Carga Máxima: Estilo chillante a puro pulso.
Founded by Azucena del Carmen and Alinder Espada, Carga Máxima is a collective that carries the same name used to categorize this popular hand-painted Peruvian font. Carga máxima is a way of painting letters that we Peruvians are able to recognize without even knowing its correct denomination: our recognition and acknowledgement of them is innate. They are found in vehicles that act as our own system of public transportation by which we navigate our normally hectic limeñeans and interprovincial traffic. This typography found on cargo trucks, combis or micros exists to designate the route and destination, and it is this specific purpose that is well known by the collective mind. Azucena and Alinder explain to us that lately the carga maxima are being used in other places: in food stands, in restaurants, in murals, etc. There is a proliferation in their use and with this we also find one for the Peruvian culture that they represent
With the arrival of digital lettering, which dominates the graphic world, the collective Carga Máxima fights to maintain the original hand-painted technique alive. With a style that they classify as “chillante”, that’s to say full of life and colour, the duo paints messages that belong almost exclusively to the Peruvian imaginary. More than that Azucena and Alinder foment the original technique used to paint the carga máxima while at the same time encouraging individual expression via workshops they host for the public not only in Peru but also around the world.
Can you explain to us what are the carga máxima and from where they originate? Have fluorescent colours always been a part of this particular style?
AC: Carga máxima is a type of font that originates from cargo trucks. They are letters that where used and called this way to put the tare of the vehicle, which is the weight, the height, and the plate. Basically they were letters that had two colours since there was no fluor at the time. Fluor comes with modernity from the 70s and 80s. There was a demand for this new colour: the youth felt modern so it is them who start a popular business, an informal business. There was a division: you had the children of the provincial immigrants and then you had the limeñeans […] and this first generation did not feel neither serranos nor limeños, they felt different. But at the same time they did not have an identity. It is like a niche that between music, commerce and popular sectors, a type of ethno-marketing is created. The afiches [posters] were made with basic colours: blue, black, red, and yellow.
The use of fluorescent colours is due to the demand for afiches and workshops in Lima, competition provoked popular designers (aficheros) and musical promoters (workshops and group managers) to ask differentiate their logos and posters from others demanding an original design. Fluor is then the key piece in these demands by being a different colour, showy and artificial; a modern colour for the demands of the new limeñeans that continues to be used to this day.
The classification of the carga máxima under the label of “chicha”* (as they are commonly classified) is correct?
AC: A classification under the discipline of typography, lettering and or calligraphy would be more correct. For instance, a banner can have capital letters, like upper case letters, but that does not make it necessarily chicha. People when they interview several painters they ask them, “señor Caribeño” (who is a pioneer of the brush), “what do you think of your chicha art?” and he tells them “Perdón perdón, but I listen to salsa, I don’t like [chicha]” he says. So then the interviewers end up looking bad by not knowing the history of the pioneers. In this case we have Caribeño, Monky, el Paiteño, Tumago, Rivas, we have many masters that all have different styles. For example the majority of them consider themselves designers, they consider themselves street artists. There is not a moment where they consider that they make solely publicity [which is the “afiche”] or solely chicha art. This term comes from the bourgeoisie that comes to separate, they wish [AE: the press] to say Art and chicha art, when in reality everything is Art […] and this is what I was telling you that us Carga Máxima spread the font carga máxima that includes the “cachito”, the “huesito”, the double serif, the chola gótica and many other styles of letters that belong to popular calligraphy found in posters.
[* At first chicha was only known in Perú for being an ancestral/andean beverage made from purple corn. Later, in a limeñean context what we know now as chicha music (which is a musical genre) emerges and thus what is called "chicha culture" begins to take from]
The diffusion, the popularity of the publicity poster [the “afiche”] is growing in an exponential manner. We are seeing more and more collectives being born and not only inside of the world of graphic art but we are also seeing the afiche as a new essential complement to the visual representation of Peruvian food. Why is it that we are just recently seeing this apogee?
AC: Of course, the idea of popular graphic is basically a trend; it is a worldwide tendency that all that is vintage and retro is acknowledged. For example, in France a retro poster would be one of Toulouse, a great painter. The same thing happens in Peru only that in our case this comes with the fluorescent poster, which is at the same time contemporary but to a different sector. It is decorative or something that would be collected… and that is interesting, but there is also another trend, which is seen in food: in Peru, Peruvian food has become a trend. To this trend there is a graphic demand, and it is here that we see this graphic become a part of the trend. For instance, if I am a chef and I want to make a gourmet higadito frito [fried liver], I can use many different types of font but this doesn’t really fit. I am instead going to use a condensed carga máxima, in two colours, it doesn’t have to have fluor. There is then a demand from all Peruvian cuisine and from all cooks to realize graphic with popular lettering. There is also a tendency for older music, for vinyl music, for strange music, and to this we can add chicha, that’s a music genre that has a great demand in Europe because they see it as something “exotic”. But to us it is of a day to day basis. I listen to Agua Marina in the combi, it’s normal, but to the other sector it’s “Oh, this is different”.
The proliferation and, in some way, valorization of this spectrum of typography helps or even facilitates a sort of liberation from the part of the Peruvian individual that has felt some sort of embarrassment from this culture. The valorization given by the media validates this old yet new Peruvian identity a bit right? What kind of response have you seen from the many Peruvians that approach your art?
AC: What happens is that all of this imaginary is already in the mind of Peruvian people. It’s just that, seeing it all of a sudden reflected in support is how they can buy it and take it to their houses, distribute them in art galleries, not only speaking about our work right but also speaking about the work of many artists that focus in popular graphic. It’s easier that they feel more represented when this popular Peruvian art is being more and more accepted in the media, for instance. The media plays an important role, not only for the good but also for the bad but it does help visibilize these things, so that it becomes more massive. Because that’s the power of the media right, to make something so big so that it has some sort of value for the people, and people by identifying themselves with this type of work can also, like you were saying, stop feeling ashamed. This also helps so that it stays written in time so as not to disappear, because the technique that we use has been replaced by the paste-up or sticker. So then painters who hand-paint letters are disappearing and we try to visibilize this so that people give more value to this type of work. This is our main goal, then other things come by default such as the workshops we offer. We have taught workshops in diverse countries, here in Lima also to diverse types of audiences: from people interested in design to businessmen and also just to regular people.
Now the technique that we disseminate is taught or at least mentioned in some universities. The idea is that before people didn’t think that our identity as people could be seen in graphic […] for instance Carga Máxima, letters of Peru, describes typography, colour, Peruvians, time periods. And this way you begin to remember many things. The banner has been present even during terrorism, in a time when you couldn’t put up banners, so their numbers decreased but remained present. Despite everything it has gone through, it is still preserved because the Peruvian individual likes colour. And their children, like us, children of immigrants, like the same [colour].
Have you seen this popular graphic trend in other Latin American countries ?
AE: There is a graphic we have on Facebook that is called Vernacular Graphic where there are researchers or artists dedicated to graphic from other Latin-American countries: from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and people that research for their thesis or doctorates in popular graphic. The same goes for us who learn the technique and teach it in almost all areas of popular graphic, all interlaced by the same passion, Latin-American popular graphic. For example in Argentina you can find the “fileteado porteño” that is a much older graphic technique that has been lately declared intangible cultural heritage. So then these types of things permit that that which is found on the streets to become important because they work and have survived everything that technology has been destroying little by little.
AC: We, for example, in Lima think that how it happens in Peru also happens in other countries: for instance in Mexico they have other typographies such as the Luchita Payol, that talks about lucha libre. This is their identity, you find the diablos rojos in Panama for example because their buses are filled with colours and aerography. In Colombia we talk about picotera graphic that’s about the pico colombiano that is a type of creole music that came from black and mestizo people. In other words there were things with a lot of history where popular graphic has participated. We don’t devaluate, we only disseminate because the other work already exists, it co-exists, it's not lost in other countries where there is research to be made because the subject has already been lost. Here it lives with us and that is what is interesting.
The Latin American popular graphic you guys talk about is soaked in culture that you are telling me about is soaked in the culture and it's visible in our transportation systems and/or popular posters. What's your take on the formalization of the transportation system (something that is seen for instance in the EE.UU or in Europe) and the role that plays in regards to popular graphic and our identity?
AC: What happens is that in Europe it’s typical to not see popular graphic since everything is modern, there are no more common trains, unregulated buses, etc. There is a format, that it's called “correct.” In Latin American countries you don’t see this […] they are countries that are soaked in their culture and that in their modernity this still exists, in other words they co-exist. So then it's like they want to formalize our transport service but to do that our identity has to be taken into consideration. For instance, you are not going to put out a blue bus and expect that people are going to accept it as it is, because they are not used to this. People in Lima distrust, we have grown disbelieving what we read and we believe more in what people tell us. In these transportation reforms there will always be people who criticize, people who don’t want to leave informality and this is not only due to the driver or the passengers, but also due to the fact that in every corner and transportation stop there is already a stand, a street-vendor, a “jalador” [a person who calls you into the bus and charges a fee, a “datero” [a person who informs drivers about the distance in time between other buses and their vehicle], all of these survive because of informality. Municipalities have to work together with the people so that graphic remains present in buses and in route signalizations. Letters such as the carga máxima could be friendlier to the people and could thus create new jobs for painters who would then come back to the business of hand-painting letters, but without leaving the base problem which would be the lack in education and the lack in jobs in the transportation sector.
Interview conducted and transcribed by Alexandra Butrón-Landivar.
Edited by Mari Santa Cruz.