La Paz, with its extravagant, bustling and chaotic life, creates a fertile ground for cultural assembling. The immense highlands of the altiplano in El Alto are juxtaposed to the agglomeration of small houses in the valley, the intricacy of the historical center contrasts with the fake modernity of the Zona Sur area. The VS questions the ideas of identity, folklore translated into architecture.
This happens through the investigation of contemporary rituals: from the Alasitas to the Oruro Carnival, from the Gran Poder to the Virgen Del Carmen. These festivals are a form of religious celebration, showing a syncretism between Andean paganism and Catholic elements.Folkloric dances are always the protagonists of these ceremonies, with their unique costumes, musical instruments and rhythms. Masks are an essential part of these processions, allowing dancers to adopt the personalities which populate the country’s myths and legends.
The VS elaborates the symbolic, compositional and aesthetics elements of these traditional dances and and their mutual direct relationship with Andean cholets. We highlight how architecture and folklore both become privileged witnesses of a symbiosis among indigenous features, religious and political instances. They shape a faceted compound of Pop and popular culture, expressed through contaminated visual languages.
Students have to challenge design principles and spatial hierarchies, carefully selecting ready-made pieces and miniatures, which then become symbolic fragments to be de-contextualized in terms of meaning, proportions and materiality – to create radically new artifacts.
Freddy Mamani Silvestre moved to El Alto as a young man. His father, a bricklayer, taught him to build. Walking into one of his buildings is like coming out of a rabbit hole into an electric Bolivian wonderland. It’s a jolt to the rods and cones.
On the altiplano, demons, dragons and angels, together with real-world creatures like bears and owls not only populate the folkloric parades, but also dictate the geometrical abstract motifs of the facades and the proportions of ornamental details.
The interiors of the cholets feature two storey ballrooms that are spellbinding tapestries of bright paint, LED lights and playful Andean motifs: chandeliers anchored to butterfly symbols, doorways that resemble owls and candy-coloured pillars that could hold up a Willy Wonka factory. One soaring wedding hall evokes the inside of a reptile, with arching roof beams like dragon ribs and huge orange curlicue mouldings that could be alligator eyes.
“We use the colours of our textiles, colours that are alive,” said Mamani, who traces his inspiration to the elaborate shawls and other traditional garments made by his mother and fellow Aymara weavers.
Many Bolivian festivals are a form of religious celebration, expressing a syncretism of paganism and Catholicism.
Folkloric dances have their unique costumes, musical instruments and rhythms, and these celebrations may last for days, often from early morning to late at night. The Visiting School will investigate some traditional dances, that from the Andes have spread throughout the country and can be found in many of Bolivia’s largest processions, like the Diablada, the Morenada and the Caporales.
Masks are an essential part of Bolivian celebrations, allowing dancers to adopt the personalities which populate the country’s myths and legends. Demons, dragons and angels join representations of real-world creatures like bears and beavers. Most interesting are the masks based on characters from Bolivian history, such as caricatures of Spanish matadors, and African slaves brought over to work in Potosí’s mines.
Therefore, merging indigenous features with religious and political instances, masks are often the witnesses of a cultural symbiosis, translated into a contaminated aesthetics.
The Aymara culture presents a strong attitude towards colours, textures, patterns, animals and anthropomorphic figures.
In the works of Andean artists, all these elements are interlocked with mutual symbolic relationships. The colours and the geometries they use have specific meanings and represent parts of their culture, recalling the folklore and beliefs of Aymara people. In Roberto M. Mamani’s paintings, he uses historical metaphors and envisions gender connections: yellow suns are male, pointed mountains are male, rounded mountains are female, blue moons are female, horses (brought to the Americas by the Spaniards) represent the colonization and enslavement of his people.. Each piece tells a story and each colour and shape is specifically chosen to represent parts of that story.
The attention for colours and graphics is so rooted in Bolivian society that it can be found in a lot of more popular and Pop items: from the folkloristic costumes used during many festivities to certain public advertisement campaigns.
It is therefore a visual culture open to contaminations, that involves, combines and represents also themes not stricly related to Andean traditions.
During the Alasitas Fair, to have their wishes satisfied, Bolivians purchase a small statue of Ekeko – the Tiwanakan God of abundance and prosperity – to put in their homes throughout the year. They then buy the miniature items they hope Ekeko will grant in real life, pinning them to his poncho, while praying for good fortune.
Since Ekeko is a demanding God who must be kept happy, Bolivians also light a cigarette in his mouth, sometimes throwing a bit of alcohol on the door in front of him before drinking it themselves.
However, this ritualistic attitude is always alive in La Paz: everyday of the year you can buy small metal tools, wooden or textile pieces in the area between Calle Sagarnaga and Calle Los Andes. Most of these fragmets have or can acquire symbolic connotations in specific ceremonies.
One of those is the “challa” – a ritual to praise the Pachamama that is based on the act of watering the earth or another good with alcohol. In this ritual very common element is a colorful altar where o erings are made, covered by a series of edible elements, fruits, candies, spices and flower petals.