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Fragility coated with an absurd hardness

An Interview with Jaime Enrique Prada by viento izquierdo ugaz

Peru is a complex nation-state with many contradictions, violences, and grievances. Existing and resisting as a queer and racialized artist is a daily struggle. Jaime Enrique Prada is an interdisciplinary artist whose work challenges norms through the body and sculpture, photography, video, sound, painting and more. Jaime uses research and imagination to try to address, resignify, and heal parts of our collective memoryhistory and present. Jaime approaches this challenge by starting from his own experiences, vulnerability, and courage. 

Agravio, 2018

Interventions on printed photographs, 12x10cm

Series of 13 photographs

viento izquierdo ugaz: Who was Jaime as a child, what was his environment like, and what led him to start creating?


Jaime Enrique Prada: For me being an infant was not easy; I went through psychological abuse from my family who tried to model my life and who I should be. I remember as a child being very happy, but there was a breaking point when I understood that I did not fit into heteronormativity, and it was there where my environment unconsciously or consciously turned that happiness into sadness. And it made me a very quiet person. Likewise I suffered bullying in school for being a racialized person, and such was that impact on me that it made me hide my true identity and being able to express myself 100% for fear that I might be made fun of by my peers. I never had many friends growing up that could act as emotional support, and the few that I did have were leaving or drifting away due to personal problems. So my childhood was very lonely, and that made me a very independent but also reticent person. 

Financially I never lacked anything, my parents are very hard-working people who come from precarious families that were able to get ahead monetarily. And I had a comfortable childhood in that sense. 


Since I was a child, I was always inclined to the arts. I liked to paint a lot, use modeling clay, create collages, and paint my face. But my low self-esteem and the little confidence I had in myself made me feel that I was not capable of studying art, let alone making a living from it. So it was never an option for me until my adolescence, when artistic creation overflowed my life, and I felt the need to study something artistic to feel happy with myself. Luckily, I always had parents who supported me in the decisions I was going to make professionally.

viu: How do you see the connection between those experiences and your series, Agravio (or “Grievance”)? And how would you describe the Jaime of the present?


JEP: Agravio is the project I used to heal those wounds I had growing up, and in that process I understood my family and their thoughts much better. The project seeks to interpret my family history from my emotional memories. 


The negative experiences I went through during my childhood are captured with innocence in the collages and paintings of the Agravio series. Drawing painful ties to the past, seeing the pain that my mother and father had in their childhood and how this subjected them to repeat it unconsciously on me. Agravio evidences this vicious circle of underhanded violence in families. 


Nowadays I am a much calmer person, those inexplicable cries at night started disappearing as I understood more about my family and where that pain really came from. And far from hiding that process, I like to show it because it is part of me.

Jaime Enrique Prada, self-portrait

Now I can recognize my family identity without denying it and without pain; I can see myself without fear; I feel free. I am a person who seeks with my identity (Afro, indigenous, nonbinary, Peruvian, pansexual, etc.) to be able to develop in an artistic environment that is often adverse to these identities. And maybe now or in the future some child who wants to be an artist will look at my work and will know that they don’t have to carry the pain that their family or society may have generated. 


viu: The body plays a central role in your work. What has been your experience using your body in public, in a Lima that we can recognize as aggressive, chaotic, and conservative?


JEP: Certainly making art with the body in Lima will always be an act of courage and even more so if it is art that touches on uncomfortable subjects. It is not easy to confront onlookers with your body, but it is something I have become accustomed to. I have always been subjected to looks of warning for being Black because generally people think I am a criminal (if I dress masculine), or look at me with contempt (if I dress feminine).

For example, during the rehearsals of the performance “Tapada Afrolimeña,” I noticed that people were intimidated by the figure of a person with his face covered. It is as if they were holding back their desire to be aggressive not knowing who they are addressing; it seems that there is a fear of observing. But when I took off the mask, I could feel that some people were looking for my gaze to deposit their contempt. So in my experience using the body in Lima, I discovered that people channel their emotions through the gaze. That it is different from cities in other countries where they can shout at you without any reproach, but you know what they are thinking. Here it is difficult to know. 


Using the body in Lima is going to be the object of all kinds of looks. And that is dangerous because behind a look can hide all kinds of actions that have not been enunciated and that are being contained. 

Tapada Afrolimeña

Performance still, 2020

viu: It’s been a tough few years surviving a global pandemic, quarantine, endless political crisis and more . . . What has been the impact of these last two years on you as an artist? Were you still able to create, and what came out of it?


JEP: During this last year I have taken my processes calmly, internalizing a little more about myself, preparing my body, and studying performance in order to develop future projects, because I consider my body a powerful expressive tool.


This last year has been very complicated for me, and that is why I have felt the need to resort to art as a therapeutic act. Therefore, making a small retrospective has been a stage for more of my artistic activity.


This changing scenario has only reinforced my identity and strengthened my political and artistic convictions. The pandemic impacted me economically, but this made me generate new ways to create art, which is why I turned to video. I made the documentary ¿En qué día salgo yo?, in which trans people discuss the measures imposed by the Peruvian government and how this has generated an increase in vulnerability and social discrimination.

¿En qué día salgo yo?, 2021

Documentary Short, 20min

viu: No Puedo Ser Fragil or “I Cannot Be Fragile” is a series that addresses masculinity and its connotations. I’m very attracted to your choice of materials — a very beautiful way of approaching to talk sensitively about the role of masculinity in every union, and especially in masculinized and Black bodies. Tell us about this series and your conceptual and material process in creating it.


JEP: I cannot be fragile is an almost archeological approach to masculinity, one that is fragile. And ceramics certainly help to evoke the pre-Hispanic huacos where there is no fear of sexual exploitation. The very phrase “I cannot be fragile” is a denial of weakness, but the pieces I create are themselves fragile because they are constructed of a mixture of clay and iron that through magnetism causes certain crevices to sprout. It is like a porcupine that bristles to protect itself.


And that is what I want to make evident: those hard layers that we have to put on to avoid being harmed, that sprout involuntarily, that sprout magnetically. 

A Black person with a masculine appearance is hypersexualized and hypermasculinized, and Peruvian society does not allow for that person to be fragile; with this project I want him to be seen as such in his fragility covered by an absurd hardness.

19cm, 2021

from the series No puedo ser frágil


19 x 7 x 12 cm

Built with magnetism

viu: You have done a lot of research on Pancho Fierro, and your Tapada Afrolimeña series explores the archetypes present in his iconic paintings. How has Fierro's work and lived experiences influenced you?


JEP: One of the reasons why I investigated Fierro is that he is one of the very few referents for Black artists in Peru. 


His work has been very relevant over time for portraying a colonial Lima. But for me, his look at the archetypes of Afro people is very interesting; he paints Afro men with movements and contortions that could be considered feminine and Afro women with a rigidity and serenity that is currently attributed to male bodies. That is why it is interesting to reflect: at what point did this vision change? At what point does a masculine body have to be rigid and a feminine one contorted?

Negro chala en el día del corpus, 2020 (left)

Vendedora de velas rojas, 2020 (right)

from the series Tapada Afrolimeña

That questioning has influenced my work, as well as the way I capture the characters by abstracting them from their surroundings and placing them in the immensity of nothingness.


This reading that I give to Fierro’s work, I feel that it connects a lot with today and with the rethinking of gender roles.

viu: The Fuga series assumes the heavy task of vindicating and re-signifying a violent history. What role does research and collaboration play in your work?


JEP: It is very difficult to face the past when it is extremely violent. To think that part of my family probably comes from runaway enslaved people is very painful. 


This research began when I became interested in finding out if there was any information about my grandfather’s father, who was the son of a freed enslaved person. And I came across newspaper ads for buying and selling enslaved people.

I had to resort to the archives of the national library to get newspapers of the time (mainly the newspaper El Comercio) in which enslaved people who escaped were exchanged for money. Therefore, with this project I sought to reconstruct the story from a contemporary empowerment by collaborating with Afro friends and relatives who play the role of people fleeing from an adverse environment, seeing the escape as an act of courage. Escape is a revolutionary act with which one tries to return to where one arrived, and it is through the sea that the ships full of enslaved peoplearrived. But in this case, the person faces it alone before the immensity of the sea through which they try to heal the wounds.


The project interprets newspaper ads about the escape of enslaved Africans during the early republican period in Peru; these ads had a detailed description of the Afro person. It is a project that I have looked at again this year because of the Bicentennial: it made me think that if I had been born less than two hundred years ago, I might have been enslaved. It is a reflection on the supposed freedom that we celebrate with the independence of Peru, freedom that was not for Afro people.