06/03/2013, by CLAS

Women and Independence in Latin America: Empowerment through Art

Being a Latin American woman in this country you must be very brave in whatever comes along. Even if things get hard at a certain stage, it is very important to continue to work hard, following your ideals and defending your points of view.

These are the words of Evelyn, an Ecuadorian teenager who has a starring role in the photographic exhibition ‘Empowerment through Art: Photography and Latin American Migrant Girls in London’. The exhibition, which is on at the New Art Exchange from 8 March until 20 April, explores the lives of a group of young Latin American women who have recently arrived in the UK. It forms part of the AHRC-funded ‘Women and Independence in Latin America’ project, which is directed by Professor Catherine Davies from the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies.


Evelyn, by Pablo Allison.
Above: young women at the photography workshops

Since May 2012, the project team have been working with community groups and cultural institutions to stimulate debate, reflection and knowledge exchange on the theme of Latin American Women and Independence, both historically and in a contemporary light. Thanks to funding from the AHRC, CAS and the Horizon Hub, they have found new and inventive ways of disseminating the pioneering research into women’s participation in the Latin American Wars of Independence carried out by Catherine and her team between 2001 and 2006. The project involves Latin American women in the recovery of their shared history and cultural heritage, increasing their understanding of the contemporary relevance of women’s protagonism during Independence.

The ‘Empowerment through Art’ exhibition is a result of the project’s partnerships with the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), a charity which supports Latin American women in the UK, and with Pablo and Roxana Allison, two British-Mexican photographers. The LAWRS collaboration enabled the team to work with a group of young Latin American migrant women on a series of photography workshops. With Pablo’s guidance, the teenagers used photography to capture processes of change and empowerment in their own lives. They gathered together past and present images of themselves to address themes of women’s agency, independence, freedom, liberation, memory and identity. They developed their photography skills and each produced a visual diary representative of their experiences of living in the UK. Extracts from these diaries, along with a portrait taken of each participant by Pablo, are displayed in the exhibition.


The exhibition is exciting and timely because it gives us a snapshot of how young, female Latin Americans see their adoptive country at a time the UK Latin American community is growing steadily. In 2008 there were around 186,500 Latin Americans living in the UK and the numbers are rising. Although the community is now a large, dynamic and important presence in London, its experiences are often overlooked.  As representatives of this community, these girls appear in the photographs as empowered young women. As Carolina Gottardo, the director of LAWRS, comments: ‘they are not victims; these are young women who can stand with their heads held high, looking toward the future. They are young women with ideals and potential, even though their situation as Latin American migrants in an unfamiliar country with little knowledge of the language and the customs is not easy; even when they have to face up to stereotypes about young women immigrants from an ethnic minority.’

Maria Thomas
Postdoctoral research fellow, Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies

Posted in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies