Para leer la versión en español de este artículo, hacé clic acá.

Las Pibas Okupan is a group of women — Maru, Chofi, Jaxa, and Agus — on a mission to transform the Porteño underground. Specifically, by making it more hospitable and accessible to women and gender-nonconforming artists (a goal which happens to be very similar to the mission of this publication).

Since this is the English version of this article, I’ll start by explaining what their name means. Las Pibas = the girls, the chicks, the dudettes, what have you. It’s an informal, local word, and the feminine form of los pibes, which often carries a connotation similar to that of “homies” — these aren’t just any “girls” — they’re your pals, your neighbors, the kids from the block, they’re down to earth and always keeping it real, and they also definitely don’t belong to the upper echelons of society. Okupan is an alternative spelling of ocupan, which means occupy. It’s a reference to squatters movements and urban settlements, as well as the popular early 2000s Argentine TV series, Okupas. You can think of it as being comparable to the word “occupy” in Occupy Wall Street, for example. So, in a nutshell, the girls occupy.

Fed up with working on music video film crews in a competitive “boys’ club” industry where orders come down from one or another big-man-in-charge, Las Pibas decided to take matters into their own hands, and take steps toward creating the culture they (and so many others) so urgently needed to exist. A nascent event and audiovisual production and promotion company, so far they’ve put on several multidisciplinary events (and also organized several which were then thwarted by covid restrictions), and are in the process of producing music videos for several local independent artists.

While they’re still a ways away from becoming one of the “big names” in the local audiovisual ecosystem, they’ve got the skills, the motivation, the work ethic, and the attitude to make big things happen, and this is just the beginning.

drawing jam with live model @adaa.modelovivo

How did Las Pibas Okupan come about?

Jaxa: Agus had access to a space that used to be a cultural center, and we met each other while filming a music video there, and her and her friend Chofi had this idea that we should revive that space. Like, bring it back to life, her and Chofi. And so we were there working on the music video and we would see each other all the time and we got along really well, and Agus said to Maru and I, “hey, you guys should get on board,” so Maru and I joined the project. And then it was like, okay so, we’ve got to get this space up and running. And then all of a sudden that space didn’t exist anymore, but the project still did. And the idea was this: provide visibility and open up a space for women and gender non-conforming artists.

Agus: Exactly. And another thing we wanted to highlight was like, whether we were going to produce events, or put together an audiovisual production company, or whatever we ended up doing, it was really important that it have that political alignment that, let’s say, comes about as a response to the problem of the lack of cupo laboral. [Labor cuota, referring to a growing movement in Argentine culture and legislation to demand that certain groups, such as women or trans folks, be guaranteed a level of participation in certain spaces/ industries from which they have historically been excluded — for example, according to the cupo feminino, at least 30% of musicians invited to take part in any music festival must be women.]

Jaxa: Yeah, and also, since we all come from a — well, we organized the ciclo [ciclo refers to a recurring event built around a community of artists or enthusiasts] to involve all kinds of things, not just audiovisual stuff, although we come from an audiovisual and visual arts background. But…also, on the other hand, we started to become aware of this problem of…the number of women present on the audiovisual crews, for example. Well, Naicol knows more about this than me, but, in talking with her I became aware that — anecdotally, right? — all of the women who were working on the film crews for these music videos, were the same pibas each time, and what would change was the director, who would be a man. So the pibas kept crossing paths with each other on the sets of all these music videos, just under the direction of a different man each time. And so we were like, “hey, we should start doing this ourselves.” Take the lead ourselves, in terms of management, and start doing it, working our way up from the bottom. Because we’re not one of those “big names” in the world of music videos. But, we want to be. We want to be Las Pibas, and do it ourselves.

Agus: Yeah, and that’s something that happens all the time, like the people in charge of the film crews are always men, but then behind them you’ve got a bunch of assistants, all women, doing like, the dirty work, and then the credit somehow ends up going to…someone else…and that someone else is always a man. So, in that sense, it’s important, and also like, with this whole thing of having to fill a cuota, for example of women musicians at shows and festivals…we wanted to shed some light on that issue, you know? Like come out and say, “okay, at our events, we want there to be pibas.” Like, whether it’s a film screening with debate, or to invite someone to play music, or DJ, or model, or jam, or do tattoos…

tattoo expo by

Maru: Facilitate the space to women. And gender non-conforming folks.

Agus: Exactly.

Jaxa: We also had the idea that, all the content that we would show at the events, for example, movies, be made by women as well. With a message related to gender, too.

Agus: And then also, in terms of the whole question of social media and all that, like, using that medium which, in a way serves to incentivize capital and competition, and all that logic which is like, this whole thing of… “scopic” capital, that says, okay, I have a certain number of followers, so [in a mocking voice] because of my number of followers, I can give you publicity, so you can, I dunno, come work for me for free, ’cause if you work for me you’ll get exposure…[returns to normal voice] and like, that kind of stuff too, you know? Like, we want to break away from that, and say okay “here at Las Pibas Okupan,” if you want exposure, great, we’ll give you free exposure, there’s no need for any kind of exchange, we just want for it to work as a sort of “virtual space,” like an open gallery where anyone who wants exposure can get it through that platform, without having to pay for advertising, or ask for a favor from someone who has a lot of followers, etcetera.

Jaxa: And in the physical sense, in terms of events, the idea was to organize them a la gorra [pay-what-you-can], or with a symbolic entry fee that would always be divided up among the artists. Like, we would never invite someone to participate in an event and tell them “nah, actually we’re gonna need you to do it for free.”

What do you have in mind for the future of Las Pibas Okupan?

Agus: We really want to work toward a clear horizon in terms of…keeping in mind that maybe, even if the terrain that’s familiar for us, and what we’re interested in, is visual and audiovisual arts…we want to keep in mind that these days, this whole industry, and like this whole market, is, shall we say, really geared toward a particular genre, or toward showing certain things, and it’s really hard to insert oneself, so our idea for our projects is to always align ourselves with artists and scenes that are “underground,” or try to make it a possibility for other genres to also enjoy the possibility of being able to manifest themselves through the audiovisual arts, and say “hey, check it out, my music also has these images and these stories that go with it.” Like, that’s what we really have our sights set on.

And then also, in terms of the film ciclos, we also wanted to lend some visibility to censured cinematic works, and all of those pieces, all of those works that can’t be posted on Instagram, or can’t be uploaded to Youtube, or Vimeo, or a ton of other places, because they contain “sexual content”, because you know, there are breasts that are offensive and then other breasts that aren’t offensive, and there are butts that are okay and other butts that aren’t okay, so there’s that, too, being able to put those works into a physical space, right? Although the virtual world opens the door to a lot of things, it also closes it to others, and necessary to start occupying physical spaces again, and physical encounters among community, to be able to SEE the things we want to see, and that we have to turn to different platforms to see.

projection of Promising Young Woman with debate

Jaxa: Because we’re talking about independent productions, not like, for example Gaspar Noe, who can put a penis ejaculating at the camera in a film and it’ll still be shown in theaters. ‘Cause when you’re not Gaspar Noe…they won’t even show your film at, say, the Gaumont [a well-known local movie theater that shows indie films].

Agus: Right, or when you’re a woman or a gender non-conforming person.

What’s it like working together as a team? Like, what’s your dynamic like, who takes on which roles, etcetera.

Maru: We all come from very different branches of the arts. So, in that sense, it helps us be able to put together events where we mix together all of our tastes, all of our different artistic areas. So for example we did film, we did a drawing jam, tattoo expos, music, blah blah blah, and that’s really great, it’s awesome to be able to work with different artistic spheres.

Agus: And do something that’s interdisciplinary, always. I think that that also has a lot to do with the dynamic we have working together, it’s a very interdisciplinary approach. But also, I think a good way of understanding what working together is like, is by comparing it to what it’s like when we’re working under someone else’s direction, right? Like, how does the dynamic change when it’s us working together and trying to build a space that’s feminist and inclusive…as opposed to when we work in a space that’s more…I’m gonna say this in a kind of vulgar way, but like…a space where everyone’s taking out their dicks to measure them, and well…you don’t have one [they all laugh].

So yeah, in that sense, what is our dynamic? Well, it’s one in which everything is super horizontal, and where there’s constant dialogue, and each of us recognizes that we come from different disciplines and therefore are able to achieve something interdisciplinary, that draws upon each of us equally, but with each one attending to different aspects. Which is super different from when we’re working, say, in a more vertically-organized, or competitive setting. Because yeah, there’s also a lot of that “artist ego” that you’ve got to deal with. So I think that’s basically what it is, working together, for us, means working TOGETHER.

Jaxa: Exactly, and it was like, it just came so naturally, I don’t know if it’s because of our personalities, or because we all had this same idea of…of being happy while working.

Agus: Right, because also, there’s a need for that, no? Like, an urgency.

Jaxa: Bringing together all of our experiences and coming together within the experience in which we found ourselves, it just seemed natural to be like “hey, yeah, let’s do it, but let’s do it ourselves.” Like, let’s start making moves…and let’s be us.

Agus: And also realizing that all of those spaces that we had been wanting to inhabit, or all those events where we would say “hey, it would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it? having something like this,” or “ooooh, that was really lit, I hope there’s another similar event or whatever” — like, that for those things to exist, we had to create them. Like, we couldn’t just wait around for someone else to come along and make them happen. We had to start making them happen of our own accord.

The space is called Contra Cultura