Born in Guaymallén, a small village in Mendoza, Argentina, La Chola critically examines the ongoing repercussions of colonialism and white supremacy in her homeland through a variety of artistic mediums, including watercolours, sculptures, installations and performances. She explores her indigenous and queer heritage, challenging stereotypes and exoticisation of this culture.
Her artistic trajectory began during her formative years as a non-binary indigenous teenager. La Chola sheds light on the historical role of women, transvestites and transsexuals, all expressions of femininity that have faced persecution, ostracism or reverence within religious and patriarchal ideologies.
It was an early, frosty night, typical of a first of March in Berlin when we met in person. La Chola was spending a few hours in the city, after her spectacular Solo Show at ARCO Madrid. She was going to talk details with Art & Culture Deutsche Bank. She had won her Artist of the Year 2023 award and the epic Palais Popularie awaited Guaymallén, her promising invasion. It’s the exhibition where we would later witness La Chola’s thrilling performance together with Lola Bhajan and a Church of Drawing where religious, political, erotic, pop-cultural and indigenous motifs and symbols merge into an immersive experience.
We went to dinner for classic Austrian wiener schnitzel mit kartoffelsalat with her gallerist, her producer and my best friend. Between toasts of velvet-coloured wine, we promised to stay in touch. And so it happened. Several months after the initial meeting, we found each other under many weak suns of a cool Berliner summer. And under timeless nights of national rock and raising glasses. Getting to know her more in depth was a fortune that will stay with me. Her satirical universe, filled of non naive pop and symbolism, is capable of haunting many souls, including mine.
I proposed to her a conversation, to expose some of this. She accepted. We met at the Hoxton Hotel, in the traditional Charlottenburg district. There was no better setting for an evening of confessions and champagne. For context, the Hoxton celebrates 'West Berlin's rich architectural history’ and 'classic 1920s opulence intertwined with Brutalism', through a heady mix of textures, prints, fabrics and design styles. I knew she would like it.
We cross the lobby, where blue-green tones and Bauhaus artwork set the tone. Islands of Art Nouveau sofas and curved armchairs are clustered under Murano chandeliers. However, we decide to go in search of more privacy and head upstairs to the Apartment: a hybrid space inspired by a 1920s salon. Imagined as the salon of legendary German expressionist choreographer Mary Wigman, the rooms feature soft, muted tones, vintage lighting and elegant touches. We settle in and start chatting.
Delfina wears knit top MIU MIU, skirt LANVIN; Chola wears skirt and top COMME des COSTUMES archive.
Do you believe in definitions? If so, how would you define yourself?
I like the idea of definition, but I don't believe in labels. I am first and foremost an artist. There is nothing in my life that has nothing to do with art. Everything I do is related to that. My private life, the people I connect with, my transition. Everything has to do with art.
Your art reflects your intimate life, what society transmits to you and how you react to it. What themes influence you? From songs to activist movements.
I've always had a concern about the body. I don't see the body I have reflected in the history of Argentinean art. I never see a brown person painted. There is a work by Alfredo Guido (1892-1967) an artist from Rosario, called La Chola. That chola is white. It's like a naked white maja in an Andean context, it's kind of absurd not to see oneself reflected in that place. I was always interested in being close to the movements, to what was happening in the street. The street, the night, really challenges me. I have many friends who are from the night, who go there because they are from the underground or because they are sex workers. There is another life in parallel that is not sleeping. So I don't know, you don't have to go to a demonstration to understand an issue that is being debated. It's in the street. You perceive it, or at least I perceive it. I'm also very influenced by rock music. When I was a teenager I was a rolinga. I used to enjoy going with the bands in the tents, and touring around. So crazy.
In your exhibition at the Palais Popularie, curated by Britta Färbe, the presence of national rock is clearly visible. Flema, Los Redondos, they're like little pieces of you that are there.
Yes, they really move me. I feel that they have a lot to do with me, with a moment and also with a generation. With something that is very typical of Argentine rock and a before and after in Latin American music.
What was your artistic background? Both academically and more intrinsically?
I always liked art. I have a memory of opening a book at my grandmother's house when I was four years old. I was very excited when I saw a painting. It was Velázquez's dwarf. I didn't understand what it was. I knew it wasn't a picture and that's when I got my first impression of what a painting was. I remember that moment, very vivid. Then - my mum tried to make sure I was more inside my house than outside. I'm from a very poor and humble neighbourhood in Mendoza and I grew up in that place with my sister, my mother and six aunts. It was very matriarchal. I spent every afternoon drawing. I didn't have the stimulus of the outside world at that time. More as a teenager, I knew I had the chance to go to a workshop to learn, but I didn't have the money. So when I had the opportunity to pursue a career, I went to university because I wanted to know all the techniques and learn. I did my Professor and Bachelor's Degree in Visual Arts at the University of Cuyo, in Mendoza. I was fascinated; I had drawing, life models, engraving, I did sculpture. I made the most of the workshops. For me it was a real training ground, because I learned a lot. It was what I had always wanted. And then it's also nice to be in that space because you have colleagues and you generate a scene, you share interests.
Being such a multidisciplinary artist, what is your creative process like? Do you consciously focus on a certain technique? Is it more of an impulse?
It changes. In fact, I think it changes with me. When I first started thinking of myself as an artist, I painted a lot because that's kind of the first idea of what it's like to be an artist, a painter. But then I started to realise that I had to talk about other things. I remember I got together with Alex, a trans friend, and I told him: 'I need to go buy a wig because I'm thinking a lot about an image of being a chola. And that's how I took my first picture. With a synthetic wig like a cotillion wig because I didn't have any money. I think I was about 21 years old. And when I saw myself, I said: 'I want to get this, I don't know how but it's going to happen' My desire was there and I ended up being La Chola today.
You are part of your work.
Of course I am. At that time I needed the photo as a medium. And later, when I stopped using the body, I started to work with dough and then to work with watercolour. I think they are materials that somehow have an independence and performativity.
How, if at all, do you expect the public to react to your work?
I try to make my experience more collective. I think it's the same for all of us. All these latest works are like an intimate diary, a composition. Virgins for me are music lyrics. In other words, each element that is there is a word. I think anyone can identify with that, with the form. Sometimes I use pieces of songs or I quote something I'm reading. In one of the virgins I painted Naomi Campbell, for example. I use images that are very recognisable. The experience interests me a lot.
La Chola Poblete 4.jpg
Skirt PRADA, shirt SAINT LAURENT, tights TOM FORD, heels PRADA.
How did Guaymallén come about?
When they gave me the award for artist of the year they told me that I didn't have to do an unpublished work. I could bring what I had, but I wanted it to be all new and special work for Berlin. I thought a lot: 'Why did I win this award?’ and when I started I said: 'I'm from Guaymallén, I was born there', and doing this show was like decompressing who I am. I am all this, I am the flag that says: 'I am an undesirable body but here I am', I am the virgin of bread. It has to do with that, with me. And with opening myself up.
As each of the works that is part of Guaymallén is a part of you, is it easy for you to find a predilection for any particular work?
I think the photos. Yes, yes. The photos. Taking those photos was a journey, it was a lot. (Ed Note: the pieces refer to figures of mythology like the Capitoline, she wolf- La Loba and to Christian iconography. In one of the photos, La Chola represents the Madonna Lactans, who is standing in a butcher shop and produces her milk into the mouth of a Mormon, which can be read as the exploitation. Black people are not admitted to this church.)
Your body of work is made up of personal references such as painted phrases like Vendo mi Ego (I sell my ego) and poetic and social dyes. There are also elements from Argentinean culture, which have universal meanings. What are the references behind your work?
Clearly there is a desire to be able to understand the genre in a different way. If there is a main theme in my work, it has to do with identity, with all that the word implies and with what is popular.
What do you think of the relationship between artists and the art market? Often it's the artists who criticise certain commercial aspects and hegemonic behaviours, how is it possible to get out of the logic of this market, to remain in the system, but without stopping being yourself?
At the beginning I thought of myself as an artist, whose focus was to get to a museum one day, and I imagined myself living and working as a teacher. But later, when I started to have the opportunity to participate in art fairs where it's clearly the market, I realised that if I want to make a critique of this, I don't have to stand on the opposite side of the street and point the finger or think: 'You've sold out', but that the critique lies precisely in getting into the market, being like a virus and attacking what's going on there. In other words, I am a market person. I know I've also become privileged and I know I'm a mainstream artist now.
And especially at your young age - how many artists from Argentina reach this level?
Very few. There are artists who are incredible and who haven't had the opportunity I have. It changed me to understand that being an artist is a job, it helped me to be able to live from what I like, to have my studio, to be able to create and keep on creating and to have the time to be able to do what I want. It has also given me the possibility to help my family and to give work, because in everything I do there is a team behind me. You need money to have a production team, a photographer, make-up, everything.
Let's play question Ping-Pong. Do you think an artist has to be a good person?
No, not at all.
Do you cry often?
I cry all the time. I'm a cry person.
What song describes your life at the moment?
Oh, I have it here, look:
If you had to wear one item of clothing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I don't have it yet, but I'd love to have an amazing Saint Laurent suit, with big shoulder pads. I'd love to be buried in that!
Someone you admire.
My mother.
Favourite season of the year.
A dream to fulfil.
Oh I don't know! A dream to fulfil?
You're fulfilling it now!
I'm fulfilling it now (laughs). All my life I said: 'I want to be at the Venice Biennale'. For me that was the last place, the hardest place. I thought I was going to get there when I was 50. It's like the World Cup for artists. (Ed Note: La Chola was selected by curator Adriano Pedrosa to be part of the Venice Biennale 2024)
We'll have to look for another dream. On a personal level, perhaps?
I want to buy a house. And I would like to be able to give someone opportunities. To help. I imagine when I grow up I'd like to buy a house and create a scholarship for trans girls or queer people who want to train in art. Something like that.
Considering the presence of Los Redondos in your work: is luxury vulgarity?
Always, always (laughs a lot).
What happened with Queen Letizia?
My friend Letizia! Nothing - I was invited by Cesar Abelenda, our friend from Pasto Galería to participate in Arco Madrid. It was a Solo Show in a Latin American section and the Royal House, that is to say the King and Queen, when the fair starts they make a tour. They choose one or two galleries to focus on and that year it was our turn.  So they chose me and the day before the pre-opening, they told us how we had to greet her and address her, the protocol. That night I thought a lot about what I could do to generate something. I wanted to do a performance at ARCO and they told me it wasn't possible. So I said well, this is my chance to say something, it's super symbolic, I'm La Chola, I talk about themes that have to do with colonial issues, I focus a lot on this part of history and it occurred to me to say to her: 'Hello Letizia, we meet again after 530 years', which are the years of the conquest. I shook her hand and told her that. She was stiff, taken aback and then she got into the game. She asked me which pronoun I felt more comfortable with, I told her obviously with the feminine and I explained about all the works. It was very exciting because she was very attentive to listen to me. Besides, I talked about what conquest is, about religion. So I feel it was like a very performative and political act.
The performance they didn't let you do, you did it anyway.
Yes, I did it anyway. Having the queen around, you know, it's a lot. Very, very crazy. It was very scary.
And what scares you?
Madness, which is abandoning yourself.
The confessions kept on, off the record. But as her beloved Indio Solari, leader of Los Redondos together with Luca Prodan would say, it's better not to talk about certain things.
La Chola Poblete 1.jpg
Jacket DOLCE& GABBANA, black skirt and tights COMME des COSTUMES archive, shoes ALEXANDER McQUEEN.