Photographs courtesy Rafael Soldi
“ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS HAPPENING IN THE ART WORLD RIGHT NOW IS THAT WE ARE SEEING MORE AND MORE MINORITY VOICES EMERGE AND RECEIVE THE RESPECT AND SPOTLIGHT THEY DESERVE,” says Seattle-based artist, photographer, designer, and curator Rafael Soldi. The Perú native recently debuted the photographic series CARGAMONTÓN, which addresses his queer, Latinx identity and takes a closer look at what he calls the “playground politics” of his youth.
“The all-boys Catholic school I attended in Perú was rife with young men searching for ways to assert power and mask desire,” he says. “Cruel rituals were common, including ‘Cargamontón,’ wherein a group of schoolmates pig-piled atop a boy, smothering him under a crush of bodies.”
Soldi, whose commercial photography has appeared in the pages of GRAY, also helped found Strange Fire Collective, a platform dedicated to promoting the work of women, people of color, and queer and trans artists, curators, and writers. ”Every Thursday we publish a conversation, essay, or feature that mirrors our vision. So far we’ve published nearly 200 interviews, and our contributions will be highlighted in a major exhibition at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design this fall.” The CARGAMONTÓN series is on view at Vancouver’s Burrard Arts Foundation now through March 23.
In your series CARGAMONTÓN, you address your queer and Latinx identity and revisit your Peruvian childhood. What were some of the most important messages you wanted to get across to the viewer?
CARGAMONTÓN is a body of work that revisits the playground politics of my youth, it puts a critical lens on the relationship between intimacy and violence in homosocial behavior.
As a queer youth who experienced this [Cargamontón] hazing, I found the practice to be confusing, frightening, and exhilarating. Humiliated under the physical and emotional weight of my classmates, I began to understand intimacy and violence as a codependent truth. I disliked being targeted but felt it may be my only opportunity for intimacy with other men.
In CARGAMONTÓN, I compiled an archive of found footage of violent and oppressive rites performed by school boys. Using a series of filters and screens, I degrade images captured from video using a still camera. The result is a series of images akin to obscure memories that depict bodies vacillating between torture and pleasure.
For you, what is the most exciting thing happening in the art world now? This could be local or global.
We’re seeing women and black and brown artists thrive, and their contributions recognized. For too long, minorities have led the vanguard but the white establishment has claimed their success; this is changing and it is exciting. We’re seeing [recognition of] artists like Dawoud Bey, Kerry James Marshall, and Seattle’s own Paul Rucker, as well as architects like David Adjaye and [the late] Zaha Hadid. We’re seeing museums finally recognize the great women of abstraction, abstract expressionism, and modernism… a history that has only been told through the lens of white men. The Hilma af Klint show at the Guggenheim is mind-blowing! For many of these artists, the recognition is coming a little too late. There is so much more work to be done still, but the scales are tipping to a more even position. The Women’s Mobile Museum, organized by the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center is a terrific example.
What have you found to be a successful means of branding/messaging for your ideas?
Expanding on the last question, I helped found a platform called Strange Fire Collective, which focuses on highlighting women, people of color, and queer and trans artists, curators, and writers. I have found that the internet has democratized the way we communicate and allowed folks like us to create a platform like Strange Fire from nothing and with nothing. And that in just three years, we can go from an idea born out of frustration to creating a major impact on how we educate and consume a more equitable art world is amazing to me.
Who is the latest person you followed on Instagram?
I love Instagram, I spend a lot of time on there. I should say that I’ve been in a bit of a purge—is there such a thing as Marie Kondo for Instagram? I’ve been unfollowing lots of accounts and “influencers” that I feel are just crowding my life with unnecessary content. In the last couple weeks I’ve followed Women Photograph (@womenphotograph), a catalogue of independent women photojournalists; MKNZ (@ruffenough), an amazing Seattle-based, queer, feminist, stick-n-poke tattoo artist; and @ExcellentCoatsOnIrritatedWomen, an account celebrating women who are pissed, and wearing fabulous coats (inspired by Nancy Pelosi).
How are design and architectural photography and art photography related or overlap? And how are they different?
My commercial and my art practice are intricately intertwined. On a practical level, being an artist is very costly (printing, framing, crating, shipping, promotion); all of these things I pay for with the income I make as a commercial photographer. I have always loved design and architecture, so I feel lucky that I get to make it my job, and that it can support an even bigger passion: my art. You could say that my design aesthetic is very much in line with my artwork—minimal, simple, and monochromatic. In both my art and in architecture, I am seduced by symmetry, simplicity, and formalism. I really enjoy working with architects, because they are artists—our schooling was very similar, art school and architecture school are not very different. Our language is the same, and I find that they enjoy having a conversation that moves beyond the technical elements of picture-making. I love engaging them in the conceptual questions that drove the material selection or orientation of a home. Or having a conversation about the abstract ideas that laid the foundation for the formal decisions in a building. I find that those conversations make for better pictures in the end.