Bárbara Sánchez-Kane and Estevan Oriol prepared a high-fashion send-off for the cyborg

rafa esparza with family and friends in Elysian Park, a lowrider car in the background
rafa esparza gathers with family and friends in Elysian Park ahead of Art Basel Miami performance.
(Estevan Oriol/For The Times)
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This story is part of “Corpo RanfLA: Terra Cruiser,” a special collaboration between rafa esparza, Image magazine and Commonwealth and Council. See how the whole project came to be here.

The story begins in Elysian Park, at night, in 2018, when rafa esparza transformed his body into a lowrider car. The project was — as it often is for esparza — a collaborative one among friends. Mario Ayala painted his entire body a highlighter pink, in the style of the classic lowrider Gypsy Rose. A golden plaque reading “Brown persuasion,” designed by Tanya Melendez, hung from esparza’s behind. Elysian Park was the perfect place for Fabian Guerrero to document this transformation — a historic site of lowrider and gay cruising. It was the ideal place for esparza to interpret lowrider car culture through a queer and feminine lens, one that he felt was lacking when he was growing up in Los Angeles, zipping down Whittier Boulevard with his brother and cousins. He called the performance “Corpo Ranfla.”

Fast-forward four years later, esparza returned to Elysian Park — this time, as a lowrider cyborg. Friends and family surrounded him, including esparza’s parents and sister, as well as artists, gallerists, and curators like Paulina Lara, Anita Herrera, Gabriela Ruiz, Maria Maea, and Franc Fernandez. They were celebrating esparza’s performance “Corpo RanfLA: Terra Cruiser,” the latest edition of his project, during which he will become the lowrider cyborg and invite people in his community to “ride” him at Art Basel Miami. At Elysian, esparza brought only a hint of his futurist armor: a stunning chrome-plated arm. He wore a white, billowing dress designed by Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, the Mexican fashion designer whose clothes are like elaborate expressive sculptures and defy gender. Guadalupe Rosales and Karla Ekatherine Canseco, both of whom will be participating as “riders” for esparza’s performance, also wore Sánchez-Kane — Rosales in a black, striped suit, and Canseco in a pair of pants printed with faces that hold your gaze. Another of esparza’s friends, Timo Fahler, wore a signature Sánchez-Kane blouse with a large hole cut into the fabric, exposing where the heart lies. The designs matched the bold and tender spirit of the day, all documented by legend Estevan Oriol.

In these photos, Oriol picks up where Guerrero left off in 2018. If the next chapter of “Corpo RanfLA,” captured in the place where it all began, feels from the future that’s because it is. For esparza, community is the way forward. Sánchez-Kane and Oriol are the latest to join this cyborgian journey. They won’t be the last. (When some people on dirt bikes and ATVs cruised by the shoot, esparza invited them to take part.) In Miami, there’s no telling who might pull up. Just slide through the fair and see for yourself; the community will be there, tickets in hand, ready to ride.

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rafa esparza in a lowrider car with a chrome-plated arm hanging out the window
rafa esparza wears a chrome-plated arm that will be a part of his performance at Art Basel Miami.
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)
Guadalupe Rosales, Karla Ekatherine Canseco and rafa esparza wearing Bárbara Sánchez-Kane.
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)
A black and white photo of artist Karla Ekatherine Canseco
Karla Ekatherine Canseco, one of the riders in “Corpo RanfLA: Terra Cruiser.”
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)
rafa esparza and Timo Fahler, posing in front of lowrider car
rafa esparza and Timo Fahler, both wearing Bárbara Sánchez-Kane.
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)
rafa esparza with a lowrider car, lent by his friend Michael Romero.
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)
rafa esparza with his parents and sister, Lupe.
rafa esparza with his parents and sister, Lupe.
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)
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rafa esparza and his father.
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)
rafa esparza and friends in Elysian Park
From left to right: Timo Fahler, Gabriela Ruiz, Anita Herrera, Karla Ekatherine Canseco, rafa esparza, Franc Fernandez, Maria Maea, Guadalupe Rosales, Paulina Lara.
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)
Guadalupe Rosales and rafa esparza.
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)
esparza and friends in Elysian Park
For esparza, Elysian Park has been the ideal place to interpret lowrider car culture through a queer and feminine lens.
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)
rafa esparza in the lowrider car with chrome-plated arm hanging out window
If the next chapter of “Corpo RanfLA,” captured in the place where it all began, feels from the future that’s because it is.
(Estevan Oriol / For The Times)