We spoke to five Bolivian-American creatives who are expanding their narratives through varied forms of artistic expression within fashion, photography, music, film and art. Click through each page below for a different story.
CHARLENE ECKELS // PAINTER-ILLUSTRATOR
“I felt something punch me in my ankle [mid-flight]. I look down and [see] that a piece of the plane pierced itself and hit me, my jeans are ripped and there’s blood. When I looked up, the propeller was spinning and on fire!”
It’s not often that someone is able to detail the harrowing experience of a plane crash. Charlene Eckels was on her way to visit her grandmother, but this wasn’t just any visit.
Eckels was on a journey to discover her mother’s origins through a trip to Riberalta—known as Bolivia’s capital of the Amazon. Her grandmother introduced her to leather composed of scales of an ancient fish called Paiche and Sirari (black and red seeds), worn to ward off negative energy and bring good luck.
“For the first time, I really began to connect with what I knew about my mother’s culture and where she’s from. The food, music, dress, customs, mannerisms—it all started to come together.”
It was a world away from her hometown in Wilmington, North Carolina. As the only Latin-American person in her class, Eckels often had to explain her ethnicity to people who never fully understood. Inevitably, her identity seeped into her work as a multimedia artist through painting, illustration and graphic design. In fact, she recently made a building kit for children to create traditional Bolivian masks.
“There was no representation, so I resolved that I have to be the one to know the information and present it… I’m always asking myself, how do I show this in a way where people can come to not only understand but experience this culture.”
Her thorough and easy-to-grasp approach has garnered her recognition in various international exhibitions and as an honored member of the Sindicato Boliviano de Artistas en Variedades (Bolivia’s renowned union for artists).
Eckels recognizes that her research in art helps to preserve the cultural identity of the region and is committed to contributing to the longevity of her people’s history.
Charlene Eckels is commencing an animated graphic story chronicling her mother’s journey to the U.S. Check out more of her artwork and women’s collective at @charlene.charlene.charlene & @americanboliviancollective.