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Blog: Inspiration Between the Lines

Q&A with Cynthia Rivera, Co-curator of the Bronx Documentary Center’s (BDC) 3rd Annual Latin American Foto Festival

If you live in the Bronx, a bit of sweet relief while social distancing can be found in this summer’s 3rd Annual Latin American Foto Festival. Safe outdoor viewing of photographic installations and projections throughout the Melrose community of the Bronx, home to thousands of Latinx immigrants, features work from the Caribbean and Latin America. The exhibition moves online after its initial in-person presentation, offering an unlimited audience the chance to delve into long-term projects that address social issues. 

We reached out to Latin American Foto Festival co-curator Cynthia Rivera for an introduction to the project and its featured work, including: Luisa Dörr’s images of cowgirls and rodeo life in Brazil; Adriana Parrilla‘s exploration of cultural roots of Afro-identity in Puerto Rico; co-founder of Migrar Photo, Eric Allende’s photographs of the recent uprising in Chile; Luján Agusti’s documentation of Payasos de Coatepec, a project created in Veracruz, Mexico on religion, colonialism and culture; Venezualan photography by Adriana Loureiro Fernández reflecting on violence, poverty, and political upheaval; work by the 18-member COVID LATAM collective on the pervasive effects of COVID-19 in Latin America; Leo Goldstein’s photographs of Spanish Harlem from the 1950’s; and, César Rodríguez’s black and white photos created in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico.

Yanca Cristina Oliveira de Souza 22.© Luisa Dörr.
From the project: LUISA DÖRR | IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH | BRAZIL. The project works around the undergoing syncretic process of cultural assimilation between the North American cowboy culture and the Brazilian one. "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 10, and from there they picked 2, named the Queen of Independents and the Princess. The jury was composed of 7 people and I received 6 votes. Beeing the Queen of The Idenpendentes means that I need to represent the Festa do Peao really weel, being there, being the queen, talking with the people that go there, showing around, dancing, doing some speach, it not only about beauty." - Yanca

 

Duggal Art Scene: What was the genesis of the BDC Latin American Foto Festival, now in its third year? How has it been received by the local community and beyond?

Cynthia: This festival is something our neighborhood looks forward to every year. The Bronx is home to thousands of Latinx immigrants and when we started it in 2018, it was the first festival dedicated to Caribbean and Latin American photography in New York City. It's something that is for the people directly in a place that for the most part feels forgotten about from the rest of the city. I think it makes people here feel like more of a community. We've gotten all positive feedback every year from people on the street during our events and when we are installing banners outdoors. It brings smiles to people's faces and makes them feel more connected to our organization. We've had people come up to us on the street and start helping us install vinyl banners, or ask us throughout the year when we will have our block party – usually taking place during the festival– and when the "pictures will be back on the street." 

In terms of the community beyond ours, I think a larger national and international audience is interested in seeing life and what's happening in Latin America beyond what we constantly hear about on the news. This festival helps bring stories together in one place that some people otherwise would never see or get to know. 

PARMANA, VENEZUELA - DECEMBER 4, 2019: 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. © Adriana Loureiro Fernandez / The New York Times.
From the project: ADRIANA LOUREIRO FERNÁNDEZ | PARAÍSO PERDIDO | VENEZUELA. Paraíso Perdido is the ongoing visual journal of a country that is free falling into chaos. It focuses on the complexities of the crisis and the nostalgia of living in a country that you call home but that you no longer recognize.

 

Duggal Art Scene: COVID-19 has forced arts and culture organizations across the country to re-think their programming. This year’s extensive outdoor presentation of the festival sounds exciting. What curatorial shifts did you have to make as a result of the pandemic? Were projections and outdoor installations always a part of the plan?

Cynthia: Projections and outdoor vinyl banners have been a part of our festival for the past two years. The only difference in this 3rd year is that we will have the entire festival outdoors versus the 60%-70% we had in the past. 

Portrait of Claudio. The use of the handkerchief is also typical from Coatepec. They do it to hide their identity, and wear it under the mask. From the gang “Cuadrilla de Juquilita”, Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 2016. © Luján Agusti
From the project: LUJÁN AGUSTI | GANG OF CLOWNS | ARGENTINA. Portrait of Claudio. 

 

Duggal Art Scene: The festival is also online and will extend into the future, reaching an audience well beyond New York City. Was there a particular theme or set of ideas that drove the curatorial selections for the project? Considering current socio-political contexts, what is the importance of presenting long-term photographic projects from Caribbean and Latin American artists to broader audiences?  

Cynthia: There wasn't a theme associated with this year's festival, or any of our previous ones. We like to keep it open when selecting photographers' work, as it helps keep the festival more diverse and leaves us more room for accepting projects.

Apart from what is happening in our current socio-political climate, we have always felt it was important to show stories from the places that the people in our neighborhood come from. The majority of our neighborhood is made up of immigrant families from Central and South America and the Caribbean. It's important for us to create a visual connection to their homeland, and it also shows people outside of that culture something they possibly have never seen or heard of before.  

Three young men, c. 1950 © 2019 Leo Goldstein Photography Collection LLC.
From the project: LEO GOLDSTEIN | EAST HARLEM: THE POSTWAR YEARS. Goldstein’s images provide a window into the socioeconomic, cultural, and political landscape of the time in East Harlem, commonly known as “El Barrio” or “Spanish Harlem”.

 

Duggal Art Scene: Lastly, tell us a bit about the artists on view—what are some of the most striking or compelling highlights from the festival?

Cynthia: There are nine projects total in the festival and each one has its own way of pulling you in for different reasons. All, we believe, are really strong visually and in context of what they are telling. Whether it's about a small town in the mountains of Guerrero, rodeo life in Brazil, or what it means to identify with African ancestry in Puerto Rico –– each is striking in their own way.

More info on the 3rd Annual Latin American Foto Festival: www.bronxdoc.org/exhibits/3rd-annual-latin-american-foto-festival/detail

LAFF Online exhibition—Link is live as of August 2, 2020: http://laffbdc.org/

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