One day on a whim, photographer River Claure googled “Bolivia.” That image search yielded expected tropes of his country: llamas, mountains, people in traditional dress. Photographs are often taken through an exoticizing foreign gaze, as if Andean cultures are frozen in time, Claure says. In reality, the cultures are evolving and thriving in today’s changing world.
Later, Claure thought more about this—how the images affected his view of himself, of his homeland—as he read the English version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. Then he began to question: What if one of history’s most widely read children’s books unfolded not in the Sahara desert but in the Andes Mountains? And what if the story’s main character, rather than a blond prince, was a dark-haired Andean child?
In The Little Prince, we see the world through fresh eyes. It’s a story that celebrates childhood and play; Claure played with the story itself. He was inspired by how Bolivian sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui encourages people to reframe mixed cultural identities by embracing ch’ixi. In this concept—from Aymara, a language spoken across the Andes—weavers overlay strands of black and white thread to create the illusion of a third color, gray. Globalization has created “new gradations of identity,” Claure says. His visual lexicon juxtaposes Andean symbols with global ones, and asks viewers to see beyond the clichéd folkloric representations of the Andes.