Borders, those artificial spaces humankind created millennia ago to mark the ‘owned’ territory by a group, have become lethal to many. Movement and migration are a natural part of the world, but within those constricted spaces, some with heavy surveillance, it is harder and harder for people to roam, wonder, or establish themselves in different places. In her series Orinoco - Frontera de agua, photographer Juanita Escobar shows us the realities of the women who inhabit the borders of the Orinoco river, which creates a ‘natural’ border between Colombia and Venezuela. On view through June 9 at NYC’s Bronx Documentary Center, her solo show is not to be missed.
On her website, the self-taught photographer explains: “I want to tell the stories of the women that share this territory: the indigenous woman — the Sikuani, Amorúa, Piaroa, Puinave, Curripaco and Saliva — the Venezuelan woman, the plains woman. They populate the area around this border, as nomads or sedentary inhabitants and are the ones who guide us through these territories where they are always on the move, allowing us to become part of their memory. The flow is not only of indigenous people who travel as part of their tradition; there are also Venezuelan migrants seeking hope on this rural border of the Orinoco.”
The artist’s interest in people, their stories, and territory has always been there. Juanita won the Colombian National Photography Prize in 2009 with her work People-Land, which showcased her interest in those topics. They permeate her entire practice, and thanks to her honesty when lensing her subjects, Escobar won the 2016 Portfolio Review Prize from the National Geographic Society, and was selected in 2017 for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass. In 2018, she was awarded the prestigious Magnum Foundation Fund for her project Orinoco, Women’s Journal, which visitors can see at Bronx Documentary Center.
The insightful, poetic, yet raw series by Juanita are so great because she mostly works on long-term projects that allow her to get to know her subjects and their stories. From 2007 to 2015, she worked on the award-winning series Llano, and since 2015, she’s been working on Orinoco. In her own words: “My relationship with this land dates back ten years. For seven of them I rode alongside the plains people of the Orinoco savannah on horseback, but I had never seen the mythical river that gives the region its name. It was always a point of reference, a distant echo that gradually pulled me closer and closer to its banks. I arrived two years ago and stayed. I couldn’t escape El Dorado, which for me is the need to tell the stories of this land. I want to search for the visual marks left by the earth, river and jungle in the faces of the people, in their skin. I also want to look for emotions that exit the body to become landscape and atmosphere.”