La Paz, with its extravagant, bustling and chaotic life, creates a fertile ground for cultural assembling.
The city is extremely faceted – 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 visiting school questions the idea of identity, folklore and rituals translated into architecture – that becomes thus a collision among a multitude of symbolic fragments, far beyond its disciplinary boundaries.
The project starts with the Alasitas – a religious festival where objects of common use are transformed into holy miniatures – in order to gather as many ready-made fragments as possible. Then, following a constructed narrative, they will be de-contextualized in terms of meaning, proportions and materiality to create a radically new artifact.
Through the study of Andean architecture examples in El Alto, students will have the opportunity to assemble their elements through an architectural hierarchy. From the cholets of Freddy Mamani Silvestre, to the investigation of textiles, masks and the ancestral ritual of mesa de la challa – all these references will be dissected to collectively build a new identitarian piece of architecture.
The workshop will end with the Carnaval of Oruro, where students will put together their individual pieces, spatially assembled and choreographed as parts of an architectural folkloristic dance.
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.