Auto Italia presents Barbarella’s Kiss, a survey exhibition by Bolivian artist, archivist and activist David Aruquipa Pérez. The show comprises a rare collection of photographs documenting the cultural and political impact of Las Chinas Morenas, feminine performance characters in the fiestas populares, popular street carnivals that have taken place across the plurinational state of Bolivia over the past 75 years.
From the early 1960s, the character of La China Morena became a prominent liberatory figure amongst Two Spirit and travesti communities in the areas now known as La Paz and Oruro. Over two decades, La China Morena emerged as a mode of radical performance, transforming public space into a stage for sexual and gender diverse peoples to raise questions on queer subjecthood and representation in the region. Barbarella’s Kiss traces the history of La China Morena in these patron-saint celebrations, and explores the overlapping hybridised religion, popular culture and indigenous traditions that informed them.
In this exhibition, Pérez presents 40 archival photographs that document the work of performers Ofelia, Titina, Juana, Candy, Lucha, Diega and Barbarella between 1960-80. After one of the carnivals in 1974, during which Barbarella approached and gave a kiss to the dictator Hugo Banzer Suárez, the travesti Chinas Morenas were persecuted and abolished from participating in urban fiestas populares. This led to the movement of travesti to rural areas, where they continued their movement and defined the following years of LGBT resistance in the region.
Barbarella’s Kiss tells a story of gender diversity in the Andean region. Following the advent of worldwide LGBT liberation movements in the 1960s, the exhibition demonstrates how gender diverse performers embodied La China Morena as a way to partake in this movement locally through a celebratory and non-violent form of protest. The photographs offer a unique view into the expression of nonconforming gender identities in the region, and are an example of queer memory politics in Latin America.
The exhibition is commissioned and produced by Auto Italia, London, and is co-curated with Quechua-Spanish artist Aitor González Valencia.
Auto Italia’s commissions are made possible by our Exhibition Circle and Member supporters.
David Aruquipa Pérez is an artist, archivist and human rights activist living and working in La Paz, Bolivia. Perez is the National Head of Cultural Management at the Cultural Foundation of the Central Bank of Bolivia. He is the author of La China Morena: Transvestite Historical Memory, DIVERSIDAD (2012), and co-authored Collective Memories: The History of the LGBT Movement in Bolivia, Conexion, (2012). He has published several essays including The aesthetic revolution of La Familia (Galán) (2016), and Trans and queers at the ‘First Planetary Summit on Decolonization and Depatriarchalization’ (2016) for Bulletin of the French Institute for Andean Studies.
Aitor González Valencia is an artist based in London. His work explores themes of queer desire, storytelling and personal histories. Recent solo and group shows include FORMA Editions, London (2022), Robert’s Gallery, Glasgow (2022), Ridley Road Project Space, London (2022), Austrian Cultural Forum, London (2022), PINK, Manchester (2022), Café OTO, London (2022), Yorkshire Sculpture International, Leeds (2019), and others.