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Wearing a purple mask in Peru, where nearly 12,000 girls and women have disappeared in the middle of the pandemic, has meaning. And a lot. Painted with a technique from pre-Hispanic times, this chinstrap symbolizes the rejection of this wave of sexist violence and, at the same time, healing for a generation of women who inherited that art traditionally from men.
One of its creators says it: “We are not alone.” Milagros Ramos, 24, is one of the artists who decorates these masks with the Sarhua technique, an Andean community badly hit by the internal armed conflict (1980-2000) that forced its artists to migrate. In her family workshop in Lima, she is the heir to this ancient art that her father and master craftsman, Julián Ramos, taught her from a very young age. There, she along with her mother and two sisters illustrate the colorful Sarhua Tables.
“Tables convey a story,” points out the also graphic designer. By tradition, before only men painted these pieces of eucalyptus or molle wood. With feathers and colored powders from the earth, they captured the everyday scenes of their community and gave them away each time a new home was created. Thus, over time, the tables became the place of Sarhua’s memory, of his joys and pains. A memory that, in a way, had left women behind.
“By painting we now also have the power to transmit something we want: gender equality,” says Ramos. Using this artistic technique, last year she and her mother, María Luisa Romaní, won the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) contest to design a mask that makes visible the other pandemic that thousands of women were, and still are. , living locked up with her attacker at home.
Before covid-19, Peru was already one of the most violent countries in Latin America for women
Since before covid-19, Peru was already one of the most violent countries in Latin America for women. In 2019, for example, it reached its highest number of femicides in the last ten years. For this reason, for Mixy Paredes, a gender specialist at UNDP, the quarantine itself did not increase gender violence, but “made visible the inequality and conditions of vulnerability to which many women were exposed.” Indeed, in the first 107 days of national confinement, there were 60,250 calls for violence on Line 100 of the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations.
It is in those days that the campaign of violet masks arises from the UNDP together with 50 companies in order to raise awareness about this sexist violence during social isolation. The response was immediate. “While we were all immersed in the health dynamics, this mask came with a powerful message not only for survivors of violence, but also for those who make decisions and for citizens who, by using it, were recognized as part of the problem,” Paredes explains.
Heiresses who heal
In the first months of the pandemic, María Luisa Romaní, mother of the young artist, began to make masks on her old sewing machine. “I didn’t really know how to do them, but I couldn’t sit idly by,” he says, since the quarantine had paralyzed sales of the Sarhua Tables. While his mother sewed, Ramos painted them with designs inspired by the flora and fauna of the heights. But as the coronavirus crisis worsened in the country, the artist also expressed her concerns: gender violence and political instability.
In the first 107 days of quarantine in Peru, 60,250 calls for gender violence were registered
For the anthropologist María Eugenia Ulfe, this artistic leap from the tables to the chinstraps is one more manifestation of the new generation of Sarhuina artists of which Ramos is a part. “It is the recognition that this art is now also made by daughters. They have grown up in Lima, but very connected to Sarhua by their parents. It is a generation that not only fights to eradicate violence, but to defend democracy ”.
However, that art that they inherited was not always considered as such. There was a time when I was subject to the classic arts and crafts debate. For Venuca Evanán, another renowned artist of that generation, such questioning should not exist. “How can you distinguish between school painters and those we learned from our parents?”
Sarhuino art was even accused of apology to terrorism, for portraying the violence that families suffered during the armed conflict. “It was a terrible moment for all of us,” Evanán recalls. After this incrimination, the Ministry of Culture declared it a Cultural Heritage of the Nation. “That for me is already a safeguard that as a woman I can freely express what I think,” says who has been the first Sarhuina to paint an LGTBI couple and female eroticism on her tables.
With the arrival of the second wave of the coronavirus in Peru – and the return of quarantine – there are fears of a new increase in sexist violence. In fact, so far this year, 14 femicides have already been perpetrated in the country. Despite this, the Sarhuinas trust that art will continue to be a tool to make these attacks visible and, in turn, heal. And it is that if the art of the Sarhua Tables is about telling stories, this generation of artists has a new story of healing for them and other Peruvians. As Romaní says, a story where “the violence towards us will be a story that will be left behind, because we are that generation that will not allow it to continue.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.