Braids and Bowlers: Indigenous Bolivian Women Skateboard in Style in Celia D. Luna’s Empowered Portraits
Against the pastels and earth tones of a skate park in Bolivia, Miami-based photographer Celia D. Luna captures the vibrant energy and determination of women who express solidarity and strength through a love of skateboarding. Part of her series Cholitas Bravas, “Cholitas Skaters” focuses on a group of Indigenous Bolivian women who wear traditional clothes while practicing extreme sports. “I’ve always admired brave women and culture; it’s in my DNA,” she says, describing that her upbringing by a single mother in the Andes Mountains of neighboring Peru instilled an admiration for courage and perseverance.
As recently as the last two decades, Bolivia’s Indigenous Quechua and Aymara women, known derogatorily as “cholitas,” were marginalized and ostracized from society. Distinguished by their long braids, wide skirts, and bowler hats—an amalgamation of styles resulting from Spanish colonizers forcing Indigenous people to adopt European styles during the Inquisition—the style evolved into a symbol-rich, empowered look.
Indigenous Bolivian women were historically banned from entering some public spaces, could not use public transportation, and were burdened by extremely curtailed career opportunities. They have been advocating for their civil rights since the mid-20th century, but it wasn’t until the election of the nation’s first Indigenous president in 2006 that the Cholitas finally achieved some success in restoring their rights, and the pleated skirts, lace blouses, and sombreros prevail as emblems of their cultural roots.
Luna tells Colossal that the women’s choice to don traditional apparel is for “some of them in honor of their ancestors and some of them because that’s what they wear in their everyday life. I was taken by their courage and their love for their culture, and I wanted to capture that.” Her portraits highlight each individual as she skates around the park, gathers together with the group, and poses with her board as she gazes commandingly at the viewer.
“Cholitas Skaters” is one of a trio of sub-series that comprise Cholitas Bravas; the other two chapters focus on female rock climbers and wrestlers. Find more on Luna’s website and Instagram.
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Bolivia’s Powerful Cholitas Luchadora Wrestlers Photographed by Todd Antony
Photographer Todd Antony (previously) documents Bolivia’s best-dressed wrestlers in a new series, Flying Cholitas. The women, who are indigenous Aymara, compete in their sport wearing voluminous petticoats, colorful skirts, and long-sleeved lacy tops rather than in the minimal, form-fitting spandex worn by many athletes around the world.
These ensembles resemble ones that Aymara were expected—sometimes even required—to wear during five centuries of oppression under Spanish occupiers. The wrestlers wear these ensembles to show pride in their history and take back their visibility. Similarly, the identifier “cholita,” originally a derogatory term, has been reclaimed in recent years by indigenous Bolivians as a point of pride.
If you’re curious to see the athletes in action, Luisa Dörr and Michael James Johnson were commissioned by Apple to shoot a short documentary on the flying cholitas, which you can watch below. Aymara architect Freddy Mamani has also championed indigenous Bolivian aesthetics with his buildings, which we’ve covered previously on Colossal.
Explore more of Antony’s wide-ranging photography on his website and Instagram.
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The Highest City in the World Celebrates Its Indigenous Culture with Freddy Mamani’s Neo-Andean Architecture
The city of El Alto isn’t just distinguished by its impressive altitude of over 13,000 feet above sea level or its self-governing status. This Bolivian municipality also sets itself apart with the distinctive architecture of Freddy Mamani Silvestre. The architect, who goes by Freddy Mamani professionally, got his start as a bricklayer and studied civil engineering in college. He completed his first building in this style in 2005 and has since created dozens more designs that incorporate circular windows, sharply angled rooflines and vibrant pink, green, and orange facades.
The massive buildings seem to tower above their architectural neighbors, but they aren’t private mansions. Many of Mamani’s constructions are multi-use structures, filled with ground-floor rental stalls for vendors, a second floor party venue, and apartments on top. His buildings are nicknamed cholets, a portmaneau of chalet (a Swiss mountain house) and cholo (derogatory slang for indigenous person).
Though many westerners draw comparisons to Las Vegas, Mamani clarifies that the shapes, colors, and patterns he uses are drawn from Bolivia’s pre-Columbian history. In particular, the aguayo, a bright woven cloth of the Aymara, an indigenous group that Mamani is a part of, inspires the architect’s designs. Mamani shared in an interview with The Guardian, “My designs are a modern expression of our culture,” he adds. “Since Evo Morales [the country’s first indigenous president] became president, things have changed a lot. We feel proud of being Aymaran.”
Last fall, Mamani built a ballroom in Paris as the opening work in the Cartier Foundation‘s exhibition on Latin American art and architecture. You can get to know the architect in the Great Big Story video below. Photographer Peter Granser also published a book in 2016 about Mamani’s builds, which is available on the Edition Taube website. (via Quartz)
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