators and other intellectuals to strengthen our visual message.

C&AL: Why is it important for you to remain anonymous and who are the models of your works?

CC: For us, what is most important is conveying the message. We believe that when you know who the author is, it is automatically incorporated into the work, and we did not want the message to be attributed to us. We wanted to create a visual heroine that other women can identify with. In urban interventions we have used ski masks to accompany the work without revealing who is behind Cholita Chic. The performativity of the process of protecting the work, on the one hand, gives the work dynamism and, on the other, brings a poetic solution because in the end we became part of the work.
We recruit the women who pose for the photographs from professional schools located in the valleys where the students are of Aymara and Quechua origin. Also, through acquaintances and friends of friends. For many of them, participating in the photo session means acknowledgment and validation of indigenous beauty. By giving visibility to them and making ourselves anonymous, Cholita Chic could be any one of them. They are the next generation of cholas.

C&AL: What does the future hold for Cholita Chic?

CC: We are going to compile everything we have done with Cholita Chic since it began in 2014 and make it into a book format, including other artists’ opinions and interpretations since they feed the collective imagination that we’re trying to create. That catalogue will be published in February 2023.

On the other hand, there are many other things to see. The next themes we want to work on with Cholita Chic have to do with transvestites in recent folklore. We are going to talk about what it is to be feminine, reflecting on how the feminine is considered a risk factor for the macho system.

Cholita Chic is a collective that combines photographic production with performance art and artistic activism to denounce the exoticization of indigenous women and collectively form an inclusive imaginary with which future generations can identify.

Raquel Villar-Pérez is an academic, art curator, and writer, interested in post and decolonial discourses within contemporary art and literature from the socio-political Global South. Her research focuses on the work of women artists addressing notions of transnational feminisms, social and environmental justice, and experimental formulas of presenting these in contemporary art.

Translation: Sara Hanaburgh