University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The Arts Collection

Akademia Cartonera: A Primer of Latin American Cartonera Publishers (2009)

Previous Previous section

Next section Next


Sarita Cartonera (Perú)


I am Sarita Cartonera, the saint who goes by foot, the illusion beyond disillusion, the desire to do something when everyone says there is nothing left to do, the music at top volume, the combi killer, the police officer taking bribes on the corner.
Nothing they tell me is going to get me off the street. I know how to find hope in the streets among the drunks and the whores, without going off in search of the sky or trying to feel like I'm away from it all. I could make curious word games with Peru: with the p for patria, e for example, r for rifle, and the u for unity. No. I walk by foot and see the grandiose and the terrible in every one of us: I bless shit, kiss the assassin, listen to obscenities, sleep in boxes and in garbage, but I keep something unnamed within my heart. I won't name it and this is my engine, my strength, my faith beyond my own faith. The others, those who know more, who dedicate themselves to seeing our defects, to discovering our errors, who are hunting the ghosts in their own heads. We are not everything they tell us. They do not create us. Life is here, neither beyond the sky nor close to their absurd theories. Here, in you, in me, we are life, life that is happening, life that is full of possibility. Like a prayer recited by all in the depths of our hearts trying to restore the dignity of all that we are and of all that surrounds us.

We begin conscious of the contradiction in our context: Peru, last in reading comprehension in Latin America, with a considerable illiterate population and an official disdain for native cultures and languages. On the other hand, it has a luminous past that still endures and one of the most important poetic traditions of our language after 1900.

When Sarita emerged, Lima was stuck in a state of severe cultural inertia. It is a city whose cultural circuits were barely active: in 2004 there were fewer than twenty formal bookstores in all of Lima (a city with nine million inhabitants), there were fewer than ten art galleries in the city, the counterculture collectives were nonexistent or practically invisible and there were (and are) almost no libraries. This inertia existed because Fujimori's government destroyed every manner of social organization (unions, trade organizations, collectives, etc.), and intensified the feelings of distrust and lack of security and solidarity that came about after years of internal war between Shinning Path and the Government. The majority of social structures that were disarmed in the country have only recently and in isolated ways begun the process of reconstruction. Since 2004, a handful of publishing companies have sprouted, all with more or less the same intention: to energize the local literary circuit.

Since its creation, Sarita Cartonera has been entrusted to Sarita Colonia, patron saint of migrants, bus drivers, taxi cabs, hairdressers, store keepers, thugs, and all of the marginalized – the Peruvian saint who still does not hold a place in the official pantheon. Sarita Cartonera takes on the work of making books that disseminate the cultural production of our continent. Sarita tries to recover the used cardboard abundant in the city, to convert this into books that are handmade by youth from poor neighborhoods and to sell these books at low prices. Given that each one is cut, painted, and bound in an original way, the books are unique, personal and unrepeatable.

As a publishing project Sarita is a producer and/or diffuser of discourse. What lies behind and what we see through this discourse is at once the opportunity to mix and homogenize the discourse or and, inversely, the opportunity to foster an interest or a taste that is inevitably personal because we become stronger with voices that understand the possibilities that emerge when we examine the body made of signs.

The merit of a cultural project lies in its capacity to give identity to a cultural product and in the devices it generates for survival. Merit also lies in a project's affinity to its creators, and its capacity to reinvent. To be a participant in the birth of a project, to watch it grow, and to put it out onto the social scene is to discover that through this process it is possible to confront the same problems that the creator confronted, but using different tools.

Sarita Cartonera tries to put Latin American literature into circulation without prejudice. Being a community project, Sarita constructs a network for voluntary interaction between writers, publishers, artists, and youth from popular sectors with one common goal: to publish books that are attractive, economical, and at a high literary level.

Our use of materials inverts to invert the cyclical role that the cardboard normally completes: as it is usually used to protect or to wrap food or liquors, we turn it into a book charged with a different semantic value. As a nutrient, yes, but as a new one, perhaps one that is stronger and more intense. This process is equal to our own return to the place where man becomes another material but remains part of the same cosmos.

Since our beginning, we have tried to establish a link between the public and the private spheres and to prioritize the social function of culture not only in the production of books but also in their accessibility.

Sarita proposes to break the ice, to anticipate the fire and the play with the public. We try to get close to the reader, for the reader to get close to us, and to avoid the solemnity that we have become used to: a cartonera book is good company anywhere. With this point of view we want reading to become a daily act for everyone.

A text in a magazine is read in different ways depending on the spirit of the magazine, the text itself, and the general context. In addition to encouraging the publication of new and interesting voices, Sarita Cartonera changes the context of some titles already part of the tradition. With our format we give these texts freshness, freedom and new doors to a new context.

Education and formation are of major importance to Sarita. Peru doesn't have a great tradition of reading and books are consequently perceived as useless objects of luxury. It is therefore not enough to simply put good books at the disposal of people who don't normally have access to them. It is necessary to generate interest through reading. This was how the project Libros, un modelo para armar (LUMPA) was born with the combined strength of Sarita and the Museum of Art at the Cultural Center of the University of San Marcos.

LUMPA has a simple premise: if students are transformed into authors (writers and artists) they also become readers and if they become readers they are also able to become good readers. Under this premise we created a methodology that privileges the pleasure and the freedom of reading with a transgressive, unlimited, and absurd interpretation that nevertheless was successful in the schools of Lima and Pucallpa, and which has since been used by Harvard University in public schools in Boston.

As our work is voluntary, except in the case of the cartoneros, many people, mainly artists have collaborated. In 2006 the project Libros Fascinantes was born with the objective of promoting the artistic possibilities of Sarita Cartonera through different artistic proposals that a cartonera book generates. We turned to artists from different educational and social backgrounds and asked them to represenet their relationship to literature and create a personal and eloquent booklet to mark the fluid exchange between the arts and forms of narration in color and word.

We gave a literary text to each artist to use as the basis for their proposal. Aside from the cardboard, there were no established guidelines. The creators were able to use the technique that they chose: engraving, painting, ripping, collage, sewing, graffiti, piercing, etc. The results were unique objects of great artistic value that integrate two creative languages: the written word and the artistic proposal.They were artists of different disciplines: teachers of Peruvian popular art, painters with an academic formation, sculptors, graffiti artists, photographers, Amazonian artists, urban artists, Andean artists. All were reunited with the book and its creative potential.

We are interested in contemporary local cultures.[1] We are interested in complexity and the multiplicity of every proposal, whether conscious or not. It is impossible to explore all the ways. We are less interested in walking down all of these roads than we are in discovering that they are there. It seems pertinent to change the background music for this encounter with the book. We want pop music, music from the periphery, shrill and violent, emotional music of identity, rootless music.

We don't agree with the canon because it always pushes aside what doesn't fit. Our proposals are omnivorous and plural. Genres and disciplines only give incentive to limitations.

We don't only want to mobilize poetry and narrative but popular culture as well. It is silly to differentiate between high and low cultures, while simultaneously being an expression and the diriving force of these cultural makings. We are against the establishment: we cross it, in order to be inside and outside all at once. We are always searching for ways to surprise as much in form as in content. We look to overtake our own limits because we believe in the need always to make a proposal's limits evident in order to break them.

We have had to reinvent ourselves. We don't have clear answers but we do have a foundation on which we base our proposal.

We believe in social integration. We live in a racist, classist, sectarian country where premodernity, modernity, and the postmodern coexist. We affirm that it is the responsibility of all who believe in art society and in the human community, to do what is necessary to eliminate distance and prejudices. Sarita and the rest of the projects with Chusca are headed in this direction.We are most comfortable along borders that are undefined and mutually enriching.

We believe that every person can be sensitive to good art: people are artists and responsible art is any manifestation (officially recognized as art or not) that generates change for a better world, with more solidarity and equality. We don't believe in dogmatisms. This allows us to change our rhythm whenever we feel like it and without guilt. We are a group of people who enjoy doing what we do so that others will write, paint, share their work, make more money than before and discover new, different and good books, creative possibilities and enjoy.

As Vallejo and Huidobro answered when asked about the hostile attitudes of their magazines: we believe in constant renovation and that which lasts is what should last, with no attenuating circumstances.[2]




[1] In fact, the name of our association is Chusca. Cultura Local Contemporánea. Chusco in Peru means mixed but without pedigree, popular, with no class, from the street, vulgar, low, grotesque. It is usually a disparaging term. We are interested in recuperating all of the meanings of a term (that we use in the feminine, also to accentuate the exclusion), without using reclaimed discourse: to assume the name is already a cry of war, a sort of claim. Yes, Sarita is chusca. We are all chusca here.

[2] According to Guillermo Sheridan.

Previous Previous section

Next section Next

Go up to Top of Page