Bolivian artist interprets Mona Lisa as Indigenous ‘cholita’

KALLA BAJA, Bolivia (Reuters): Surrounded by small thatched-roofed houses and sheep at the hights of Bolivia’s Andes mountains, Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci’s oeuvre and a prominent example of a High Renaissance painting, the “Mona Lisa” transforms into a local cholita by artist Claudia Callizaya.

Cholitas, usually Indigenous Aymara or Quechua women, are generally from poor farming communities and have long faced marginalization in the Andean nation, which has the highest percentage of Indigenous people in Latin America.

Claudia Callizaya, 32, a Bolivian painter known as Claudina, works on cholita-style Mona Lisa painting, at the El Alto Public University, El Alto, Bolivia May 21, 2022. (Reuters Photo)
Claudia Callizaya, 32, a Bolivian painter known as Claudina, carries her cholita-style Mona Lisa painting, at her house in Kalla Baja, Bolivia, May 29, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

Her adaptation has the same steady gaze as in Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece portrait and a similar nose. But on her head is the traditional bowler hat of Bolivia’s cholitas and she is wrapped in a colorful Andean shawl.

“There are many women in the world, with different types of clothing. I’m Cholita, and I said the Mona Lisa has to be a Cholita, just like me,” Callizaya said.

Callizaya’s love of art began when she used stones from the fields near her home to paint on. Now the single mother of two paints on the canvas after getting a college degree in fine art.

She originally wanted to be a teacher, first studying education at a public college in El Alto, but found her vocation taking classes in art history where she learned about famous works like the “Venus de Milo” sculpture and the Mona Lisa.

Claudia Callizaya, 32, a Bolivian painter known as Claudina, applies final touches to her work,  cholita-style Mona Lisa painting, at her house in Kalla Baja, Bolivia, May 29, 2022. (Reuters Photo)
Claudia Callizaya, 32, a Bolivian painter known as Claudina, applies final touches to her cholita-style Mona Lisa painting, at her house in Kalla Baja, Bolivia, May 29, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

At the college, she came up with the idea of incorporating famous icons of feminine beauty with the features and clothing of Aymara women like herself.

“I painted the Mona Lisa, with earrings, a cholita hat, and a blanket … dressing the Mona Lisa as an Andean woman,” she said. The portrait featured Bolivian aguayo cloth, a multicolored material often used to carry infants.

Claudia Callizaya, 32, a Bolivian painter known as Claudina, applies final touches to her cholita-style Mona Lisa painting, at her house in Kalla Baja, Bolivia, May 29, 2022. (Reuters Photo)
Claudia Callizaya, 32, a Bolivian painter known as Claudina, applies final touches to her cholita-style Mona Lisa painting, at her house in Kalla Baja, Bolivia, May 29, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

Callizaya’s family fully embraces her ambitions.

“When I see my daughter drawing and painting, I feel really happy,” said Marcelina Mamani, her elderly mother. “I always cried and asked God to give her this gift.”

Since April, Callizaya has moved away from farming to work full-time at the local ministry of culture, and sold one of her two cholita Mona Lisa paintings in a student exhibition.

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