Diana Bagnoli

2019 - Ongoing


After working on the ritual of the First Communion in Naples, experienced as a rite of passage and entry into society, I would like to document the beauty contests of the indigenous girls in Peru.

The beauty as an ideology, is a key element in the construction and articulation of the identity of the Shipibo community of San Francisco, close to the city of Pucallpa, in the Amazonian rainforest.

Similarly to Communion in Naples, which involves not only the young but the whole community, the indigenous beauty contests in Peru hold a great social meaning. They represent a rite of passage to adulthood and a promise for future success.

While the official function of the contest is to represent the indigenous Shipibo female identity, in practice it is also a great opportunity to obtain social prestige for the winner and her family. Local authorities are involved and the winner’s family receives tangible economic benefits and social recognition.

The girl's body becomes a representation of traditional culture. In this public event it is possible to observe the interplay between tradition and modernity, it provides a better understanding of the ways in which a particular community seeks to accommodate their traditional legacy with the complexity of the contemporary world. 

The contest lasts one month, from mid-September to mid-October, and requires a previous long preparation. During this month all the communities in the region are called to participate and, as a result, the event contribute to strengthening collective identity. The event is so rooted in the local culture that it has ended up replacing the main ritual festivals.

The participants have to go through a succession of ordeals related to the traditional knowledge and practises (to sew coloured dress with complicate geometrical ornaments, facial painting, unique artisan techniques and so on) and at the same time meet Western aesthetic standards.

The girls, besides being aesthetically flawless, have to be trained to catwalk and greet with an European royal style dress and at the same time have to demonstrate to be fluent in the traditional language, to know how to cook and embroider.

The indigenous people in Latin America (like in Chiapas the Tzotzil people drink Coca Cola during their traditional rituals) are strongly influenced by globalization and the myth of individual well-being popularised by the media and the tourism industry. Their ideas and behaviours, as for example their idea of beauty, are subject to change. The modernity interacts with a traditional culture that appears to be constantly evolving, jeopardizing the same meaning of tradition.

With the purpose to document the transition to adulthood of teenagers in Peru, I would like to draw a parallel with the work already done in Italy and reflect through the use of images on traditional female imagery and its relationship with the contradictions of the contemporary world.

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