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Bolivia contemporary art cultural heritage masks and costumes street art Ulli Claure Ibarra

ART FOR THE DEAD

ULLI CLAURE IBARRA

// Ulli is from Vienna, Austria, but has lived in several countries and has family ties to Bolivia. She has loved photography since she was little. Ulli shares a set of photos from what is perhaps the most colourful cemetery in the world, the Cementerio General de La Paz in Bolivia.

Ulli got her first camera many years ago, when she was 8 years old, and has always enjoyed taking photos purely as a hobby photographer. She has neither invested in expensive equipment, nor does she edit her photos much — which, looking at her images, goes to show you that a good eye for beauty and composition is what is most important for creating interesting images.


“The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.”

Auguste Rodin


What draws you to the arts?

“Be it an exhibition, a concert, a play, or just discovering art in the streets by turning a corner in an unknown city … it is always like opening a present … the satisfaction and inspiration I feel when discovering the unexpected, when I am able to witness the expression of the passion in the soul of the artist, when I marvel at the turns creativity can take, or when I simply delight in the beauty and harmony of the full package.”

What impressed you most about these murals?

“The location of this “open air gallery” of murals within a cemetery makes it all the more interesting. While the general theme of the murals is strongly linked to the place where they are located, each mural has its unique character, many impressing by sheer size, others by the details that are not visible at first sight. A heady cocktail of beauty and a riot of colours set at an altitude of roughly 3,650 m, above which silently glide the red gondolas of the teleferico through the thin air.”

The La Paz general graveyard – Cementerio General de La Paz – has become an open air gallery with many murals by international artists. It is, one might say, art for the dead – and of course for the living. In the general cemetery of La Paz, different festivities are held related to death and the relationships of the local inhabitants with the memory of the deceased. Some notable ones are the All Saints Festival and the Festival of the Ñatitas, both during the month of November, when Ulli visited.

The Ñatitas festival is itself an interesting cultural tradition specific to the La Paz region of Bolivia. On the day of Ñatitas, decorated skulls are brought to the church for consecration, and then a festival is held at the cemetery all day long. The cult of Ñatitas is based on a pre-Columbian tradition – in this belief the deceased continued to “live” with their families and are said to have powers that protect the family members. Nowadays in Bolivia the dead are buried in accordance with Christian tradition, but families still own skulls that they have inherited or been given as a gift, and those who believe in it follow the old tradition.

This Cemetery is also the scene of cultural walks and is a space for the development of different expressions of ritual of syncretic characteristics, mainly Catholic and Aymara. Ulli´s photos (from 2016 and 2018) provide insights into an indigenous South American tradition surrounding death that is at once interesting and colourful. As the murals also show the relationship with death is quite different from the way modern Western cultures view it. In some ways death seems less finite when viewed like this.


Images may be cropped for layout. Click on the photos to see the original version.

All photos © ULLI CLAURE IBARRA

You could also visit Ulli´s Instagram page.

2 replies on “ART FOR THE DEAD”

Spectacular set. It has now become an item in my bucket list of places to visit. Ulli’s photography is extraordinary in what the capture and the stories they tell !!

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