Claudia Claderón is a Puerto Rican film director and artist. Photo by SUPAKID. Courtesy of Claudia Calderón.
Claudia Calderón’s Filmmaking Reflects on What It Means to be a Woman in Latin America
Claudia Calderón is a Puerto Rican film director and artist whose art reflects upon what it means to be a woman in Latin America. For as long as she can remember, she’s been immersed in art. Her family has always encouraged her to rely on art as a source of expression, whether that expression came through theater, dance, music, or filmmaking.
"It's something that's always been part of me. I never thought of doing something that was not related to that in one way or another," Calderón said.
Those other interests led her to study film direction in fiction at Cuba’s International Film and TV School. There, Calderón received an integral education where she explored different departments to understand cinematographic creation better. Understanding the versatility of filmmaking led her to pursue her dream and passion of becoming a director.
However, the path of film direction has not been an easy one for Calderón. At times, she has had to work on her projects on the side while working full-time positions (or gigs) to make ends meet
“I worked for a lot of years as coordinator in the art department for movies and series. That gave me interesting production abilities that I feel have been vital for this most recent phase. In 2019, I was approached to direct the opening act from one of Bad Bunny’s concerts. I went from not directing for a long time to directing on that scale, and it was like: ahhhhhh,” Calderón recalled excitedly.
Finding Her True Direction in Film
That particular experience led her to find herself as an artist and film director. It was a time when she reaffirmed herself. She was wondering if she would go back to directing and if she would assume this new part of herself as an artist. She was making a career transition in a time she states was very chaotic because then, in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic. In spite of those challenges, Calderón made it through and was able to explore a new artistic vision.
You can now see throughout her films—specifically her music videos— that there’s a common thread that concentrates on the visual stories that reflect on what it means to be a woman in Latin America. There’s no escaping this complex reality throughout Calderón’s masterpieces.
“It comes from my responsibility that I don’t want to perpetuate some things that I’ve had enough of in regards to power dynamics. Things that have to do with gender, and I feel the responsibility that a project of mine won’t be the same as if a guy was doing reggaeton videos,” Calderón said. “I feel that responsibility. For me, it’s super important to have that awareness about the perception of gender and not perpetuating oppressive power dynamics towards women, non-binary people, and queer people."
This awareness is a vital element of her art because the women, non-binary people, and queer people she knows are all very empowered, have normal lives, and do whatever they want. She wants to portray that power through her art, exemplified in music videos such as “ALGO BONITO,” “dale Play,” “Plug,” “Un Amarre,” “Vámono,” and “Flor.”
In “ALGO BONITO,” created for musicians iLe and Ivy Queen, Calderón visually explores the theme of defiance on behalf of both singers through images inspired by surrealism and Western cowboy movies. This defiance is sung by iLe and Ivy Queen, expressing their refusal to be submissive women. It’s a feminist statement both visually and lyrically.
“They’re talking about how they’re done with how patriarchy is constantly screwing with us. On a level of more passive actions,” Calderón said. “We took images of surrealism that had to do with oppression and liberation, and we combined it with these cowboy characters from the Wild West. iLe is a mercenary, and Ivy liberates herself alone because she absolutely doesn’t need anyone to come rescue her.”
With those strong statements throughout the video, you also notice that there’s also a theme of solidarity between both women. Calderón says that most of the visual cues are suggestions for the viewer as the story is told.
“There’s this solidarity between them where Ivy takes iLe off from the clothesline. It’s from the surrealist images that I liked the most. [An image] where she was condemned to a role in a certain manner,” Calderón said. “She’s hung from her hair, which can be a very violent action, but from a clothesline that has to do with being domestic. With the supposed [roles] of what women have to be: housewives and all of those things. Ivy comes to release her and tells her: mami, get out.”
Creating that “universe," as Calderón calls her constructed worlds, was a very extensive process that took six months. It took constant research to land the backgrounds in the music video created by Chilean artist Rodrigo Aviles. Next, they were challenged to project the backgrounds on an LED screen that could convey the paintings’ textures. The result—a marvelous visual execution of the paintings’ textures and fire- a powerful symbol in the video.
“Fire is fire. Candela. It’s them. Fire is life and destruction. Transition. It’s strength. Life. Death. The human heat. Just like pure candles, which is them. For me, Ivy is the one who emanates that fire with the things she says and her being,” Calderón said. “There’s a whole thing about that. She’s so strong. When she starts speaking, everything is so nitid, and her way of rapping is very precise. She turns things on fire.”
Lighting Up the Fire In An Artistic Sex Tape
Calderón channels this fire into all her art pieces. Fire also plays a central role in her music video for “dale Play” by RaiNao and paopao. The fire is on. The song speaks about the memories of a very hot relationship.
“There was this thing that the song itself was suggesting a sex tape. She fast forwards and rewinds because she’s obsessed with the memory of this super-hot relationship. She rewinds to remember it and fast forwards to forget about this person,” Calderón said. “We knew we wanted to play with the sex tape language, but in a disarticulate way. For it to be more experimental because, we imagined it as an abstraction of a bed or the intimate space. There was also this element that we wanted to work with Kiani Del Valle, who’s a very renowned dancer and choreographer.”
For “dale Play,” Calderón created an artistic sex tape that incorporates contemporary dance, theater, and a minimalistic color palette to create a conceptual masterpiece. In collaboration with Del Valle, Calderón was able to use dance and corporeal movements as a very strong narrative tool that added an interesting aesthetic to the video.
“Kiani has a lot of experience getting universes through the body. She built her choreography and corporeal movements based on what we were telling her. The sensations,” Calderón said. “One of the starting points was the topic of the bed sheets. There was going to be a bed that sucked a human being, and it was going to take them to a world of fantasy. Of nightmares. Of masturbation. Of memory. Once she was in the bed, there was the bedsheet universe, which had to do with the bed’s intimacy.”
Exploring Women’s Sexuality
Portraying spaces of intimacy and women’s sexuality is also a major theme throughout Calderón’s art. She explores this concept in an empowering manner in the music videos of “Plug” by RaiNao and “Un Amarre” by RaiNao and Villano Antillano. These two videos serve as a series where “Plug” is part one and “Un Amarre” is part two.
“I wanted Nao to be a dealer of vaginal fluids, and those vaginal fluids would be glitter. A thing that’s a bit more absurd. It’s this story about these women from the underworld that have this flow of movies like Natural Born Killers and True Romance,” Calderón said. “It was also inverting those roles that are usually men who are dealers. I thought it was interesting seeing this stripper and her friend. One eventually gets caught, and the other one becomes a queen-pin boss bitch in the situation. Once the other one gets out of jail, they meet again.”
With that idea in mind, Calderón faced the challenge of filming both videos simultaneously. That required a great deal of precision and discipline on behalf of the team because they had to film everything in two days. The challenge was effectively addressed, with the videos successfully conveying the original concept and delving into the exploration of women's sexuality within a Latin American context.
“Both Nao and Villana are very strong women. They have no qualms with being sexual and sensual. With exalting that part of them. That comes through very naturally for both of them,” Calderón said. “Their personalities also inspire these characters. Or at least, they gave me the freedom of placing them in a situation where one of them was a stripper, but a stripper that’s very clear about her business. [Very clear] of why she’s using her body, and she’s not a docile person at all. And eventually, both use sex as a tool in their favor. They’re literally embracing their sexuality.”
This portrayal comes from Calderón’s dedication to telling visual narratives in which women explore their autonomy and invert traditional gender roles in film. She believes that men’s roles in movies as dealers go unquestioned, so she also decided to portray women that way as well.
Music Videos with a Very Strong Latin American Identity
Her art reflects on what it means to be a woman in a Latin American context. They’re feminist statements. They tell stories of empowered people, but she also has this talent to portray a strong Latin American identity that comes through very naturally in her visual narratives. Such is the case with Buscabulla’s music video for the song “Vámono.”
The Puerto Rican duo consisting of Raquel Berrios and Luisfre went to Calderón with the intention of honoring the concept of a traditional Puerto Rican festival. They wanted to create a music video inspired by Puerto Rico’s Festival de las Máscaras de Hatillo, which marks the Feast of Holy Innocents every year in December. The pair wanted to tell their story of returning to Puerto Rico in a visually aesthetic manner.
“That’s one of the few carnivals that we still have or the most similar to a Latin American carnival. It’s also about the clothing, a collective festivity, and the floats. That universe is fascinating because it’s beautiful,” Calderón said. “Buscabulla was in their process of coming back to Puerto Rico. Raquel and Alfredo told me: ‘We want this video to be an image of what happened to us. The last night before returning to Puerto Rico, we were in an empty bedroom with a mattress on the floor, and I dreamed I wanted to come die in Puerto Rico.’”
The dream ended up being the perfect tool for Calderón to create the music video. It allowed her to explore the idea they initially presented to her in a more conceptual manner. She merged the dream with Puerto Rican culture, which ended up being very relatable to Latin America because of the imagery and landscapes depicted. The vibrant pink textiles and clothing, which was Raquel’s idea, act as the perfect portrayal of Latin American identity. For Calderón, the landscapes are an inescapable element of Latin America.
“We come from the Caribbean. That’s what Puerto Rico is like. We’re there. The only extra thing we added were those dresses that also come from a carnival tradition and religious rites because they’re feasts of the holy saints. There’s no way of not identifying with other Latin American countries because those carnival traditions exist. Those religious festivities exist. And that’s very evident as something that unites us on a soul level in this part of the world.”
That inescapable strong Latin American identity and way of being is ever present in each of Calderón’s projects. In the music video for “Flor” by Los Rivera Destino featuring Benito Martínez (Bad Bunny), Calderón portrays that identity once again. She was given the task of telling a visual story honoring Father’s Day, by depicting a wide array of different family models.
“It was a song for Father’s Day. They wanted the song to be transmitted through radio waves and for it to impact different family models, but specifically fathers,” Calderón said. “We took that idea and adapted it to our possibilities.”
Calderón and her team faced the task of depicting the stories of various families without physically visiting five separate homes. In brainstorming sessions, Calderón discussed this challenge with Fernando de Peña, who recalled a performance of Spanish singer Camilo Sesto. In that performance, Sesto presented flowers to former lovers. Inspired by this, Calderón's colleague suggested using the motif of giving flowers, similar to Camilo Sesto's gesture, as a key element in the storytelling for the music video “Flor.”
“What we did was incorporate that reference to the different family models and use that resource that a person was going to transit throughout those spaces. That would work as the thread,” Calderón said. “And then, the topic of colors came through. We decided each space was going to have a different color.”
“Flor” is one of Calderón’s many masterpieces that celebrate being Latin American. It shows, in a relaxed manner, that being Latin American can be both a very complex and celebratory life experience. It adds to her visual narratives with a strong Latin American identity. It also aligns with her personal responsibilities as an artist of portraying representation on the screen.
For me, it's very important that if I'm going to portray something that will live for eternity, it should be questioning what roles have been perpetuated until now. And also, provide a space for other beings, Calderón said. "It's important that we're on and behind screen. That we're in those positions of power so that we can say: we're here. We also have things to say.
To keep up with Calderón’s film direction and art, follow her on Instagram at @calderizi.
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