River Claure explores and questions the notion of identity as something essential and stagnant. He also approaches the landscape as an element of identification and identity construction, and how its destruction conditions community identities.
Virgen Cerro (Virgin Hill) from the series Warawa Wawa, 2019-2020. Courtesy of the artist.
Cisco from the series Warawa Wawa, 2019-2020. Courtesy of the artist.
Camión (Truck) from the series Warawa Wawa, 2019-2020. Courtesy of the artist.
Warawa Wawa is the Andean artist’s first major project, which has led him to exhibit his work at various photography festivals around the world. C& América Latina speaks with River Claure about playing, imagination and artistic endeavor.
C&AL: In your work Warawa Wawa, Son of the Stars in Aymara, you created a visual allegory of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. Can you tell me more about the project? And why The Little Prince?
River Claure: Warawa Wawa is a project that was born very intuitively and playfully. Something very beautiful about playing is that it is organic. Play is a profound idea that is limited to childhood; however, I believe that playing is an incredible way to generate knowledge.
It’s about recontextualizing The Little Prince in current Andean culture. This point of departure is an excuse to touch on themes such as how the Andes are represented as a rather puritanical and stagnant imaginary construct. It allows me to reflect on my own identity. My grandparents migrated from the Andes to the city in the 1960s and my identity is marked by the modern Western urban experience. The Little Prince allowed me to play, to allude to childhood, to formally produce images that are more pleasant, colorful, etc., and in the end, it was in direct dialogue with the concept of new universes and possible landscapes. The project is me traveling through those imaginary territories.
Oveja (Sheep) from the series Warawa Wawa, 2019-2020. Courtesy of the artist.
C&AL: You use the Aymara concept chi’xi, which translates as indeterminate color or gray, to refer to that kind of space where cultural hybridity occurs. Your work opposes the idea that indigenous cultures remain fixed as objects of the colonial gaze. You create new images, appropriating the tool the colonizers used. Tell me about how you give meaning to these ideas in your work.
RC: Chi’xi means gray, but it also refers to the way to make gray. When they make their aguayos (handwoven fabrics), traditional weavers join colored yarn creating the illusion of a third indeterminate color. Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui was the first to use this concept in cultural sociology. She talks about cultures that are contradictory, but at the same time complementary, and that is what interests me, the variegated, things that coexist in the same place at the same time but are disparate. That is an interesting term for thinking about cultural hybridity, and I think that fantasy can render those heterogeneous identities visible.
In my practice, photography itself is secondary, highly utilitarian and marked by the capitalist logic of mass production and retribution. I think a lot about the construction of the image, and I make that visible through sketches. The camera allows me to record them.
Villa Adela from the series Warawa Wawa, 2019-2020. Courtesy of the artist.
C&AL: Can you tell me about the role that play and fiction have, respectively, as process and as visual strategy in your work and how you became interested in those strategies?
RC: Photography carries a very heavy burden in relation to truth, but my work does not address those debates. Play interests me a lot. For me, it’s a space where the emotional meets what is rational and visceral. We have a very modern idea of what it is to be thinking beings, but in reality, I think that we are senti-thinking beings and playing is a way to reconcile feelings and emotions with reason.
Playing in part shapes children and they learn through it. As adults, we maintain a certain rigidity toward play, and I think that we need to unlearn those molds that we have imposed on ourselves growing up. I believe we need to learn how to play.
C&AL: Tell me about your process working with communities.
RC: The communities I’ve been working with are communities with whom I identify. I have been engaging Andean communities with my projects and currently mining communities. The way I incorporate them in my projects is very simple: I talk a lot. Working with communities is a long process of dialogue, earning their trust and being honest about my intentions.
Series Jinetes del Apocalipsis (Horsemen of the Apocalypse), 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
C&AL: What are your plans for the future?
RC: Right now, I am finishing a second big project. The project has to do with former mining towns in Bolivia, where post-industrialism has left its mark on the landscape, where the landscape has been damaged and where the identities of the mining communities have been damaged. I reflect on mining extraction and its cycles, through which the mineral is depleted, and how those cycles impact communities and how their quality of life is depleted. Compared to the first project, it has some more negative and sordid emotions than all the fantasy, play, etc., of the first project.
River Claure is a visual artist from Bolivia who uses imagination and play to reflect on identity and otherisation through photography and video.
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