Political paints of Peru
Each country has it’s quirks, it’s eccentricities that tell you that you are somewhere different besides the usual capitalist stuff like the brand of yoghurt you are now buying, or the name of the phone provider. My imagination has been captured for very different reasons in each of the countries I have visited, for example in Colombia it was the insanely kind people, and in Mexico everything was so formative and exciting from the words people used to the food, the ever changing landscapes, and the soul that seeped into every aspect of Mexican life. With Peru there is no doubt that it’s main draw for me has been the mountains. I have transformed as a cyclist, ditching around half of my stuff and experiencing the quiet beauty of remote dirt roads through the sierra.
The routes I was taking were so involved that I am yet to write about some of the things that made Peru unique. After such a long time in a country the quirks are something that become so familiar, and it is only on leaving I am now able to reflect on what Peru meant to me besides the sierra. Peru was llamas and alpacas; it’s scary dogs, and it’s docile ones; their love for an incredibly sexist gladiator style T.V programme called Combate; the fact that they called runny fried eggs ‘English eggs’ and that avocado is called Palta, and that we were now gringos again. The coca leaf (from the cocaine plant) is an important part of Andean culture, most work men chew this for energy and coca tea is to Peruvians what Earl Grey is to the English. Then there was the day to day subtleties such as the weak handshakes, putting your face down to your soup, and how it was apparently NOT rude to stare. If you listen carefully you will also hear people putting –pe at the end of sentences, this is something hard to explain but once you hear it you recognise it everywhere.
Then there is the sublime phenomenon, when gathered, cyclists will wax lyrical about their record sublime intake in one day, how quickly they can get through a 22 bar box, and the merits of the white chocolate or almond version; this humble and not particularly delicious chocolate bar has powered our pedals over the toughest of Andean peaks. Totally sick of sublimes Nathan and I have however converted to the triangula chocolate bar in recent months, a sublime is for rookies.
I also became a collector. In Peru political parties paint their slogans and party logo on the side of buildings and I started taking a few photos here and there, then by the time I was in central Peru the pictures became more intriguing and frequent and I could not ride past an image without snapping it. I was like a school boy collecting football stickers. The images are usually iconic aspects of Peruvian life such as the hat, the pototo, the llama, the coca leaf.
I have so many questions about this… Do the people who live in the buildings get paid to have their walls painted? Or are they just happy to have their adobe mud houses brightened up? Is being a political art painter a real profession? Why are the use of images so popular, I wonder if it is due to literacy levels in the countryside? How did all of this start?
On a more serious note I found that the paintings were most prolific in Central Peru around the regions of Huancavelica, Huamanga and Apurimac. These places were most affected during the conflicts between the government and the Maoist Shining Path party, around 80,000 people were killed between 1980 and 2000. The Shining Path’s first act of violence was to burn ballot boxes and renounce the current political system, I therefore wondered if this was the reason these people were now currently embracing party politics?
I felt a bit confused about my feelings towards all of this political hype, we have on several occasions been asked to pose with local politicians, unsure of what these people stand for or how they will use our image. One day however we arrived in a small village on a rainy day, the village was free from paintings and it seemed so drab and depressing, we missed the paint. So here you go, another side of Peru….
I would like to thank Nathan for taking some of these photos for me, and with this post I close the Peru chapter of this journey.
- La Paz And An Island Initiation
- Ears popping in an ambulance, Charmian’s fall