Paul Gambin and Alejandra Orosco are two young photographers, of English-Italian and Peruvian nationalities, respectively. Both have held artist residencies and exhibited around the world; in fact, they met while living abroad and working on separate projects in Oaxaca, Mexico. Currently based in Urubamba, the creative couple has, in a sense, brought a piece of Oaxaca to their recently opened arts center, Maleza. What they refer to as ‘the heart’ of the project, the center’s library is deeply inspired by the active IAGO (Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca) library, created by renowned Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo and kept abuzz by locals.
Unlike the centuries-old history of libraries found in the southern Mexico state, Maleza is one of a handful of public spaces in the Sacred Valley of Peru offering visitors inspiring book collections to peruse and a quiet space to read. An interactive bookshelf, designed by the co-founders and executed by a friend, displays their personal collection of paperbacks and hardcovers (including Un Beso, a clever project of Alejandra’s that is full of hidden messages buried in the coding of an image).
“We found this house soon after arriving in the Valley and saw it had so much potential,” tells Alejandra, as we sit in a shaded corner of the overgrown garden in Maleza. Before arriving to Urubamba, the artists had dreamed of running a small, arts-centric library. The two-story adobe house, located just blocks from Urubamba’s Plaza de Armas, has seen their initial idea grow to include: a large garden with a covered terrace, a café, a showroom, back patio, and two artist studios that can be rented out or used for residencies.
Framed prints of Paul’s and a few from the Magnum Photos collection decorate freshly painted walls, bouncing off the natural light that pours in, as we walk through the house. Clavel de aire, a succulent variety that can be spotted hanging from electrical wires throughout the Valley, appear in the showroom as part of the inaugural exhibit, Remover, created by artist in residency, Emilio Longhi. Needing little to no nurturing to thrive in precarious places, plants like these, as Alejandra interprets it, are similar to the artist’s necessity to create no matter the circumstances; thus, the project’s name Maleza, meaning ‘weeds’ in English.
The smell of freshly brewed coffee, the faint rustle of a photo book’s turning pages, and a lingering anticipation for the evening’s Q and A with a visiting visual artist fill the air; the synergy between diverse yet simultaneous projects taking place speaks much upon what Paul and Alejandra envision for Maleza as an arts center and bridge between communities.
“One of the pillars of Maleza is that it becomes a place where the local community and that of foreigners can unite…where artists and artisans alike are welcome to share their talent,” comments Paul, mentioning plans for future activities and exhibits that will bring these two worlds together.
“This encounter, the traditional with the contemporary, is going to be an ongoing conversation and investigation in Maleza,” says Alejandra. “I’m from Lima, but even as a Peruvian I feel like a foreigner here in the Valley. It takes time to understand the local code and to find your place in it. And that’s just the truth, so why pretend otherwise?”
Intimate and personal conversations like these– that discuss identity, belonging, community– have been present in the live presentations hosted by Maleza. A unique opportunity to get to know the process, inspiration and even trial and error behind the finished work of a visual artist, the intimate encounters are open to the public and have become a means for creatives and inspired learners to meet and converse.
As opposed to galleries which tend to show solely the final product, Maleza is a window into the backstory of a piece of art, be it through their valuable and well-thought-out events or the insightful journey of an artist as told through a photo book.
Visit Maleza in Urubamba (Jr. Yupanqui 611) and follow them on Instagram.