In Mascarilla, in the Valle del Chota in Ecuador, the landscape becomes rocky, lunar, galactic. Weightless tornados form, carrying messages and whispers of both recent and ancient stories. Legends that grandmothers tell, that have been conveyed through music and song since the dawn of time, from the place known as the “Valley of Blood and Death,” since our ancestors came here after leaving behind Africa’s distant shores. Stories that explain the world, love, and death, that inspire fear and describe secretive traditions.
It is the women who anonymously make the town survive. They give birth to the stars and take care of them. The stellar orbs take shelter in the night and float about. If people run into one of them, they will forever lose their human form. They will turn to dust, the dust we are all made of: stardust.
This long-term project contains images that reinterpret the intangible heritage of the African-Ecuadorian community of the highlands. It represents the day-to-day life of a people through symbols drawn from the oral history recited by the region’s inhabitants. It is a celebration of the imaginary space of a community that dreams, as all communities do.
A photographer and filmmaker, Isadora Romero explores the frontiers of the image between fiction and reality. Her work focuses on forms of human self-representation, oral memory, and the role played by women in non-official historical narratives. In 2017 Romero was awarded the Premio Fotoperiodismo por la Paz “Juan Antonio Serrano” and was a finalist for the Inge Morath Award of the Magnum Foundation, as well as being nominated for the Premio Brazil-Arte Emergente. In collaboration with Misha Vallejo she has published the book Siete punto ocho (RM, 2018), which gathers testimonies of survivors of the 2016 earthquake in Ecuador. She is currently a member of the Women Photograph initiative and contributes to the Instagram account @everydayecuador.
María Rosa Palacios’s Dangerous Journey is a multimedia project that involves performance, video, and visual art. It establishes parallels between the journey that a black teenaged girl undertakes through the highlands of Ecuador and the journey made by indigenous and Jamaican workers who built the zigzagging tracks of the Trans-Andean Railway.
María Rosa Palacios was my great-grandmother, an Afro-Ecuadorian descendant of enslaved Africans who, in 1905, at the age of fifteen, migrated from her native village in the Valle del Chota to the city of Guayaquil. She faced the considerable challenges of traveling a long way through a rugged landscape in order to go work for a wealthy family. More than a hundred years later, I collected all the information I could about her journey and her experiences, in order to recreate her difficult endeavor. This takes the form of a video that is a hybrid between documentary and fiction, involving performance and improvisation and featuring interviews conducted with historians and relatives, as well as research about means of transportation in the early twentieth century. In addition to being a tribute to María Rosa, this project expresses concerns that arise when dealing with issues of race and social class.
The Railway Workers series consists of photomontages based on the official history of the construction of Ecuador’s railways from 1890 to 1908. The process begins with then-president Eloy Alfaro’s visionary idea of connecting Ecuador’s incredibly varied topography, creating a route between the country’s coast and highlands to improve communications and trade between the two regions. At the end of the nineteenth century, Alfaro hired a team of American engineers to overcome the problems of building in mountainous areas, such as the one known as the Nariz del diablo (Devil’s Nose). The railway was built by a workforce of indigenous people and Jamaican migrants.
This project links official history ―represented in archival images― to recent photographs of the cordillera, where workers seem to have been sculpted into the landscape.
This is a first approach leading to a series of projects focusing on the figure of María Rosa. In them, I hope to examine more closely the cultural transformations of the period and the implications of the Liberal Revolution of 1895, as well as the arrival of modernity and the new relationships it proposed, in contrast with the intertwined aspirations and frustrations exemplified by people’s private lives at the time.
Through photography, video art, and performance, Karina Aguilera Skvirsky examines the way the image operates in art and the communications media, while at the same time exploring Latin American memory and culture, with a focus on the banal, everyday aspects of inhabited spaces. She received a grant from the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture in 2018 and a Fulbright-García Robles Scholarship in 2015. Her work can be found in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Aguilera Skvirsky is represented by Ponce + Robles Gallery. She received a Creative Capital Award in 2019 for her project How to build a wall and other ruins. She is currently adjunct professor of art at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.