Andrea Aramburú Villavisencio
PhD Student at the Centre of Latin American Studies at the University of Cambridge
In 2017, Giancarlo Roman, editor of the independent comics publisher Pictorama, in Lima, Peru, asked me if I wanted to collaborate on a publishing project, a small series of zines by Peruvian women comics artists: Ana Paula Machuca (Piura), Ale Torres (La Libertad) and Leila Arenas (Arequipa). I readily accepted. The project was a valuable initiative in a still very masculine comics scene, that is often limited to the capital.
It was Ana Paula’s work that drew me in the most. Un día (2018) is an autobiographical foregrounding of urban ordinariness. It is composed in a 10x14 cm lined vintage notebook, drawn and handwritten in coloured pencils and liquid pen. Although it sketches a series of scenes that she would encounter routinely on her way to the state sports complex in the city of Trujillo. Her amble does not follow a fixed path; she walks, along 24 pages, “sin destino alguno” (Machuca 5).
As the comic opens she writes, “En cada paso que doy veo como la ciudad cobra vida.” This essay will briefly outline how Ana Paula consciously engages with the space she inhabits, making herself “accountable in the presence of others” (Springgay and Truman 12). I am eager to walk-with her, where walking-with, following Juanita Sundberg, underscores how walking, even when done by oneself, can “move collectively” (Springgay and Truman 12).
The conceptual affair between the autobiographical and walking goes way back. “Perhaps it is because walking is itself a way of grounding one’s thoughts in a personal and embodied experience of the world that it lends itself to this kind of writing” (Solnit 58). Un día performs an embodied poetics of walking. In doing so, Ana Paula makes us consider what the city of Trujillo means to her, but she also enables us to ask key questions regarding who has or has not the right to the city, and how within the urban many forms of the material and the immaterial coalesce.
As Cheng Yi’Eng puts it, the walking body is constantly attuned, through the senses, “to a host of affects and mundane vignettes of the city” (Cheng 211). I read “affect” not necessarily as emotion, but rather as intensity, as that which emerges within the ordinary and the relational. Un día’s compositions bring into play both the visual and the written to turn towards other non-visual, more affective elements of the walk. It is in this juxtaposition, and the contrasts of their rhythms, where she paints these scenes’ atmospheres, therefore making the reader attune into the autobiographical I’s “senses of hearing, touch, and smell” (Hague 3). The way she composes the combi’s immersive atmosphere, for instance, merits attention. Combis are small, cramped buses that serve as one of the most common modes of transportation in Peru. The “cobrador” is the one who charges the fare. Ana Paula dwells along the combi’s illustration by writing how “el cobrador grita a todo pulmón su ruta” (Machuca 4). Her metaphor takes on this character’s articulation of breath as they announce the combi’s route, making their body expand into the sounds of the city.
At once intense and fleeting, she brilliantly signals the trajectory of a sense--the visual--emphasising the sounds and movements that it picks up along the way. As we attune to el cobrador’s shout dissolving into the city’s atmosphere, we also trace the passengers’ falling posture in the window, to the tune of a “cumbia psicodélica” by the Peruvian chicha band Los Shapis. In this journey between sights, positions and sounds, Ana Paula draws an affective continuum between herself, the city, and its human and non-human actors. The senses’ permeable boundaries are revisited later on: as the illustrations depict running bodies, the caption adds how her “ritmo cardiaco empieza a desacelerar.” Even if she is not the one running, her cardiac rhythm still seems to be affected by the space and those she’s sharing it with, merging her affective body with theirs.
And yet, despite portraying Trujillo as a shared space, Un día also shows being cognizant that everyday life, even if affectively entwined with a community, is not the same for everyone. Even if “most walking is mundane and habitual” (Edensor 70), walking is “not experienced universally, or evenly” (Lorimer 22). Thus, it not only has different meanings for different cultural groups, but also the dimensions it takes and the affects it is associated with depend on privilege, race and class.
Ana Paula’s account is significant because it turns its gaze to the informal structures and agents of Trujillo, foregrounding their crucial role in the commons. She is prone to portray the city’s hard workers, especially women “ambulantes”--workers in Peru who do not abide by legal regulations, and thus are exempt from job benefits--often left behind and underestimated, despite making up around two-thirds of the informal sector (Machuca, Personal interview).
In this context, her drawings account for and make visible the strong women workers she routinely encounters: “ella, con su mazamorrera y arroz con leche” or “una mujer mayor llenando baldes de flores silvestres” who, she adds, no one or nothing can move, neither the police nor a nasal congestion (Machuca 6, 8). As she says, it is unbelievable that nowadays women are often still characterised as weak, when the streets reveal exactly the opposite: it is these women who make the mesh of the commons (Machuca, Personal interview). Gesturing towards Miranda Joseph’s Against the Romance of Community (2002), I want to emphasise that Un día’s version of community is not romanticised neither does it respond to “organic, natural, spontaneous occurrences” (ix); it does not happen on the margins of economic processes but is instead enabled by them.
Ana Paula’s love letter to Trujillo is a comic dedicated to its weather, its corners, and its graffiti walls. It is an affective meditation on herself and her memories. But it is most notably a complex embodied and critical account of the collective bodies that make up the fabric of the city.
Yi’En, Cheng, “Telling Stories of the City: Walking Ethnography, Affective Materialities, and Mobile Encounters.” Space and Culture, Vol. 17, no. 3, 2014, pp. 211–223.
Edensor, Tim. “Walking in rhythms: place, regulation, style and the flow of Experience.” Visual Studies, vol. 25, no.1, 2010, pp.69-79.
Hague, Ian. “Comics and the Senses: A Multisensory Approach to Comics and Graphic Novels." Routledge, 2014.
Joseph, Miranda. Against the Romance of Community. University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
Lorimer, Hayden. “New forms and spaces for studies of walking” in Geographies of Mobilities: Practices, Spaces, Subjects.” Edited by Tim Cresswell. Ashgate, 2010, pp.19-34.
Machuca, Ana Paula. Un día. Pictorama, 2018.
Machuca, Ana Paula. Personal interview. 24 July 2020.
Solnit, Rebecca. Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Viking, 2000.
Springgay, Stephanie and Sarah E. Truman. Walking Methodologies in a More-Than-Human World: Walking lab. Routledge, 2019.
Wunderlich, Filipa Matos. “Walking and Rhythmicity: Sensing Urban Space.” Journal of Urban Design, vol. 13, no. 1, 2008, pp.41-50.
Andrea Aramburú Villavisencio (she/her) holds a Master of Arts in Contemporary Literature, Culture and Theory from King’s College London, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Hispanic Literature from PUCP, in Lima, Peru. She is currently doing her PhD at the Centre of Latin American Studies at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Scholar. Her research looks at the interactions between relationality, affect and aesthetics in contemporary Latin American women’s and queer comics. She is currently writing a chapter on memoir and diary comics, and the works of Powerpaola (Ecuador/Colombia), Ana Paula Machuca (Perú), Constanza Salazar (Chile) and Sofía La Watson (Colombia). She took up longboarding during lockdown and now she enjoys her free time riding around Cambridge.
Due to the ongoing pandemic crisis, ICAF was forced to cancel its events at the 2020 Small Press Expo. Over the next 16 weeks (give or take), we will be publishing