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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.