Federico Estol: Héroes del Brillo
Federico Estol | Héroes del Brillo
In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the newly established United Nations, setting forth fundamental human rights to be universally protected. December 10th, 2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the UDHR. The UDHR enshrined that all people are born free and equal, and among its tenets are the right to work, to free choice of employment, and to protection against unemployment. Yet, despite the strides made towards advancing human rights since 1948, people in many communities worldwide continue to face discrimination and stigmatization based on their professions.
In the bustling streets of La Paz and the sprawling suburbs of El Alto, Bolivia, nearly three thousand shoe shiners emerge each day in search of clients. What characterizes this group is the use of ski masks to obscure their identities, combat discrimination, and maintain their anonymity even among family and neighbors. The masks serve as both a unifying symbol and a form of resistance against societal exclusion, empowering them to confront prejudices related to their occupation. Their story, captured in Federico Estol’s series, Héroes del Brillo (Shine Heroes), is a poignant reminder of the daily challenges many face in their pursuit of dignity and respect. Their experience is not isolated but reflects broader global issues of labor discrimination and stigmatization.
For three years, Estol collaborated with a group of sixty shoe shiners through El Hormigón Armado, a local organization and newspaper which advocates for the rights of shoe shiners, and offers educational workshops and financial support. Through a participatory workshop-based process, they created Héroes del Brillo, a special edition of the organization’s newspaper that invited the shoe shiners to imagine a new version of their story. Borrowing from the visual language of comic books and graphic novels, and incorporating elements of daily life in El Alto, the group challenges societal perceptions through a narrative that portrays them as urban superheroes rising to meet the local demand for polished footwear.
Photography and photojournalism have long been powerful tools in highlighting human rights issues. Through the lens, photographers capture moments that evoke empathy, anger, and a call to action. Estol's Héroes del Brillo builds upon this tradition, incorporating a model of collaboration and participation while calling for a more inclusive form of storytelling—one that recognizes and celebrates the agency of its subjects. By making the shoe shiners co-creators of the narrative, Estol ensures that Héroes del Brillo is not just about them but truly belongs to them.
Federico Estol (b. 1981) is an acclaimed Uruguayan photographer and arts activist. His long-term projects focus on the relationship between cultural identity, inequality, and social justice. He holds a bachelor's degree in photography from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and a degree in popular education from Franciscan Multiversity of Latin America. He serves as the artistic director of the SAN JOSÉ FOTO festival and editor of El Ministerio Ediciones photobook publishing house. Estol’s work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Emergentes award at Encontros da Imagem festival and the New Vision award at Cortona on the Move festival. Estol's photography has been showcased globally, with exhibitions at renowned venues such as Aperture Foundation, Kunsthal Rotterdam, and Les Rencontres d'Arles. Estol’s projects have also been featured in publications including The Guardian, Die Zeit, and Financial Times.
This exhibition is produced in collaboration with Article3.Org in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 works to strengthen the human rights ecosystem. Its namesake is derived from Article 3 of the UDHR, which states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.” For more information about the Organization’s mission, philanthropy, and educational events, please visit www.article3.org.
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