Some of the most important folk art you can encounter in Santa Fe right now isn't quaint, behind glass or to be handled with white curator's gloves. It's wheat-pasted to plywood, printed on sweaty T-shirts and speaks truth to exploitative oil companies, drawing its inspiration from hand-lettering on bodega windows and the sides of garbage trucks and buzzy neon colors.
Basically, it's the most badass museum exhibit we have right now.
The staid title of the Museum of International Folk Art's exhibition Crafting Memory: The Art of Community in Peru does no justice to the explosive rebellion contained therein. The entryway features wheat-pasted screenprint posters by the collective Amapolay, expressing dissent about energy extraction in formerly pristine tribal regions, and the resulting massacres of Indigenous people that occurred as recently as 2009 (that conflict, the Baguazo, received particularly high attention—but injustice and disenfranchisement are still constant for the Indigenous people of Peru).
Due to oil drilling in the mountainous regions of the country, the provincial populations have been pushed into shantytowns and slums in urban Lima, where they're then looked down upon (the director of the Peruvian national newspaper actually called tribal people "savages" and "primitive" in print that same year) and have their settlements bulldozed. The push and pull between survival-based assimilation and pride in tradition is a rough one in Lima, but some of the most remarkable graphic art around has come out of the conflict.
The ubiquitousness of the work in Crafting Memory is paramount. "This goes back to Amapolay and their ethos that this should really be accessible; … they're not just making things that are themed on communities. They're doing the work," says Amy Groleau, the museum's curator of Latin American collections. "Preciousness can be alienating and make you feel like you don't have ownership. … That it's for people who are wealthy. But the accessibility that it's on T-shirts, it's on posters, that it's not super expensive … that it's reproducible; this also makes it so it's very visible in the city. … When you're wearing the T-shirt, you're flying the colors."
There are pollera skirts, recognizable tribal garments, screen-printed by Qarla Quispe, whose designs reclaim of the word "chola" (which, in Peru, means a tribal woman, and typically connotes someone uncouth—oh hell no). Posters for chicha concerts, lively music with a decidedly revolutionary attitude, feature traditional tribal symbolism worked into urban scenes of Lima.
Walking through the Santa Fe exhibit with Groleau is like consulting a walking encyclopedia on the nature of folk art nouveau in Lima, and she's only got 15 years of study and an archaeology doctorate under her belt; just imagine what the artists themselves could tell us.
Good news: You don't have to imagine.
The museum, along with the nonprofit AMP Concerts, brings the art of rebellion to Santa Fe this summer. The artists of Lima are getting on planes.
Amapolay founders Carol Fernández and Fernando Castro will be here, likely along with Olinda Silvano, who's a bit of an unofficial spokeswoman of the displaced Shipibo-Conibo people in the shantytowns of Lima (Silvano and other Shipibo artists are still awaiting visa approval).
They'll collaborate with local screen-printers for a week, and the resulting images and ideas will then be on extended display in the museum's Gallery of Conscience, and for the weekend at community events at the museum and in the Railyard, including a chicha concert from Los Angeles band La Chamba.
While the images created during that week will, of course, be a surprise, we're willing to bet they'll be awesome. On Saturday June 30 in the Railyard, do some hands-on printing and get your own free screen-prints on paper provided by the museum or on T-shirts and bandanas you bring yourself, paint a community mural with Amazonian Shipibo artists, nosh at food trucks (Sabor Peruano, Kebab Caravan and Freezie Fresh) and rock out to La Chamba. The next day up on Museum Hill, catch gallery talks from the artists (with translators; they all speak Spanish) and hit up a pop-up shop.
There is realness and celebration in struggle. There's no resistance or revolution without something to resist or revolt against; there's resistance inherent in preservation of traditions that the mainstream wants to stamp out.
The cultural wars we're waging in America right now are worlds away from those underway in Peru, but the refrain that comes out of conflict is the same: Those in power can do whatever they want to us, but we're going to make something incredible from it.
"What is art for? What does art do? It's certainly an aesthetic project; it's making something beautiful," Groleau tells SFR. "It's not just … reactive. It's really creative, and it's really about vision; this work is all speaking to a future to come, and this creative moment of, 'Let's make the future how we want it to be. We're coming from this place of struggle … and imagining a future that is much more inclusive.' It's active—it's creating a world."
Amapolay in Santa Fe
Screen-printing and La Chamba concert:
6 pm Saturday June 30. Free.
Market and Alcaldesa Streets.
Screen-printing, gallery talks and pop-up shop:
1-4 pm Sunday July 1. $6-$12; free for New Mexico residents.
Museum of International Folk Art,
706 Camino Lejo,