Last Friday, I volunteered at Smithsonian at 8’s latest event: Chicha! A Peruvian Dance Party. This party was presented in conjunction with Smithsonian’s annual Folklife Festival, whose theme for 2015’s festival is, accordingly, Peru. The Smithsonian at 8 event focused on the specific culture of Chicha (pronounced CHEE-chuh), which is both an eye-catching style of neon poster-making and a genre of music fusing traditional Peruvian tunes with electronic rock. Not surprisingly, the party was an absolute blast. Guests had the opportunity to sample Peruvian beer and cocktails and taste Peruvian food from a local food truck before dancing the night away to booming Chicha sounds. Not only was the night full of fun for everyone who attended, but the celebration of Chicha culture was meaningful to those who had been familiar with it for years. I talked with a woman at the end of the night who professed her excitement about the recognition of her Peruvian roots, and the impressive accuracy of the entire party itself. I think it’s incredible that, through events like this, we can present a rich culture to inform the public and give some people a chance to honor and publicize their own personal heritage (as well as giving people a great time).
Chicha! was held at Blind Whino, a non-profit community art space in Southwest DC. The building itself is stunning – originally an old church, the structure was reinvented by artists who coated the outside with bold, bright colors and abstract designs. The inside is similarly illuminated; however, the murals on the interior radiate a sense of street graffiti, with sweeping, narrative images of subjects such as lions, trains, and bears (oh my!). Skating culture also has a significant influence on the decoration of the space: skateboards adorned with captivating paintings hang on the walls of the hallways, and a small room in the building containing a couple of miniature quarter-pipes and skateboards hanging from the ceiling serves as a de facto shrine to skateboarding. There’s even a half-pipe set up just outside the front door that was enjoyed by skaters during the Chicha party. The combination of Blind Whino’s historic foundation and its modern, artistic mission makes it a unique gem and the perfect location for a cultural bash.
The star of the event, in my opinion, was Peruvian Chicha artist MONKY. Pedro “MONKY” Tolomeo is renowned in Lima for his striking hand-made silkscreen prints and luminous posters, and as a leader of the Chicha art movement in this city. I had the privilege of working with the artist during the party, and I was pleasantly surprised by his friendly demeanor despite his immense fame. MONKY speaks no English (fortunately for us, he had translators with him), so I mostly observed his processes and appreciated his craftsmanship. Working quickly but carefully, MONKY deftly handled the neon paints to create beautiful, voluminous words. His screen printing technique was just as impressive, using a squeegee to push ink through a screen and print multiple copies of a self-portrait he had rendered. MONKY’s energetic artistry served as an incredible example of the vibrancy of Chicha culture.
Interested in learning more about Peruvian culture? Head over to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall. Hurry, though – it’s only open until July 5th! And for more great images from Smithsonian at 8’s Chicha! party, check out coverage of the event by Brightest Young Things.