Histories of Race, Popular Culture, and Identity in the Andes

Histories of Race, Popular Culture, and Identity in the Andes
15 May 2017, 10:00 to 15 May 2017, 17:00
Conference / Symposium
Woburn Suite, G22/26, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU


In September, 2016, Bolivia’s “indigenous fashion” debuted at New York Fashion Week, causing international interest in the clothing of chola designer Eliana Paco Paredes (for example, in National Geographic). Similar international curiosity has been raised by the “Andean architecture” of Freddy Mamani, profiled in The Guardian in 2014 and in the New Yorker. Each of these cultural representations has been celebrated as a form of international resistance and decolonization, a way of “turning the tables” on histories of colonial domination begun by Spain five centuries ago. These pieces celebrate efforts by indigenous Andeans to reclaim their history through art and culture.

Sergio Serulnikov writes that during the uprisings of Tupac Katari and Tupac Amaru in the 1780s, rebellious indigenous groups sometimes forced Spaniards to wear indigenous clothing as a form of humiliation or punishment (Serulnikov 2003, 165). Another way of reading this practice was a forced reversal of Spanish colonial policies of proper dress and comportment. Indeed, cultural manifestations of indigeneity were so threatening in the Audiencia of Peru after these uprisings that Visitor General Antonio de Areche outlawed the use of many indigenous cultural practices, including clothing and theatrical representations of the Inca Empire (Serulnikov 2003, 224). Continuities with the colonial era can be found in November 2015, the when Bolivian highland town of Caquiaviri made national news for forcing its mayor to dress up a woman as a punishment for the crime economic mismanagement (El Diario 2015). National headlines decried the practice as sexist and derogatory towards women “de pollera,” for the mayor had been required to don the traditional skirt (pollera), shawl (manta) and bowler hat of indigenous women of the region (Vidaurre Reyes 2015).

In May, 2017, the Institute of Latin American Studies will host a conference on the cultural politics of race and indigeneity in the Andes that seeks to explore moments of culture production of race and identity in the Andes. Building on Marisol de la Cadena’s observation that racial categories in the Andes are constructed through culture and cultural difference (De la Cadena 2000), this conference will bring together scholars of anthropology, history, and literature in the Andes to answer questions such as:

How have Andean peoples used the tools of culture (for example: music, dance, clothing, theater, architecture, literature) to fashion national or regional identities, forms of resistance, and political movements? How have Afro-Andean, indigenous, mestizo and creole communities differently navigated cultural integration and autonomy historically and in the present? How have cultural practices been used in the past or present to mock, denigrate, or punish communities and individuals in the Andes? How have certain cultural practices travelled across or subverted spatial and temporal boundaries, including rural/urban, highland/lowland, colonial/national, indigenous/modern? How have cultural manifestations of race been used to perform or transcend class, gender, or sexual identities? How have struggles over patrimony and heritage defined or expanded definitions of Andean culture? How have Andean communities incorporated social and economic concerns through cultural practices.

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Olga Jimenez
020 7862 8871