In the Bolivian countryside, you’ll see women of all ages wearing brightly-colored skirts and bowler hats. They’re cholitas, and they’ve been through a lot in recent history. Considered initially derogatory, the term cholita is now embraced by many Indigenous Bolivian women as a badge of honor. Photographer Celia D. Luna set out to shine a light on their stories with her series Cholitas Bravas, and what she found was inspiring. These women are proud of their heritage and culture and are determined to keep their traditions alive despite facing obstacles at every turn.
Fascinatingly, after recently focusing on formidable Indigenous female rock climbers and wrestlers, Luna’s attention was piqued by a group of bold skaters in Cochabamba. This allowed her to begin another inspiring project titled ‘Cholitas Skaters.’ She explains: “It truly amazed me that these women were daring enough to enter an extreme sport usually dominated by men. Their skating was exemplary, and they celebrated their culture and heritage as they engaged in the activity while wearing traditional clothes. I wanted to capture this unique combination of beauty, respect for one’s ancestors, and boldness in my photos, so I chose them specifically.”
Since her earliest days, Luna was intricately connected to the story of which she’s now a part. While growing up in an atmosphere saturated with traditional Andean culture and values, guided by a tenacious single mother, Luna found strength and encouragement for her photography career. She draws inspiration from her mom’s unwavering commitment each day to succeed despite all odds. “What was especially gratifying to me about the Cholitas Bravas was their deep relationship with their mothers and grandmothers. They talked about how much these women impacted them, encouraging them to take pride in their culture.”
The vivid hues of the women’s garments stand out among the earthy tones at Cochabamba skate park, as their colorful skirts and braids twirl with every move they make. Their passion for skating is evident in each outfit – a mix of traditional clothing paired with popular skate shoes like Vans or Adidas sneakers. And it’s delightful to watch these ladies express themselves through playful accessories from Bart Simpson socks to custom-made boards!
Luna’s mother was an essential driving force for this project and generously participated as a photographer’s assistant. “It was so special to have her with me on this journey. She is quite the traveler herself, so convincing her wasn’t hard! While she couldn’t help much when setting up equipment, I could always rely on her to ensure I had something delicious daily.”
Food, similar to fashion, was a tool for the photographer and her subjects to generate fresh concepts and honor their ancestry. “Before we started shooting, we came together at an eatery where we enjoyed Pique Macho- a popular dish from Cochabamba. I arrived first, and it felt splendid watching them roll in wearing their polleras while skating there! That gave me more opportunity to get acquainted with everyone present.” Luna caught wind of a documentary the skateboarders were making and their ambition to go around Bolivia teaching other women how to skate. “Skating has transformed them,” she says, “and they yearn to pass on that same enthusiasm with different ladies.”
To stay in the loop with Luna’s Cholitas Bravas series and her other works, follow her on Instagram. She’ll release prints from this project soon, so head to her website for all updates on when they’ll become available!