the bigger picture

Exploring the Complexities of Latinidad and Community

In the Bronx Documentary Center’s third annual American Foto Festival.

In Barretos, and many other towns that host rodeos, women are not allowed to compete in bull riding. They may ride horses or demonstrate roping skills, but bull riding is off limits. It is thought of as too dangerous for women. Natasha Alves do Santos, a 20-year-old police officer from the state of São Paulo rides one, for fun, regardless. Barretos Festa do Peão, São Paulo, 2018. Photo: © Luisa Dörr
In Barretos, and many other towns that host rodeos, women are not allowed to compete in bull riding. They may ride horses or demonstrate roping skills, but bull riding is off limits. It is thought of as too dangerous for women. Natasha Alves do Santos, a 20-year-old police officer from the state of São Paulo rides one, for fun, regardless. Barretos Festa do Peão, São Paulo, 2018. Photo: © Luisa Dörr

Adriana Loureiro Fernández knows that the best artistic subject is often the most familiar one. The Caracas-based photographer’s work focuses on social conflict and youth culture in Latin America and the Caribbean and has been featured in the New York Times, NPR, and Bloomberg; but, her well-established métier began with “a very crappy DSLR” she received as a present in college and that she used to capture her friends’ daily activities.

“At the time, I felt I wasn’t really doing much other than living my life and having a camera around,” she says. “But as years went by, a couple of college professors realized that what I had photographed had a documentary value. I was showing this side of the city that so many Venezuelans didn’t get to see. I was photographing Caracas at night, and this underworld that existed.”

Fernández’s ongoing visual journey has culminated in Paraíso Perdido, a series of powerful images that span nearly a decade and rotate monthly so that they “always feel like a different project each time around.” The latest iteration of the series is currently on display at the Bronx Documentary Center’s third annual Latin American Foto Festival, which highlights work by award-winning Latin American and Caribbean photographers.

“In this edit of Paraíso Perdido, I’m really trying to focus on what I’m calling ‘the visuals of magical realism.’ So the photographic process is always initiating from a fact, but I’m exploring the otherworldly experience of those facts. I’m always trying to incorporate a little bit of surrealism into a very real scenery, which is how I interpret Venezuela’s current reality,” Fernández muses. The result is a compelling exploration of a country that, while presently entrenched in political turmoil and social unrest, has in the past been defined by the unwavering optimism and perseverance of its people. Paraíso Perdido, much like the other projects on display at the exhibition, oscillates between expressions of pain and beauty as it surveys the adversity that many marginalized communities have endured, as well as the love that binds them.

Luisa Dörr’s In the American South, for instance, relies on portraits of women who have been largely excluded from Brazil’s cowboy culture as a vehicle to “tell narratives and explore the complexity of human nature and femininity.” “For me,” says Dörr, “this work is about the juxtapositions of modern Brazil — of the transition from historic tradition to pop culture. Ultimately, it’s a world that few people know.” In this world, women balance their recent winning streaks as rodeo pageant beauty queens, horse-riding champions, and country music stars against the still-pervasive culture of machismo.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has forced this year’s Latin American Foto Festival to look a bit different than it normally would — outdoor banners and projections will replace the usual sprawling indoor galleries and in-person activities — the festival remains committed to promoting deep engagement and layered dialogue between artists, their surroundings, and the broader world.

This year, the center launched virtual tours, workshops, and panels for its online and surrounding Bronx community and formed an 18-member COVID LATAM collective — a team dedicated to documenting the virus’s impact in Latin America — which is showcasing its work at the Melrose Playground on Courtlandt Avenue.

All of the art from the festival can be viewed in person now through August 9.

A cross commemorating the death of a Vieques citizen. Vieques, Puerto Rico. January 2020. Photo: © Adriana Parrilla from her series “Don’t Call Me Trigueña; I’m Black”
Mayerlin Barasalte and her sister wait for fishermen to return with the catch of the night. The town depends almost entirely on fishermen for food. Parmana, Venezuela, December 2019. Photo: © Adriana Loureiro Fernández / The New York Times
Boys wearing masks juggle tennis balls at a traffic light in Barra da Tijuca. For many years, children and young people have earned money by juggling on the streets of Rio. These boys and girls get the sympathy of most people who stop at traffic lights because, in a way, they are street performers and not simply beggars. Photo: © Ana Carolina Fernandes / Covid LatAm
“As I was becoming the woman that I’m today, I started questioning myself. Why I was feeling so confused with my racial identity. Why I was not recognizing myself. Why it was so hard for me to defend myself when someone was making racists comments towards me or to someone else. Most of the time I turn my head away, I ignore them, I minimize them.” Zaida, 35, poses for a photo near the Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. November 2019. Photo: © Adriana Parrilla from her series “Don’t Call Me Trigueña; I’m Black”
The crowd at the Cerquilho rodeo during the Maiara & Maraisa sertanejo music concert. Maiara Carla Henrique Pereira and Carla Maraísa Henrique Pereira, twin sisters who grew up in country culture, are part of a new generation of all-female sertanejo music groups, nicknamed feminejo. Through their chart-topping album sales, Maiara & Maraisa have helped highlight the role of women in Brazilian country music. “Just three or four years ago sertanejo started opening up to women,” says Maiara, backstage before the Cerquilho show. “And women have loved us and as a result the market is now even more open for women in sertanejo music than it is for men.” Maraisa adds that most of their concerts are at farming or ranching events, which includes rodeos. “Before, women used to feel closed out of these events. And now the opposite is true.” Cerquilho, São Paulo, 2019. Photo: © Luisa Dörr
“During my adolescence, I learned about cimarronaje (maroonage) and the stories of many slave men and women that revolted against the system of slavery and escaped to the forest and mangroves near the Río Grande de Loiza (Great River of Loíza) to form settlements. Cimarrón (maroons) is a Spanish word that describes a feral animal with a domesticated past.” A horse stands in a wooded area near a road in Loíza, Puerto Rico. July 2018. Photo: © Adriana Parrilla from her series “Don’t Call Me Trigueña; I’m Black”
“Luis works in the tull (the house garden), cleaning the corn. Angela, his eldest daughter, has gone out to watch the wind push the plants and whistle through the mountains. The tull is the space next to the house where the most important plants of the house are planted, as well as the food security: corn, beans, aromatic and medicinal herbs. This image is part of my monographic work, Detrás de la Montaña (Behind the Mountain), which delves into the indigenous life of Cauca in contemporary Colombia, in a personal journey through the roots of my indigenous Nasa family.” Photo: © Jorge Panchoaga
An officer in riot gear runs toward protesters amid smoke bombs in Plaza Dignidad (formerly Plaza Italia) in Santiago, Chile. January 2020. Photo: © Eric Allende / Migrar Photo
“Carlos Escalona, revisa el estado de una de las gallinas de su casa con guantes de protección y tapabocas.” Chia, Colombia. March 2020. Photo: © AP Photo/Ivan Valencia / Covid LatAm
Two women drink guava juice while resting from a long day of walking in search of firewood. On weekends, a group of organized women from different families goes out to collect firewood for cooking, in order to optimize the work of collecting it. The families living in the areas around Toribio, one of the towns most affected by the war in Colombia, maintain traditions of community work for collective benefit. Photo: © Jorge Panchoaga
Yanca Cristina Oliveira de Souza, 22. “Since I was 10 I was taking part of beauty contests, I was named The Miss of the City of Barretos, Miss Cowboy, Miss Comercio, and a couple of others but the only contest that I truly dreamed of winning was Queen of the Independents, and today my dream came true. I want to do my best to represent the Festa do Peao. It was 22 girls, the juries took off ten, and from there they picked two, named the Queen of Independents and the Princess. The jury was composed of seven people and I received six votes. Being the Queen of The Independents means that I need to represent the Festa do Peao really well, being there, being the queen, talking with the people that go there, showing around, dancing, doing some speech. It’s not only about beauty.” Photo: © Luisa Dörr
A santera girl cries in front of a mass grave as a family member is buried in Carabobo, Venezuela. March 2018. The smell of the decomposed body was so strong that family members had to keep distance from the pits during the burials. Earlier that month, a fire had broken out in the cells of Carabobo Police headquarters in the city of Valencia, Venezuela. The fire spread quickly, killing at least 66 inmates and two female visitors. At least 34 people were buried at the municipal cemetery in Valencia. The burials happened on rolling basis: There was no priest to deliver the ceremony and each family had less than 15 minutes to say their last goodbyes so that the daily quota could be reached. The cemetery was ordered to dig a mass grave with three bodies per hole. Photo: © Adriana Loureiro Fernández
Dry Campos shares her life with Xoquito, her 12-year-old horse, in the same way others might with dogs or cats. She has been riding horses since childhood, and for her the bond between them is stronger than her bonds with other humans. He is family. Photo: © Luisa Dörr
Exploring the Complexities of Latinidad and Community