Arts & Entertainment

Braids and their “invisible connections” inspire Bolivian artist

By Yolanda Salazar

La Paz, Jun 25 (EFE).- The creator of paintings of men and women wearing braids emblematic of Bolivia’s various cultures that make up his show at the House of Culture in La Paz says his intent was to illuminate the “invisible connections” that form when one person touches the hair of another.

An act as simple as combing one’s hair is transformed into a space of intimacy when a mother braids her daughter’s locks.

The practice of braiding hair “transcends in time” and is found among peoples across the globe, artist Julio Cesar Escobar told Efe.

“Braids are a living element of our culture, but they are also a way to exchange knowledge, expressions, experiences that end in establishing invisible connections,” he said.

Hair is regarded as an “extension of the self” and an aspect of individual identity, he added.

The works Escobar selected for the “Infinite Braids” show at the House of Culture feature a variety of techniques, including oil on canvas and pastel on paper.

Some of the women depicted are unclothed, while others are clad in ponchos and their braids are adorned with woven wool ornaments known as tullmas.

“I have seen braids in my environment for as long as I can remember, but I never saw them through eyes with power to portray them as art,” Escobar said, recounting the origins of the project.

His first step was traveling to his family’s ancestral home in Tarabuco, a town in the Chuquisaca region that is the center of the Yampara culture, to conduct research.

Most of the subjects in his paintings wear the two braids typical of indigenous women, which Escobar sees as representative of spiritual strength and “equilibrium.”

The artist also showcases the distinctive braids of Afro-Bolivian women and the Yampara tradition of hair-braiding among men.

In Yampara culture, he said, men tended to wear their hair long and in braids to signify “masculinity, strength, virility,” though he acknowledged that the custom is fading.

“Before, to cut a man’s hair was a form of punishment, it was like taking his power and part of his masculinity,” Escobar said.

In several of the paintings, the braids are entangled with mountains, snakes, or flowers to signify the connection of hair to Pachamama (Mother Earth). EFE ysm/dr

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