Traditional dress and hanging 10 are generally not two things that go together. Photographer Celia D. Luna’s series really caught our attention. It focuses on Bolivian women wearing indigenous clothing while skateboarding. So what is it exactly?
Celia explains that the women made a strong statement about the treatment of indigenous women in Bolivia. For centuries, indigenous Quechua and Aymara women have been excluded from mainstream society. They were not allowed to enter some public places, were not allowed to use public transportation, and were not allowed to do many jobs. It was not until the election of the country’s first indigenous president, Juan Evo Morales Ayma, in 2006 that their rights began to be restored.
In this light, donning traditional clothing such as pleated skirts, lace blouses, bowler hats, sombreros, and long pigtails is not a sign of conservatism but of pride and defiance. “Not too many years ago, the term ‘cholita’ was a derogatory name for young indigenous women,” says Celia. “Today, cholitas proudly wear traditional clothing to break down ethnic barriers.”
At first, however, it was not easy to locate the women. “I was a bit of a detective on Instagram,” Celia explains. “I had to look for tour guides and business owners in Bolivia, which led me to some contacts of the Cholitas.”
But she was determined to be successful. “Coming from a neighboring country where we have a similar background, her story touched a weak spot in my heart,” she explains. “I had to meet and capture all these ladies. I wanted to capture the wildness I saw in them.”
Celia was raised by a single mother in the Andes Mountains of Peru, where the term ‘cholita’ is also used pejoratively, she explains. “Mainly to offend the Andean people: because of the way they speak or the way they dress. It was one of my missions to embrace my heritage and show the world how beautiful and rich our culture is.
“When I found out that the cholitas of Bolivia were very proud to be called cholitas and wore their traditional dress with so much pride and joy, I just had to meet them and hold them,” she continues. “Not only are they embracing their culture, they are doing so while engaging in extreme sports. And that, to me, is the ultimate way to get people to re-contextualize cholitas.”
Celia put a lot of planning into getting it right. “In general, I plan a lot,” she explains. “Usually the planning part takes longer than the execution. For this series, I started planning about six months before shooting. I wanted them to at least get to know me and my personality through text. When I was in Bolivia, it took me about a week to complete the series.”
To reassure her subjects, Celia lets them know they don’t have to do anything they aren’t comfortable with. “I also told them I would walk them through the process if needed,” she adds. “Music helped too! I usually played songs they were into.”
In general, Celia says she sees photography as a way to contribute to women’s narratives. “I want to ensure representation in my work,” she emphasizes.
“I want to make a special mention of women of color because a lot of times we’re not seen or heard,” she adds. “There is so much beauty in our heritage, our culture and the way we overcome obstacles. I want to celebrate that.”
Celia’s childhood in Peru greatly influenced her work, she says. “I subconsciously absorbed the colours, the art, the craft and the fashion.” But her current hometown of Miami continues to shape her style, largely due to its multicultural and multinational makeup.
“Miami has a huge Latino population,” she explains. “I had the opportunity to learn about different ethnic groups and observe our similarities and differences. Creatively, this made me curious to discover new and exciting stories that I want to bring to life.”
Ultimately, Celia’s photography is about empowerment. “I want BIPOC girls to see my work and feel identified and inspired by the women I highlight in my work,” she says. “I’ve received emails from parents who have taken up my message and shared my work with their children. For me that is the greatest compliment.”