In 1984, when I was nineteen, I left Perú to study arts in France. That was the beginning of my life abroad in a country and a culture that were not completely unknown for me: I had the privilege to study twelve years at a French-Peruvian school in Lima. My position as a foreign student, coming from the privileged upper-middle class of my country, was the starting point of my European experience.
I liked the familiar French otherness from the beginning. The charm of the smells and flavors in my new environment were permanent proof of my right decision to leave Perú. The daily habits in the two institutions that I related to the most during my stay in France—I’m referring to the cafés and bakeries—shaped my tastes and my criteria to judge a city forever.
Certain juvenile identification—musical styles and fashion (already globalized by that time)—that I brought from the peripheral Lima, followed their natural continuity in Paris and Berlin, the city were I would live for twenty-five years.
The questioning of my assumed original identity, the “criollo” or “white” and Latin American, came swiftly. The contrast between such an unequal country as Perú—where race and class are key categories that profoundly shape social relationships—and the French society—certainly much more democratic than the Peruvian, nevertheless not less racialized—became the axis of my concerns.
It wasn’t until I moved to Germany on 1988 that I felt totally foreign upon my arrival. I had nothing in common with German culture and didn’t have any kind of previous link to this country.
My attitude was always one of the passerby. The first ten years in Germany were ones of immersion into German society. I was learning the language, familiarizing myself with the country’s history, and trying to understand where I was standing. These were formative years, and I believe this experience was the one that marked my life the most. The sensitive dissonance of Brandenburg’s prairies and the rough Berlin humor forced me to confront issues around identity in productive and critical terms.
It wasn’t until the late ’90s and early 2000s, when due to sponsored invitations to international exhibitions and to a certain improvement of my financial situation, I started traveling more for work reasons. At some point, this new situation of cosmopolitan nomadism, generally impossible without a credit card, coincided with discourses about nomadism and de-territorialization as a concept of Resistance. In reality, these displacements that have always existed were now happening in a more interconnected context. I must say that since I left Lima in the ’80s, I always tried to return regularly. I never lost my links with my city of origin, and it has always been important for me to preserve those links and to spend long periods of time in Perú. When you become part of a community of artists and professionals linked to international circuits, you are not living in the country in which you were born, and you have the means to move around. The term immigrant is never used to designate yourself, as this term is associated with a multitude of foreign migrants of a more humble origin. These are the differences with which we live every day, and they presented, for me, in a more significant way during the years I spent living in New York. Ethnic and class differences present in Latin America are reproduced in the same way in the US, sometimes under the umbrella of the vague and diffuse idea of “Latin Culture.”
In general, I would say that in assuming our present mobility, finally one is cosmopolitan by profession and internationalist by conviction. If there is something that I would not say with enthusiasm anymore, but is at least vaguely encouraging, it is that the community of wills and political ideas for a general change continues existing beyond differences and cultural determinisms.
Fernando Bryce is a Peruvian artist living between New York, Berlin and Lima.