Collective Promotes Local Identity through Art in Peru: C.H.O.L.O.
C.H.O.L.O is an independent collective of community art. The collective is composed by visual artists who are graduates of the National Superior Autonomous School of Fine Arts of Peru (ENSABAP), and who are residents of the district of Ventanilla (Callao).
C.H.O.L.O stands for, “When We Have Forgotten The Oligarchies.” C.H.O.L.O. promotes local identity and ancestral memory of the emerging sectors of Lima-Callao. The collective advances community dialogue to keep alive the practices of ancestral memory, community art, neighborhood participation and local identity.
Since 2008, C.H.O.L.O has integrated regional and national cultural networks including, RACE (a network of emerging cultural groups) of the urban periphery of Lima-Callao (2008-2010); the Community Living Culture program of the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima ( 2011-2014), and since 2012 the group has participated in the “Puntos de Cultura” program of the Ministry of Culture of Peru.
They were selected in “Good Cultural Practices” at the 1st National Culture Meeting in 2011. In addition, they received an Honorable Mention in the “Artistic Expressions” category of the National Prize for Environmental Citizenship – 2013, with the project “Parque Autoarmable Nueva Esperanza.” In 2021, they were selected to participate in “Espacios Revelados Lima” (Changing Places Lima) with the project, “Sonar la Ciudad.”
The current members of the collective include: Wilder Ramos, Nancy Viza and Marcelo Zevallos.
Latina Republic had the opportunity to speak with Wilder Ramos in an exclusive interview to learn more about the collective and his work.
“I am a plastic artist graduated from the National School of Fine Arts in Lima, Peru. I live in the city of Ventanilla, in the Callao region, near the capital Lima. I have a degree in plastic and visual arts from Fine Arts and studies at UNMSM.
At the beginning, in 2007, there were about six or seven of us who made up the group. Of those of us who remain, Nancy Viza is an artist who was born in Piura, a region in northern Peru. As a child, she emigrated with her family here in Lima and also graduated from Fine Arts. Likewise, we have Marcelo Zevallos who is also an artist graduated from Fine Arts and with roots in the Arequipa region.
Both did a master’s degree in Cultural Studies in Ecuador and are currently professors in Educational Institutions. The three of us since 2007 remain as living witnesses within the collective. What unites us is that we all have a degree in fine arts from ENSABAP. Our parents are immigrants from the province and the three of us are residents of the Ventanilla district. These characteristics define how we perceive art, how we consider art and how acquired art has to develop from our own identity roots.”
“The idea of C.H.O.L.O. comes from an exhibition in 2003 that a group of friends who graduated from Fine Arts did in Lima. C.H.O.L.O. are initials of an acronym that stand for, “When We Have Forgotten The Oligarchies” (Cuando Hayamos Olvidado Las Oligarquías). We decided to reflect on the issue of identity, since most of us were migrants or sons of provincial migrants.
At that time we wanted to express in an artistic way, what we felt. As descendants of Andean or provincial parents in an urban context, in that sense, we reflected a bit on our social condition, a hybrid, as sons of migrants. My parents are from the department of Ayacucho, from the southern Andean zone of Peru, and they migrated to Lima in the 1960s. In that regard, we are part of the first generation that was born here in Lima, Callao.”
The collective began in 2007 with people who shared the same purpose. Ramos explains, it emerged through others “who also participated in the exhibition and through new artists who joined and wanted to make a collective that had a sense of identity.” Through artistic cultural action, the collective addressed the nuance of identity: “How as sons of provincial migrants do we relate to art and culture?”
Over time, the collective has responded to several purposes, including, serving as a reference of emerging cholo art from a vision of sons of Andean migrants, promoting local identity, that is, an aesthetic of self-perception, and building a collective with community art participation, that also rescues the ancestral memory.
“We consider that there is collective art, but community art is like a different process of deeper collective values; collective art can be any type of group that signs up to make art and exhibitions or interventions. But community art? The main characteristic is that he gets involved, he is part of something.
In this sense, we consider ourselves part of a community. And here in Ventanilla, this is one of the neighborhoods that emerged at the end of the last century, with a population of 5,000 and with the migration processes, since the end of the last century the population has increased to more than 300,000 today.
And this emerging population, can be said, makes its own self-sustaining development and there is a lot of connection with what this neighborhood participation is, the participation of community work. And that is what nourishes this aesthetically from our vision of what community art is. That is why we define community art as art rooted in the ancient Andean traditions, brought here to the city of Lima. And this helps us to be able to develop a type of art in which we get involved as if it were the same, with a horizontality in its actions.”
“We believe that community art currently responds to two factors: One, which is local identity, a sense of belonging. Currently we consider that it is the ancestral memory, how these memories of our ancestors are located in an urban context and how they dialogue with what is a westernized society and from that dialogue we can establish a certain type of change of patterns that serve us to define what local contemporary art is.”
There is a difference between Peruvian art and the artistic creation of the collective. “The difference is based on a certain type of ethics and formal aesthetics advocated by Western modern art. This in an art school that was based on an institutional Western aesthetic, which gave priority to the idea of the artist as a creator, as a genius. They want his work to be a reflection of their own interiority away from social reality. We believe that it is an imposed vision and that there are other different ways of living it and interrelating with society and the environment. This Western vision is based on the individual hierarchy imposed by the idea of nature/culture that began in the 16th century with the imposition of the Western culture-world systemic model.”
“Western culture has made this disintegration between what is matter and what is form, between what is nature and what is man. We believe that this hierarchical idea, of man above all, is a model of thought about collective creation, which is based on the idea of community. Of course, our idea of collective art is more of a community art that is based on the idea that there is a conception of reality, in which nature and culture are not separated or divided.
We are part of a whole, we are part of a horizontal relationship. We are not thinking, looking for the beauty of man or of the human being above all else. We are in a horizontal dialogue between all the factors or elements that intervene in existence, both human.”
Ramos goes on to explain how collective creation is based on the idea of a community that develops actions, where art production is shared and is referenced in the search for solutions or reflections on a state of affairs or situations that entail a certain social conflict. From this perspective, collective art is practiced in any alternative space from the Creole institutional formality, to an emerging community social environment.
Provincial migration to the city, in the last century, forms (formed) a new social actor, or rather, made visible those sectors hidden by the official rhetoric of a Creole republic imposed as a model of normative modernity. These sectors also express themselves “culturally” in parallel to the Creole institutions. This systemic heterogeneity, symbolically expressed in the hegemony of the criollo over the cholo, has created a wound in the urban and rural sensibility of the Peruvian being; still, to this day, unresolved.
“Our aspiration is the provincial abnegation of the city, of a little of what as a group we have wanted to unite. I mean, how is this? this social situation? Does it serve us to express a certain type of “art” or “culture,” that dialogues, or reflects, or criticizes the formal vision of what we call Creole art and that would work only as an image?
That is to say, in what way our ancestral memories in the urban context dialogue, reflect, question, criticize, collide with this type of sociability, that imposed institutionality, and that has not yet been resolved. And that is a bit of the inspiration in which we move.”
There are many themes and artistic media formed by the collective, main themes such as memory and identity, and artistic media such as: Recycling, Installations, relational plastic, Interventions, murals, performance, photography, video art, posters, podcasts and workshops. And in memory I think they are parts of a whole that are interrelated. There are some projects in which we base identity more, others we do it more in memory and others in which both concepts dialogue.
In recent years we want to rescue this sense of conception of a model in which memory prevails more. different from the modern rational model. It is not only in terms of artistic issues. The artistic means I think are more than the technical bases. We have used recycling in the installations, interventions in public space, murals, performance, photographs and video art of posters deposited in our workshops. We have made a type of art that we call relational plastic.”
Ramos went on to stress that more than a rejection, it is a critical alternative to the traditional art system (Western, modern, postmodern). They consider that “collective art” has its most diverse variants and purposes; in particular C.H.O.L.O. goes more for an ethical and political incidence of the group towards the community. In this sense, community art persists from a local and historical context. Additionally, there is a deep connection between C.H.O.L.O. and the School of Fine Arts. Ramos spoke about the influence of his studies at the School of Fine Arts and his relationship with the group.
“During the years that we have graduated we have formed this relationship, because we have participated in different calls to carry out conversations, forms, exhibitions. That relationship has always existed, of dialogue. The influence occurs in, I think, in two ways: On the one hand, the social origin of the students is mostly one.
Fine Arts students are children of migrants from Andean provinces. And the heterogeneous aesthetic tradition of the Fine Arts, when it was founded in 1918, under the Eurocentric academic logic, introduced a variant at that time represented by Sabogal. He was one of the first teachers and his tendency of what is the art of indigenism. Thus in Fine Arts, as a heterogeneous aesthetic tradition, is represented that division between the Western and the Andean. Both factors intersect, dialogue, and meet again.”
Continuing our conversation, one question I was curious about was what makes Peruvian art so unique. What separates it from the rest of Latin America? The original root of Peruvian art is ancient. The slopes of Peruvian art are expressed in the confluence between the western and Andean slopes. Hence, the phrase “Peruvian art” is a great umbrella that gives several meanings. There are differences and similarities. Some believe that within Latin American art there are more similarities than differences.
“And we believe that Latin American art has more similarities than differences, because we have found some similar aspects of art, for example, in Ecuador, Bolivia or Argentina, Colombia or Chile. Something that connects us. That we consider to be part of our own identity. The possibility of a certain type of ancestral tradition and that we believe that we are part of that.”
As a whole, there have been challenges that the group has gone through. Developing community art in an urban context implies recognizing the difficulties that arise from an artistic perspective. The lack of adequate academic preparation from artistic education on the realization of cultural projects meant that in practice there is an approach to recognizing its value within contemporary art.
“The shortcomings of a fairly formal and academic school of Fine Arts, didn’t give you the tools so that when you left you could develop certain kinds of cultural projects, community relations projects. We have learned this, as well as through the confluence with other cultural organizations that did have these tools. I can tell you that from 2008 until 2010 C.H.O.L.O. was part of a network of emerging cultural groups in which several groups from Lima and Callao participated. These interrelations helped us a lot to train us on how to develop a cultural project, how to develop it with artistic objectives. I think that was a challenge for us and it helped us a lot to be able to develop.”
Highlighting Ramos as an artist, he has created a lot of digital art and photography. What influenced him to venture into this artistic route was the use of digital photography as a record of actions, collective artistic projects and the use of technological media and digital intermediation programs. However, he does not focus only on the digital aspect of art,
“I do not focus only on the digital, since this is a technical aspect of visual experimentation and corresponds to other more conceptual criteria. I have also supported object works with a sense of relational plasticity and made theoretical proposals in essays on aesthetics and contemporary art. I also have works on experimental electronic music, and in the last few years, the use of photography, which is more or less called digital art. The use of a digital camera is essential. And as a result of it, archives have already started, and those archives can lead to other more artistic things. And the application of technological means and digital intermediation programs, both to develop the projects, give you another tradition that broadens your vision even more, as an artist graduated from plastic arts.”
Ramos’ artistic process begins by questioning who we are; where do we come from and where are we headed. For Ramos, the answers lie somewhere within ethics, aesthetics, and politics. Existence inspires art under the criterion, “I remember, therefore I am.”
During the years 2007-2022, C.H.O.L.O. developed community projects based on a commitment to the emerging populations of Lima and Callao. The collective has established a relational aesthetic criteria within the perspectives of contemporary urban art. C.H.O.L.O. continues their work on keeping ancestral and community art alive. The collective’s identity rooted in ancestral memory and environmental awareness continues to spread its artistic practice throughout emerging sectors of Lima and Callao.
Vanessa Campa is a recent graduate from Florida International University holding a Bachelor of Arts in English on the Writing and Rhetoric track, and a minor in Psychology. Through working for the Latina Republic as a Latin Correspondent, Vanessa has gained a true love and passion for reporting underreported stories in the region. Discovering underreported stories that will inspire her readers, she has specialized in interviewing and writing articles on outstanding Latinx women who have made an impact in their communities, especially immigrants. As a Director of the Future Journalist Program for the Latina Republic, Vanessa will continue carrying the organizations’ mission in changing stereotypes that have negatively impacted the people within the region, and bringing light to another side of Latin America that is concealed.