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Q: Can you briefly explain how the Bolivian Carnival masks you depict in your work are used?

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia

A:  The masks depict important figures from Bolivian folklore traditions and are used in Carnival celebrations in the town of Oruro.  Carnival occurs every year in late February or early March.  I had hoped to visit again this year, but political instability in Bolivia made a trip too risky.

Carnival in Oruro revolves around three great dances.  The dance of “The Incas” records the conquest and death of Atahualpa, the Inca emperor when the Spanish arrived in 1532.  “The Morenada” music and dance style from the Bolivian Andes was possibly inspired by the suffering of African slaves brought to work in the silver mines of Potosi.  The dance of “The Diablada” depicts Saint Michael fighting against Lucifer and the seven deadly sins.  Lucifer was disguised in seven different masks derived from medieval Christian symbols aor totemic animals that became nd mostly devoid of pre-Columbian elements (except that became attached to Christianity after the Conquest).  Typically, in these dances the cock represents Pride, the dog Envy, the pig Greed, the female devil Lust, etc.

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Pearls from artists* # 298

Untitled c-print, 24" x 24" edition of 5

Untitled c-print, 24″ x 24″ edition of 5

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Interviewer:  What do you think about the artist being supported by the state?

Parker:  Naturally, when penniless, I think it’s superb.  I think that the art of the country so immeasurably adds to its prestige that if you want to have writers and artists – persons who live precariously in our country – the state must help.  I do not think that any kind of artist thrives under charity, by which I mean one person or organization giving him money, here and there, this and that – that’s no good.  The difference between the state giving and the individual patron is that one is charity and one isn’t.  Charity is murder and you know it.  But I do think that if the government supports its artists, they need have no feeling of gratitude – the meanest and most sniveling attribute in the world – or baskets being brought to them, or apple polishing.  Working for the state, for Christ’s sake, are you grateful to your employers?  Let the state see what its artists are trying to do – like France and the Academie Francaise.  The artists are a part of their country and their country should recognize this, so both it and the artists can take pride in their efforts.  Now I mean that, my dear.      

Dorothy Parker in Women at Work:  Interviews From the Paris Review

Comments are welcome!

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