CREATIVE HUBS: LIMA
It’s a carnival; a detonation of booming vibrancy, of flamboyance and spirit. It is the energy of Latino soul distilled into graphical form. It is Chicha art. Beginning as a movement of psychedelic, rhythmic music in the 1960s, before exploding as a scene in the late 1970s, Chicha is the essence of alternative South America — born in Colombia, brewed in Peru, it symbolised the lower classes, and perturbed the elite. Nowhere was Chicha culture more symbolic than in the near-neon, unabashed typography of the posters that promoted the concerts of the movement’s key movers.
Decades later and the style continues to inform Peru’s creative presence — key protagonist, Elliot ‘Tupac’ Urcuhuaranga, has recently added London to the list of international cities in which he’s exhibited … but, back home, reception can still be cold.
As I said, Chicha speaks to Peru’s lower classes, and the city’s local government has been whitewashing murals from its leading artists with all the abandon you expect from these types — culturally devoid until there’s a buck to be made. But you know the script, a little squeeze from the top inadvertently strengthens the spirit of a city’s left-minded creatives … and so works the pattern of counterculture.
Lima itself? The Peruvian capital is a city that divides opinion; there is fog and smog, and horrific traffic, there are high rises and expanses of slums — but too there is rugged scenery, a metropolis perched on cliffs above the Pacific ocean, sophisticated civilisation that can be traced back further than practically any city you care to mention. If Lima was in the United States it might be Los Angeles; a city at odds with itself, difficult, but a blossoming nucleus of creativity. Bienvenida a Lima: emerging cultural hub.
Bastion of creative thinking, high-culture magazine Dazed recently announced Lima as one of ‘10 creative cities to leave the country for’ — where London’s priced-out creatives might traditionally be flocking to Berlin, or Barcelona … the mag founded by fashion photographer Rankin suggested upping it all and heading to Peru.
Why? The emergence of two major art fairs plays a key role — ArtLima and PArC big news among the international art community. Indeed Lima is enjoying a recent cultural renaissance — but, rather than an internationally-renowned art scene, it is something very different that has kindled this movement. Food.
Opening Central in 2009, Virgilio Martinez surely has a key role to play in the emergence of Lima as a contemporary cultural destination — celebrating ancient Andean heritage, his restaurant currently occupies fourth place on the list of the world’s top 50 restaurants; the chef’s London restaurant, Lima, being the first Peruvian cuisine restaurant in Europe to be awarded a Michelin star. Recently opening up Nos, a more casual destination close to Central, Martinez is to Peruvian cuisine what René Redzepi is to Nordic cooking, Ferran Adrià to molecular gastronomy. The 30-year-old has changed the world’s perceptions of South American food; building on his country’s biodiversity and ancient Andean heritage, Martinez has elevated Peruvian creativity to new heights.
In London, ‘Peruvian’ is a veritable buzzword on the haute cuisine circuit and Martinez is not the only chef making waves … in Ceviche Soho and Andina, Martin Morales has forged a Peruvian cuisine scene in one of the world’s most food-forward cities. But it is not only his country’s edible creativity that Morales is an exponent of; a keen art collector, the former DJ opened Ceviche Old St Gallery — a restaurant cum gallery — this October. Claiming itself as the ‘first ever Peruvian contemporary art gallery outside of Peru’, debut exhibition BIRTH includes works by more than 50 of Peru’s leading artists, a number of whom look to our old friend Chicha for inspiration.
A name not so commonly associated with Lima, and with Peru, is Mario Testino. Perhaps the city’s most acclaimed son, the fashion photography icon is probably more associated with Paris; London; Milan … such is his repute over Peru’s small renown in creative circles. But, along with cultural ambassador Martin Morales, Testino is one of many on a mission to reverse that ratio; opening his not-for-profit cultural centre MATE in 2012. A permanent display of his work is accompanied by work from emerging Peruvian artists, a determination to expose his country’s creativity at the museum’s core.
So Peru is hot. Lima is hot. What to do when you fly into Jorge Chávez International? Check into Hotel B, a 1920s Belle Époque mansion in Barranco … once a seaside resort for the Chicha-hating elite, the formerly fancy ‘hood is at the centre of the city’s boho-revival.
Decaying mansions, left behind after the city’s urban expansion impinged on the aristocracy’s turf, were occupied by squatters and artists, and the old cultural gentrification cycle was set in motion — Barranco is now home to Testino’s gallery, MAC (a purpose-built contemporary art museum opened in 2013; a reminder of how fresh Lima’s cultural renaissance is), Galleria Lucia de la Puente and Museo Pedro de Osma (stalwarts of the Barranco art scene, opening in 1995 and 1987 respectively) … alongside a host of smaller contemporary art spaces, boutiques, restaurants and underground nightlife.
And that nightlife? Buzzing too, of course. Like Lima’s food and art, the explosion of the city’s cultural climate has led to a thriving nightlife scene where — once again — the influence of Chicha can still be felt. Duo Rafael Pereira and Felipe Salmón fuse traditional tropical rhythms with contemporary electronica as the brilliant Dengue Dengue Dengue!, wearing graphic-heavy masks, doused in those familiar fluorescent hues.
Lima creativity in 2015? It’s a carnival; a detonation of booming vibrancy, of flamboyance and spirit.