Interview: Lidia Arriagada-Garcia
Luca Curci talks with Lidia Arriagada-Garcia during the 11th Edition of CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2022, at Palazzo Bembo.
Lidia Arriagada-Garcia is a Mapuche-Chilean photographer and artist who began her training in Chile, and moved to Lenapehoking (New York City) after she obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and Painting & Drawing at San Francisco State University. In 2017 she became a United States citizen. Before moving to San Francisco in 2004 she studied professional photography for two years at an Art Institute in Santiago, Chile. She was classically trained there and at the City College of San Francisco, during the time when film and darkrooms were the norms, but later she advanced her studies in digital photography. Her passion for photography started as a teenager, and she began her professional career in the Magazine industry in Chile at the age of 22, establishing herself as a portrait photographer in New York City in 2010. She has travelled to numerous countries around the world, including Asia, Europe and Latin America, which helped her become more open-minded and respectful of all different cultures and beliefs. During the last 12 years, she has photographed people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. She has acquired skills in all phases of portrait photography including, studio, weddings, editorial and portraits of artists of all kinds. She has spent the last couple of years travelling and exhibiting her photography artworks at galleries and public spaces in New York, London, Prague, and now in Venice, Italy. Lidia is also the founder and president of Images For Inclusion, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in New York City and Chile.
“Thanks to an increased international collective sense of civil responsibility to change the status quo and create progress within our communities, artists are contributing by addressing global issues and creating projects that stimulate social inclusion at a cultural, political, and economical level. Women, girls, 2SQTBIPOC and femmes of color still face an enormous amount of cultural and economic disadvantages due to gender stereotypes and misogyny. Those forms of violence need to be addressed in the art world internationally. You see indigenous communities who are driven from their homelands and stripped of their rights, language and cultural identity. There is a lack of protection from many governments, wrongful incarceration and convictions, and unjust impunity for the killing of innocent indigenous people who try to get back their stolen land. We need to form bonds of international solidarity and visualize their struggles through all art forms.”
Luca Curci – How did you get into photography? Do you remember why you took your first professional photo?
Lidia Arriagada-Garcia – As a child I liked playing with the way I could change the focus of things while my gaze remained still, playing with the depth of field of my own eyes, which is basically the distance range at which objects are seen clearly. I would have dreams in which I would look at things from strange and fascinating angles. That captivated my attention and when my mom gave me my first camera at the age of 13 I became very passionate about photographing everything I could put my eyes on. I would take family photos, and friends’ portraits and play with the shadows and contrast within a given composition. Three decades after that, I am still fascinated by photography. If you refer to professional photography as paid photography, well, I took my first professional photo when I was 16 years old, near my home town while working for a grape export company counting the number of boxes of grapes women packed. They had a beautiful lunch area with straw awnings, so I offered to take a nice picture of them in front of this area for a small amount of money. I had been working collecting the payments for the local photographer so I knew people paid much more for a professional photo. I borrowed the camera from my sister’s best friend. She died of lupus a couple of years after that. I am still grateful she trusted me and let me use her camera. I was in high school by then. We were economically poor so we needed to figure out how to make money to buy things my mom and grandmother, who raised me, couldn’t afford, especially since my father was absent, as is the case with a significant percentage of fathers in Chile. Even today 42% of households are headed by a woman and 4 out of 5 are on child support default. We are a country of huachos (bastard/orphan children), said a historian called Gabriel Salazar, in his book “Being a huacho child in the history of Chile”, which eased the pain of my own circumstances.
LC – What are you currently working on?
LAG – I am working on a photography project about the ten indigenous Nations in Chile. I got inspired by the masters of photography Walter Evans, and August Sander– whose work I had the chance to see at the museum of Pompidou this past summer– called “People of the 20th Century”. I have been working on this project since 2017 and I am looking for funds now to create defined portfolios and finalize it with a book that depicts the farmers as well as the aspects of rural and urban life, exalting their role in our society, to break stereotypes and help narrow the breach of the discrimination they suffer. Unfortunately, indigenous people are the most underrepresented population in Chile. During the last election on September 4th, 62% of Chileans voted against the new Constitution, which would replace the one enacted during the last Dictatorship in Chile. It was going to achieve the recognition of Indigenous peoples under a new constitution. There are almost two million Indigenous peoples in Chile whose rights to autonomy and self-determination are not respected by the State. In fact, their land continues to be militarized, their natural resources continued to be extracted by big companies and children and women suffer a lot of stigma, discrimination and criminalization. That’s why I think my work is important.
LC – How important is the editing process in your work? How’s yours?
LAG – Even though it is always better to get the right shot when you first press the shutter to avoid over-editing an image, the editing process is key to better portraying your feelings and emotions. Oftentimes the camera won’t show what you felt at that moment, so you can express that by accentuating colors, or concentrating the attention on certain details. I personally like playing with what Roland Barthes stated as the Punctum and the Spectrum, triggering a connection of the viewers’ perception based on their knowledge, culture, and the narrative of an image in a certain place and time, so I edit them accordingly.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
LAG – I started doing black and white photography which I developed in a darkroom. The old style of printing photographs with the enlarger which created an image from the negative on light-sensitive paper. I miss the smell of the fixer and immersing the photo paper inside the developer where I could finally see the image. That was a real moment. Well, then I fell in love with color photography, especially portrait photography. Color processing isn’t as fun as black and white. And black and white film got too expensive. When I moved to Lenapehoking, New York City, it was hard to find a place to live, let alone have your own darkroom. Today my style is known for having vibrant colors and an edgy view of the subjects. Besides people’s portraits, I photograph women’s and indigenous peoples’ marches because I am passionate about defending their rights. Too many times photography as an art expression is only accepted as long as it is in black and white, which is not fair, we have a wide range of colors that help artists express themselves and photographers should not be restricted to black and white only. Emotions have many colors.
LC – How do you choose your subjects? Is it a reasoned or an instinctive process?
LAG – I usually plan what subject I will photograph but I need to see and feel that “ Je ne sais quoi” in my subjects that drives me to photograph them, and no others; and I photograph subjects that need visibility in order to have their voice heard such as women and indigenous peoples who are constantly being stripped of their human rights. My latest subjects need visibility to raise their voice because most media is run by the powerful who benefit from their repression and continuous genocide.
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
LAG – To me art in all its forms has the power to help change people’s mind and heart and in that way foment positive social change. But we are in need of more art exhibitions that make people think and reflect on current social issues. There is a reason we have young climate activists throwing mashed potatoes to a Claude Monet painting and smearing cake on da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. We need to allow the viewer to think and react, like a wake-up call or an urgent call for action. The world is upside down and today it is the role of the artists to do something about it. ITSLIQUID does a wonderful job promoting the inclusion of great emerging and international artists who might not be able to show their work otherwise. Touching on subjects of mixed identities and the concept of borders is thought-provoking and invigorating. The persisting colonial construction of borders and imposed binary gender identities are constantly trying to erase the gender diversity and indigenous people’s connection to the land and their understanding of gender identities as well. I saw a great art performance about toxic masculinity at the 11 edition of CONTEMPORARY VENICE. I found that to be a breath of fresh air because it is a call for a much-needed change.
LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition?
LAG – The artworks I brought are from a series of photographs from Cuba. Taken in 2016, a few months before Fidel Castro’s death, these images represent a vanishing moment in time. They provide an opportunity to reflect on Cuba’s past and present socio-political struggles and sacrifices due to the economic embargo of the United States. You can appreciate the vivid colors with the texture of the crumbling walls and facades you see everywhere you go in Habana. There is also a beautiful portrait of a tobacco farmer, Marcelo from Viñales, Cuba Libre, who represents the kindness, pride and resilience of the beautiful people of Cuba. This Blockage or US sanction against Cuba I refer to has serious negative implications for the current lives of the Cuban people, and the international community can come together to challenge it if they find a place in their hearts to do so. During the last 5 years, I have shown part of this Cuba series in Prague and London, but I had not brought these works to those exhibitions. I felt Venice deserved to see them. This will be the last exhibit of the Cuba series in Europe, as I will focus on my works on the fearless and unconquerable Indigenous Mapuche (people of the land) nation I belong to.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
LAG – ITSLIQUID is a great platform with a lot of potential for artists to not only showcase their artworks but to make connections and take advantage of the rewarding experience of a different culture when travelling abroad. The platform allows exposure to curators and other venue organizers who can get inspired and interested in showcasing their work in other parts of the world.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
LAG – Yes, ITSLIQUID GROUP offers a space to discover emerging, mid-career and international artists. We do need to decolonize art and open spaces for indigenous artists too. As it often happens, native artists struggle with finding the funds to acquire exposure in the art world. ITSLIQUID could open that space and represents an opportunity to provide spaces to showcase Indigenous artists and get inspired by their creativity and acknowledge their diversity and the huge contributions they bring to the art scene. Moreover, generational trauma and colonialism are relevant subjects that need to be addressed in all art forms but they are not the only subjects. You can benefit by learning about native artists such as Jeffrey Gibson whose work has been internationally exhibited, Laura Ortman, Demian Dinéyazhi and Sebastian Calfuqueo. As we know, the colonizers came to our indigenous nations to occupy and extract our natural resources and kill our people. ITSLIQUID GROUP could make funds available for indigenous artists if anything as a form of redress for the centuries of European economic and cultural extractivism. We, the indigenous people do not own the land, we belong to the land, and we are part of it, and that’s why we protect it and defend it.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
LAG – Due to the prompt communication and reliability, the services are satisfying. I would definitely suggest collaboration with ITSLIQUID GROUP, especially to open spaces to showcase the artworks of the 2SQTBIPOC and femmes of color who need more visibility.