Many of the works currently on display in the “Revolución Chicha” exhibit at the Lesley University Lunder Arts Center were brought to the United States in curator Andrew Mroczek’s luggage, rolled up, when he was leaving Peru for the twelfth time in six years.
Mroczek, a Somerville resident, had been visiting different parts of the country alongside fellow artist Juan Barboza-Gubo while the two were working on their forthcoming book “Fatherland,” which documents hate crimes against LGBT+ residents. The book was partially funded by a 2017 Visual Arts Fellowship Grant from the Somerville Arts Council, and the 2019 Fellowship in Photography from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Straddling the line between celebrating the culture and holding it accountable for violence, the work is personal and complicated—much like “Revolución Chicha.”
Chicha art is known for its vibrancy, evident in the day-glow color gradients that closely resemble graffiti. The work tends to be critical of how indigenous peoples are treated in Peru, and the visual effect is paradoxical. It attempts to celebrate and preserve the beauty of the Andean influence on Peru, without sugarcoating the cultural trauma experienced at the hands of the country.
The movement was pioneered in the 80s by artist Pedro “Monky” Rojas, who designed the “Revolución” sign hanging at the entrance of the building specifically for the exhibit.
The speed with which Monky creates bleeds into the aesthetic of his work. While the lettering and color-blending are refined, there are scattered imperfections that result from silk-screen printing—a technique in which stencils, mesh, and a blade are used to transfer ink onto a surface. For Monky, this usually means an old poster. The repurposed paper, which tends to show through the new design, is another staple of his work.
There is no formal chicha school of art in Peru; spreading the work is more of a guerilla effort by various collectives, typically without the support of the government. According to Mroczek, Monky still devotes two to three nights a week wheatpasting his pieces onto public walls despite his success.
The collective Amapolay, who have an open studio where they encourage others to learn about printing, were featured in the “Resistencia Visual 1992” exhibit at the Museum of Remembrance in Lima, but the exhibit was so controversial it resulted in the immediate firing of the curator.
In many ways, chicha art is a reaction to this separation that exists between the indigenous people of Peru and the more European-influenced upper-classes of its capital city, Lima, says Mroczek. Several of the works on display at Lesley reappropriate the word “cholo,” a derogatory word used to refer to people of indigeneous descent. Others satirize the political campaigns of the Fujimori family—responsible for the forced sterilization of hundreds of thousands of indigenous women—or deify important indigenous figures and working-class people.
Mroczek says that this exhibit was important to bring to Cambridge because it speaks a different visual language than what is typically seen at an art school.
“I think some of the most interesting artwork that I’ve seen in the years since the last election have been protest posters, and that’s another connection that I have with this work,” he says. “It’s a different type of protest.”
While curating “Revolución Chicha,” Mroczek was inspired by the idea of public art and decided to use all of the open spaces he could at the Lunder Arts Center. The exhibit takes place across several floors, adorning large parts of the wall in addition to glass cases in the foyer of the building.
In addition to the aforementioned artists, “Revolución Chicha” also features work by Familia Gutierrez, LU.CU.MA., Nación Chicha, Moisés Sants, and Elliot Tupac.
At the center of Monky’s collection on the lower lever of Lunder hangs a portrait of Sarita, whom Mroczek describes as “the unofficial patron saint of indigenous people in Peru.” Based on the story of a girl named Sarita Colonia, Sarita has gained an almost cult following, evidenced by her graveyard shrine in Lima. She is not recognized as an official saint by the Catholic church.
“More specifically, she’s often considered the patron saint of those who are considered less than—whether it’s homosexuals, indigenous people, people of the lower classes,” he says
Sarita appears two-dimensional in this rendering, like a stamp—as do all of Monky’s portraits on the wall. Her facial expression is uncompromising; her eyes do not follow you around the room. She is staring straight ahead, brows slightly furrowed and lips downturned, encircled by what looks to be a halo of fluorescent pink light.
“Revolución Chicha” will be on display through Dec. 15 at the Lunder Arts Center, located at 1801 Mass. Ave in Porter Square. “Fatherland” is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, and will be released on Jan. 6. To learn more about Mroczek and Barboza-Gubo, visit www.barbozagubo-mroczek.com.