Pitzer College Professor Tarrah Krajnak Wins Award for Documentary Work

Claremont, Calif. (December 4, 2020) – The product of seven years’ worth of Tarrah Krajnak’s work documenting a turbulent period in the history of Lima, Peru, and its impact on her life have garnered the Pitzer College associate professor of art the 2020 Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize.

Associate Professor of Art Tarah Krajnak

“El Jardin De Senderos Que Se Bifurcan” earned Krajnak the prize, which is granted annually by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. The work consists of archival materials, oral histories, performances, poetry, and re-photography.

The prize recognizes the work of artists – either individual or in teams – engaged in ongoing projects that make the most of the connection of words and images in presenting a subject.

Krajnak, a photographer, had begun searching for a writer to work with her on her project when she came to the realization she should handle the writing duties herself.

“It has to be in the first person. It has to be in my voice,” Krajnak recalled concluding.

When assembled together, the words, images, and other components, shed light on the social and political events affecting Lima in 1979, the rest of the Peruvian nation, as well as Krajnak’s birth and that of other children born that year.

Krajnak, who is indigenous to Peru, was born in Lima in 1979 and became an orphan at birth.

Through a transracial adoption Krajnak came to the United States where she was raised in Ohio by white parents along with two siblings – an African American brother and a Peruvian-born sister who was also an orphan, Krajnak said

Seven years ago, Krajnak began visiting Peru where she conducted research that included pouring over publications of the time, reviewing records, and carrying out interviews. Krajnak found that at the time of her birth, her native country was experiencing great strife and violence. Only a few years earlier, a military dictatorship ruled the country and by the end of the 1970s the public saw the rise of violent Communist insurgent groups.

The turmoil impacted indigenous communities in the Andes Mountains and resulted in people being displaced.

“Indigenous people were forced into cities, into Lima,” she said. “My biological mother was probably one of the indigenous women fleeing violence.”

Krajnak also learned that often indigenous women found themselves working as maids in large cities like Lima, living in slums, and vulnerable to all manner of danger, including rape.

Through art Krajnak forms an empathetic connection to those affected by the conditions of the late 1970s and 1980s and tries to listen totheir stories, which are part of a painful history.

A great deal of her work as an artist is the result of asking questions, Krajnak said, and is something she takes into teaching.

“Pitzer is a great place for an artist like me,” she said. “The same questions I pose in my work are the same questions I pose to students.” 

The Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize come with $10,000 that Krajnak will use to work on the next phase of her project. Once conditions involving COVID-19 stabilize and it is possible to travel freely, Krajnak plans to interview other transracial adoptees like herself born from the late 1970s to the early 1990s in Lima.

In the meantime, Krajnak is also working on other endeavors related to her award-winning project. She has been working on a book, also titled El Jardin De Senderos Que Se Bifurcan, which translates to “The Garden of Forking Paths,” and inspired by the short story of the same name written by Argentine author and poet Jorge Luis Borges. Krajnak expects the book to be published late this year or early in 2021.

A cyanotype edition of the project is currently being exhibited at Filter Photo in Chicago. The exhibit runs through Dec. 12, 2020. The nonprofit organization has linked to an exhibition walkthrough of Krajnak’s work on its website.

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.

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