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Performing & Visual Arts
Urban Art and Music
Photo by Joshua Eli Cogan
Silk screen artist Monky hurriedly posts chicha posters by the side of the road in the San Juan Lurigancho neighborhood of Lima.
Photo by Joshua Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Cumbia amazónica music started during the late 1960s, in the oil-boom cities of the Peruvian Amazon. The songs were loosely inspired by Colombian cumbias but incorporated the distinctive pentatonic scales of Andean melodies, some Cuban guajiras, and the psychedelic sounds of American surf guitars, wah-wah pedals, Farfisa organs, and Moog synthesizers.

In Lima, this style of music emerged as a result of internal migration from rural areas to the city and came to be known as chicha. Cumbia amazónica and chicha music illustrate the connections between the global and the local, while contributing to the diversity of Peruvian cultural expressions. By extension, chicha music created space for graphic street art and posters of the same name. With its bright colors and vibrant sounds, chicha has become an emblem of Peru, allowing often marginalized communities to claim their own public space.

Chicha Silk-Screening

Chicha silk-screening is a creation of artists from the central highlands of Junín, who hybridized the prismatic color combinations found on their typical clothing for poster advertisements throughout Peru. Pedro “Monky” Tolomeo is a pioneer of the chicha poster movement in Lima, creating customized phosphorescent posters for iconic groups, including Los Shapis and Chacalón y La Nueva Crema.

Chicha Design

Elliot Tupac stylizes traditional screen-printing designs and techniques to achieve a new level of valorization for chicha posters. He creates new letterforms inspired by vernacular and street typography as well as cosmopolitan and transnational art. Tupac’s work has become an identity marker in Peru and beyond, welcoming this street art into the gallery world.

Llanchama Painting

Over the last twenty years, indigenous Bora painters have used llanchama bark from the Poulsenia armata tree as canvas, offering a unique perspective on their world. Brus Rubio draws from Huitoto-Bora myths, local stories, and songs in creating expressive visuals that allow intercultural dialogue with non-native viewers.

Cumbia Amazónica

Hailing from the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest, Los Wembler’s de Iquitos are credited with creating the sound of cumbia amazónica, borrowing urban, cosmopolitan, and transnational sounds and hybridizing them with local rhythms and melodies. Unlike other Amazonian groups, Los Wembler’s preserve their original sounds from the 1970s golden age of Peruvian cumbia-chicha, which continues to attract new listeners almost forty years later.

Crisscrossed with paths connecting communities across geography and history, Peru boasts a stunning vertical landscape that integrates a diversity of ecosystems and cultures. Peru is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, containing ninety microclimates across extreme variances of altitude. The coastal, rain-forested, and mountainous environments provide abundant resources, including major exports such as fish, copper, and asparagus. Many culturally and historically significant areas are popular tourist destinations that encompass complex layered histories.

The uniqueness of Peru’s diversity lies in the connectedness of its landscape in the form of rivers, roads, and pathways that existed long before the Inka Empire (fifteenth–sixteenth centuries) and Spanish colonization (sixteenth–nineteenth centuries). Across its different altitudes and climates, communities exchange commodities and practices, shaping deeply rooted but constantly changing daily customs and celebrations. The influx and movement of people between and beyond borders also influence and transform these exchanges.

The 2015 Peru program featured projects, organizations, and groups whose cultural expressions highlight these social, cultural, and economic exchanges. It demonstrated how the networks of celebration and community, crops and markets, textile and craft production, foodways and technology, and music and dance forge the diverse cultural heritage of the country.

Visitors to the Peru Festival program could experience these unique connections through cooking and craft demonstrations, music and dance performances, moderated discussions, ritual and celebratory processions, and other participatory activities. In addition, there was a robust involvement with Peruvian American and diaspora communities. The public had the opportunity to learn, to eat, to dance, to shop, to witness these vibrantly connected cultures, and to create their own connections with Peruvian artists and specialists on the National Mall and beyond.

Olivia Cadaval and Cristina Díaz-Carrera were Curators for the Smithsonian; Rafael Varón Gabai was Curator and Consultant to MINCETUR. Valentina Pilonieta-Vera was Program Coordinator; Alexia Fawcett was Community Engagement Manager, and Betty Belanus was Family Activities Curator. A Curatorial Advisory Committee included: Madeleine Burns, Marjorie Hunt, Mary Linn, Luis Guillermo Lumbreras, Giancarlo Marcone, Soledad Mujica, Diana N’Diaye, Luis Repetto, Marcela Ríos, Daniel Sheehy, Jorge Ortiz Sotelo, Milagritos Saldarriaga, Francisco Tumi, and Madeleine Zúñiga. A Community Advisory Group included: Catherine Cabel Chicas, Nelly Carrión, Billy Castillo, Kristy Chavez-Fernandez, Fabiana Chiu- Rinaldi, María del Carmen Cossu, Miguel García, Elmer Huerta, Vicky Leyva, Doris Loayza, Ana Noriega, Elena Tscherny, and Ricardo Villanueva.

The program was co-presented and co-sponsored by the Republic of Peru Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR). Additional support was provided by the staff of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, directed by Kevin Gover (Pawnee), coordinated by Amy Van Allen; Washington Dulles international Airport and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. The program received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center. Special media support is provided by Telemundo Washington DC,, Latin Opinion Baltimore Newspaper, Orange Barrel Media, WAMU 88.5, El Tiempo Latino, Washington Hispanic, Washington Blade, El Tiempo Hìspano (MD-DE-PA), CTM Media Group, El Zol 107.9, Digital Conventions, and Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Support for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's welcoming ceremony was provided, in part, by Avocados From Peru and Pisco Portón (in-kind).

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