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This year Columbia's Indie Grits celebrates Latinx culture with Visiones

Beauty is in the Eye

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Now in its 11th year, Indie Grits has transformed from a smallish DIY event to a carefully curated three-day long arts festival, featuring film, visual arts, live music, and special events. The Columbia-based fest, started in 2007 by former Charleston resident (and one of Redux's founders) Seth Gadsden along with Andy Smith, comes up with a theme each year and asks participating artists to contribute works based on this idea.

This year's theme, Visiones, was inspired by two members of the Indie Grits team, Pedro Lopez De Victoria, who moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico when he was four, and Amada Torruella, who hails from El Salvador. The two were putting together a smaller festival with a Latinx theme and Gadsden thought that the idea deserved a full-blown fest. "I had no idea Trump was getting elected," says Gadsden, who started work on this year's Indie Grits months before the orange one's reign came to fruition. "For the first time in my lifetime, immigration was the most important thing."

Trump became the 45th president of the United States halfway through Indie Grits 2017's preparations, the second year in a row that the festival's focus took an unexpected turn. Last year's theme, Waterlines, was meant to celebrate the rivers and creeks around Columbia — instead, after the devastating flooding of October 2015, many of the projects focused on recovery rather than revelry.

Artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez will deliver Visiones' keynote speech - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez will deliver Visiones' keynote speech

"There's nothing you can do when people want to revolt," says Gadsden. So the Indie Grits team — with De Victoria and Torruella serving as Visiones co-curators — put no limits on their artists, or their feelings towards the new president and his policies.

"We're looking at how Latinx culture is working with the Southeast," says Gadsden. "How can that community reclaim its culture?" According to Pew Research Center's Hispanic trends, as of 2014, South Carolina had the third fastest-growing Latino population in the nation. "We want to get ahead of it," says Gadsden.

The format of Indie Grits allows for loose interpretations of the theme, as long as all of the participants are active in the community and open to collaboration. Torruella, De Victoria, and Gadsden work together to find artists in the community, often through local arts organizations, like Palmetto Luna, who fit the bill. "They take a deep dive into the theme and their art and begin to develop work. It's kind of like an incubator program," says Gadsden.

Art takes all forms at Indie Grits, including food, especially during Saturday's Food Truck Parranda. "There will be a photographer cooking food for people and each person who comes up, he'll engage with, and tell them stories," says Gadsden. "We push people to get out of their comfort zones and push art in new directions."

Curtis Harding performs with Lambchop during Indie Grits' opening block party - HEDI SLIMANE
  • Hedi Slimane
  • Curtis Harding performs with Lambchop during Indie Grits' opening block party

Gadsden wants everyone from the community to check out Indie Grits, from the free opening night block party featuring Lambchop and Curtis Harding to the puppet slam (which, OK, is not for kids) to Kindie Grits: Lucha Magic, where kids can work with Indie Bits developers to create animated characters.

"Music can really help you get access to different communities," says Gadsden. There will be performances from Shara, who calls her style of electronic/dance, hip-hop, and R&B, hiphopera; Charleston's own Contour, led by Khari Lucas, who play down-beat R&B; and singer Curtis Harding, described as a "comrade in the resurgence of soul."

The music gets people there and the hope, of course, is that the art keeps them around. "All artists will be performing in the street," says Gadsden. This year it was Torruella's idea to display art during some events as a demonstration in the streets, rather than stashed away in particular venues.

This is the first year that Indie Grits has expanded beyond Southeast artists, bringing in makers and performers who are native to Central and South America. There's Marian Ziehe, who is originally from Brazil; Ivan Segura, from Mexico; Christian Guerrero, from Chile; Diana Farfán, from Colombia; and more. Ziehe will perform a Brazilian style of martial arts, capoeira; Segura develops an iconography celebrating the strength of Latina women; Guerrero will ride the Visiones bike as part of Apparition in flux; and Farfán creates a three-dimensional piece that challenges the idea of what it means to be an immigrant.

As Farfán says in her artist's statement, "Visiones offers me the opportunity to express my idea of nation, that one in which we all form a human tapestry without judging ourselves by appearance, language, or place of birth."

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