NGTI Raw File: Skirts on Skates

Brazilian photographer Luisa Dörr frames a trailblazing women's skateboarding group in Bolivia that has reimagined a colonial relic as an empowering beacon.

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NGTI Raw File, National Geographic Traveller India‘s monthly series that celebrates the craft of travel photography, reaches behind the scenes of iconic frames of places and the people that inhabit them. We’re back with another prized photograph—this time from the repertoire of the established Brazilian photographer Luisa Dörr. The LensCulture Emerging Talent titleholder’s work focuses on the feminine human landscape, with portraits of women from underrepresented communities forming the bulk of her artistic output.

In the 10th edition of this exclusive series, we put into the spotlight Dörr’s portrait of a Bolivian women’s skateboarding group. These indigenous women have taken to reclaiming a garment thrust upon their ancestors centuries ago as an instrument of discrimination. And they do it in style—by donning these chunky, knee-length skirts as they whoosh past on their skateboards.

 

IN FOCUS: ImillaSkate is a female skateboarding team from Cochabamba, Bolivia. They started this movement in 2019, to help the sport grow and for them to get more spaces to practice, not to mention, to encourage more people to find common ground regardless of their appearance, age or gender. Imilla means ‘girl or young lady’ in Quechua and Aymara, the two most widely spoken languages in the South American country, where more than half of the population has native roots.

Dörr stumbled upon Imilla’s Instagram page at the beginning of the pandemic, when a friend reposted a story about them. Being someone who related to issues concerning “young women, minorities, identity, ethnography, sports, politics, and cultural heritage”, Dörr was immediately drawn to the collective.

 

Also Read | How the Leaf Used to Make Cocaine Saved My Life in Bolivia

 

“Since it symbolises authenticity and stigmatisation, dusting off the polleras that once belonged to aunts and grandmothers seemed the obvious choice for Dani Santiváñez, 26, a young Bolivian skater who wanted to reclaim her roots. In 2019, she and two friends created the female collective ImillaSkate as a cry for inclusion,” shares Dörr.

“They don’t wear the polleras on a day-to-day basis, but only for skating. Knee-length and paired with sneakers, as it happened in the past, the polleras adapted again [sic] and became a symbol. The imillas, who practice to compete in local tournaments, use this presence and their skateboards as a natural vehicle to empower women and push their message of inclusion and acceptance of diversity,” says the photographer.

 

Ngti Raw File: Skirts On Skates

 

IN SHOT: The Pairumani Park entrance is one of the girls’ preferred spots for skateboarding for its beauty. It is a little downhill, located in Quillacollo, on a road that goes to the Ecotourism Park of Pairumani, on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia.

The group wanted to share spots that represent their town and the ever-present character that nature offers in the background. The road is full of iconic trees from the terrain’s flora, and the plantation area provides numerous agricultural workplaces for the population. Dörr set out to capture the  girls in their avatar as street skaters donning their distinctive attire, in a landscape close to their heart.

“I love this photo, it is one of my favorites from this project,” she tells us. Known for photographing subjects in pristine settings, Dörr recalls struggling with evading the centrally located and densely populated Garden City’s traffic. “We needed to stop the vehicles and ask for them to wait for two minutes to continue their trip. Some of them didn’t wait, so I was in the middle of the road with plenty of cars on my back coming from my direction. But it worked out in the end,” recalls the photographer, who synced the flaming blossoms above and the rich glory of the skateboarders’ polleras flawlessly.

 

Also Read | The Man of Fire and Ice

 

To read more stories on travel, cities, food, nature, and adventure, head to our web forum here or our new National Geographic Traveller India app here.

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  • Vamika Singh is a visual-narrative artist working closely towards exploring gender disparity and social dynamics in the South-Asian culture. You can also find her making music playlists, browsing sneakers and getting profusely attached to non-living things—even a laptop sticker for that matter.

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