I'm Violeta Ayala
Film Futurist, Technologist and Artist
In 1978, Cochabamba, Bolivia, a dictatorship cradled my entrance. Youthful parents, overwhelmed by life, split before I was two. Analog cameras, unlike today's digital wonders, made photographs scarce treasures. At nine, a television arrived - not a toy, but a strange, flickering companion in our home.
1981. My grandfather, Vitaliano Grageda alias Jatun Runa, taught me to read when I was 3. I spent a lot of time with him because he was in home detention when I was born. He was one of the founders and a former Secretary General of the Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia and an active member of The Communist Party. He spent 10 years in prison for his political activities. In this photo, taken by my grandfather in Pocoata, his hometown, I'm eating a peach.
1983. My grandma Herminia Soto held me tight in her house in Avenida Barrientos. She couldn't go to school due to the indigenous discrimination that persisted until the revolution of 1952. I clung to my mamadera for comfort until I was 9, sucking on that plastic nipple like it was the only thing in the world that made sense. And when she left this world in 2018, at almost 90 years old, it felt like the mountains themselves had crumbled beneath me. I wish I could bottle her up and keep her with me always, but I know that's impossible. She left without being scanned, reminding me that life is too precious to waste time in the bathroom scrolling through social media. And as much as it pains me to admit it, I know that creating an AI version of her would have been something she would have fiercely opposed.
1985. In primary school, I was already a little rebel. I rallied all the other kids in the playground, leading them in a chorus of "El Pueblo Unido jamas sera vencido," in support of my grandfather's protest. It didn't go down well with the school administration, and I got promptly kicked out.
Not long after that, my father packed his bags and left for Australia. I was devastated. I didn't understand why he had to leave and I was convinced he had gone to live on another planet. For years, I would stare up at the night sky, searching for any sign of him among the stars.
It wasn't until 1996 that I finally saw him again. By then, I had grown used to the idea of living in a world where the people I loved could disappear into the ether at any moment.
1986. It was the year that everything changed for me. I was only 8 years old, but I already felt like I was living in a world that didn't quite make sense. I struggled with the simplest of tasks, like tying my shoelaces or holding a knife and fork. Reading became my solace, a way to escape from the confusing, chaotic world around me. It wasn't until years later that I was diagnosed with severe dyspraxia, a condition that made those basic tasks feel impossible.
1988. My mother got remarried and we moved to Sucre. She enrolled me in ballet classes, thinking it might help with my coordination. It was a constant struggle, and there were times when I thought I'd never be able to keep up. But somehow, I made it to the performance at the theatre.
1994. I was searching for something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I felt like I was constantly looking for myself, outside of myself. And then there were the two chitis, always there in the background, taunting me with their absence. They were my siblings, and it felt like they followed me everywhere, even to the moon and back. But no matter how hard I looked, I could never seem to find them.
And then, in 1995, everything changed forever. My mother died, and we were separated. It would take 35 years before we could finally live in the same city again. Time is a funny thing - sometimes it feels like it's dragging on forever, and sometimes it's gone in the blink of an eye. But one thing is for sure: it's always fucking merciless.
1996. It was a confusing time for me. I entered the Miss Carnaval pageant, dressed as a unicorn. It felt like a strange and fitting choice, as I was still trying to make sense of my world without my mother and siblings. The loss had left me feeling adrift, alone in my teenage years. I had my grandparents and my aunt, but the void left by my broken family felt immense. And then, in a moment, it was all gone. The umbilical cord that tied me to them was cut, forcibly and without warning, and I never saw them again. It was a harsh lesson in the fragility of our connections to one another, and how easily they can be lost.
2005. The years in between are a blur. They were the hardest years of my life. I think I spent more time drunk, stoned, or hungover than sober. I became an actress and a writer, and traveled the world, abandoning everything else. I had some relationships, some more lasting than others. I left Bolivia in 2001, first to Chicago, then in 2002, I arrived in Sydney, where I went to university and studied journalism. It was there that I learned how to make films. But what stands out the most from those years is the fact that I finally met my father. We began a relationship, never very close, but necessary for both of us.
2014. It's funny how some things in life can be so cheesy, they make you cringe. Take this photo for example. It's almost too much to handle. But, in a way, it's also kind of sweet.I met Dan in late 2006 in Sydney, while we were both doing theatre. As it turns out, we were both working at SBS, the same television station. And then, a few weeks after we met, we found ourselves in Mauritania. We both wanted to make films and challenge the system.I married Dan because he promised me that our lives would be anything but boring. Boring was never an option for me, and he knew it. He rented this cool car to drive from Los Angeles to Vegas, but was locked to an embarrasing speed...There's no denying that he's incredibly talented...But...It's his hands, the way his fingers move is like a dance, each gesture deliberate and graceful.
2016.The day you arrived, you didn't want to leave. You loved playing with your umbilical cord, still do. You fought so hard to be here, my little Suri del Sur. The first few months were a blur, but we made it. I breastfed you for four years, we both loved it. They say it's the hormones, but I think it was just us, in our own little world. Time passes too quickly, and you're growing up so fast. You're becoming more and more yourself, and you always have been.
2019. It's hard to sleep tonight, I can feel your presence. I know you're here with me. We'll meet again in every life that comes after this one, and when we do, we'll talk about Domitila Chungara, Marx, Filemón Escobar, the Chinese Communist Party, perestroika, colonization, Quechuas, how they killed Che, how he was betrayed and you shouted "traitors" in court, even though it cost you more years in prison. You'll tell me how much you love traveling and the road, and how you'll never tire of fighting. You'll recount your trip to Paris and how you drank all the whiskey at the social club like it was chicha. You'll tell me about your time in prison, on the Island of Coati, and how I'll always be your favorite granddaughter. You'll sing "El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido" to me in Quechua, and ask me to sing it back to you like the king. We'll laugh until our bellies ache, and you'll make humintas with a little extra flavor this time. The people united will never be defeated, damn it. I know you're here, Vitaliano Grageda Sahonero, but I'll call you Soto, and we'll both laugh at the priests saying "churuschus chus, amen Jesus". Rest in strength with your achachilas. I miss you, papi Vitaco. There's no one else like you in my life.
The memories that we hold dear are just a variation of our fantasies. Here I have a selection of photos that capture the moments that have meant the most to me in my life. Each image is like a tiny portal, transporting me back to a time and place that's long gone but still lingers in my heart. Looking at them, I can't help but smile and feel grateful for the experiences that have shaped me into who I am today. These photos are a reminder that even though time moves forward, the moments we cherish remain etched in our minds forever.