Montreal’s Belgo Building is always a big draw during Nuit Blanche festivities each February, when the city’s cultural centres open their doors all night for mostly free attractions. The Belgo’s art galleries were buzzing about Lido Pimienta’s hourly performances at her exhibition of textiles, drawings and soft sculptures.
Better known for her trailblazing global beats since winning Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize in 2017, the Colombian-born artist has long maintained a visual-art practice that she disseminates at shows and online. In The Fabric. The Anger. The River., Pimienta honours her Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Wayuu ancestry with vibrantly coloured, traditional textiles, often adorned with soft-featured faces.
Stepping forward to unleash her powerful voice, flamboyant in a dress of black bows, Pimienta wove together layered artistic threads with full assurance. Embodying the subversive spirit of her 2020 album, Miss Colombia, it was a celebration of feminine beauty on her own terms.
“Decentralizing whiteness is important, decentralizing settler colonialism,” said Pimienta. “I’d like to focus on the real beauty of culture and how absolutely sublime it is to be Caribbean. It’s a big part of my next record – I’m so excited to continue this journey that doesn’t follow a trend.”
While it was easy to idealize Colombia since moving to Ontario in 2005 at age 19, her Grammy-nominated recent album was inspired by soul searching after seeing the racist vitriol following the 2015 Miss Universe pageant, when host Steve Harvey infamously first awarded the crown to Miss Colombia instead of the actual winner, Miss Philippines.
Reflecting on the anti-Blackness she experienced growing up and her country’s obsession with exclusionary beauty standards, Pimiento explored her complicated relationship with her motherland. On alt-cumbia standout “Nada”, featuring Bomba Estereo singer Li Saumet, who joined her at Nuit Blanche and similarly has Canadian children, she confronts intergenerational motherhood trauma and pressures to get married young.
“I live here now but I’m actively working towards my return,” Pimiento told the Nation. “It’s difficult when the territory you belong to is under constant attack and it’s not safe for your kids. At least it’s easier to disconnect from capitalism in Colombia because you can grow your own food all year round.”
During visits to Wayuu desert communities, her children learn valuable life lessons while meeting their cousins who don’t have access to water. Pimiento addresses privilege and colonialism in her surrealistic Lido TV, which debuted last fall on CBC Gem.
“Lido TV is a bejewelled version of myself but still very true to my immediate reality,” said Pimienta. “I’ve learned in Canada to detach yourself, but these issues are a part of me. A lot of people choose to ignore it or blame the immigrant. I think that’s hilarious, and we have to put it on the screen.”
Lido TV funnels her art-school past and penchant for provocation into bizarre skits and conversations with cute sunflower puppets, using humour and self-deprecation to avoid patronizing her audience. In one game show skit skewering Canadian political correctness and hypocrisy, the “best land acknowledgement” winner must give back her luxury cottage to First Nations.
“We’ll know exactly when to draw the line or hold back,” said Pimienta. “It’s frustrating – my family wants to visit, pays for a visa and then gets denied when Canada has 23 active mines in Colombia. Luckily the people who helped make the show are on that same path and live multiple lives, not just because we are Indigenous or immigrants.”
In an interview with Bear Witness of the Halluci Nation (formerly A Tribe Called Red), who has been a close friend since early in her career, Pimiento suggests that children flourish with a better sense of identity and culture. Forced to grow up quickly after her mother left for Canada when Pimienta was just 14, she said her children are helping her heal from what she missed.
“When you’re a kid you don’t realize you’re not going to be a kid forever, then you yearn for those years,” Pimienta shared. “You’re waiting for the call to be with your mother, but that comes with the reality that now you’re without your motherland. I’m much more appreciative and aware now – you see how present I am in everything that I do.”
Although she’s wary of being labelled an activist and feels anti-colonial rhetoric has been appropriated by capitalism, Pimienta consistently creates art and leverages her platforms to support marginalized communities. During the pandemic, for example, her ‘Portraits for Donations’ initiative raised over $25,000 for vulnerable Colombians.
Whether it’s exploring cultural appropriation at a Barranquilla record store in Lido TV or showcasing an acoustic collaboration in the middle of Miss Colombia with legendary traditional group Sexteto Tabalá of San Basilio de Palenque, the first free African town in the Americas, Pimiento is determined to honour the often-overlooked roots of her musical genre.
For season two of Lido TV, Pimiento hopes to analyze issues like social media addictions and the psychology of self-victimization. Venturing further outside her comfort zone, she’s interested in building bridges with Indigenous communities in northern Canada.
“I want to make comparisons between desert life in the Wayuu community and Arctic living,” said Pimiento. “We are a big family of cousins. I think there are similarities that I want to confirm or see if I’m totally wrong.”
While she started playing in punk and metal bands at age 11, Miss Colombia’s closing track, “Resisto y Ya” (I resist and that’s it), is a subtle form of rebellion probing expectations for brown people to be inherently political. Pimiento continues to break ground, such as becoming the first female of colour to compose an original score for the New York City Ballet Orchestra in 2021.
“Wayuu are a matriarchy, so I don’t know anything different than to be the head of my house,” said Pimienta. “I don’t know what else to do than work. It’s about breaking all those things attached to being someone like me or where I come from and being the paradigm shift. I hope my daughter grows up to be a bad ass like me.”