I. The Massacre:
On May 29, 1978, members of the Guatemalan army shot indiscriminately into a crowd of Maya Q’eqchi’ campesinos who gathered in the town square of Panzos, Alta Verapaz to express demands for land they had long occupied.
The mayor, Fabio Monzón, known for confiscating peasant property for his own uses, had already called in an army unit, which surrounded the crowd. The troops opened fire killing at least 53 people including women and children and leaving 47 wounded. Government officials claimed the troops were turning back a peasant invasion fomented by international communists.
That account served to make an example of consequences for politically active towns and helped provide a pretense for a years-long campaign of massacres in Mayan villages throughout the country. In Panzos, the army committed hundreds of individual killings. Many Mayan families fled their homes to hide in mountains for years.
“Nos entregamos en manos de la muerte. Fué muy doloroso lo que nos hicieron los soldados. Huimos, nos fuimos, pero nos persiguieron, andaban detrás de nosotros. Debajo de la lluvia dormíamos, debajo de los árboles, no teníamos casa, no teníamos nada con que protegernos ahí. No teníamos comida, cada día que pasaba no teníamos nada que comer. Ya no teníamos hambre, no se sabe cuantos años aguantamos todo eso, tal vez solo Dios nos ayudó a sobrevivir todo eso, yá solo él nos ayudaba.
Es muy doloroso sentir y ver quemar la vida de una persona.”
We gave ourselves up to the hands of death. It was very painful what the soldiers did to us. We escaped, we left but they came after us, they were always chasing us. We slept under the rain, under the trees, we had no home, had nothing to protect ourselves with. We did not have food; each day that passed, we did not have food. We had forgotten that we were hungry. It is hard to know for how many years we faced that life. Perhaps, only God helped us to survive. Only He
would help us.
It is painful to feel and see a human life being burnt.”
Witness SMR, San Marcos, from “Te llevaste mis Palabras”, Book I, by Carlos Paredes, 2006. Published by ECAP.
III. Xaliha’, Rivers that Meet.
Panzós means “place of the green waters” in reference to the Polochic River which is said to be home of fish, alligators and birds.
I first heard about the massacre of Panzos from psychosocial workers from ECAP (Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Accion Psicosical – Team of Communitarian Studies and Psychosocial Action), a Guatemalan organization that provides psychosocial support to massacre survivors and witnesses involved in legal proceedings before courts in Guatemala and overseas.
This was not the first time that we were coming to Guatemala. ECAP had invited the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin to design and direct art projects with indigenous men and women survivors of massacres and victims of state violence in Antigua, 2007 in Huehuetenango, 2008 and in Cobán and Rabinal, 2009.
This new invitation to work with the survivors of the massacre of Panzos and with the relatives of the people who perished in 1978, would include youth that had been born and who had grown up in Sierra de las Minas, the almost unreachable, impenetrable mountain range where the survivors found precarious shelter for decades and from where they did not emerge until they felt safe in the mid 90’s when the Peace Accords were signed.
This project was possible thanks to NALAC, National Association of Latino Art and Culture, Transnational Cultural Remittances (TCR) grant. Claudia Verenice Flores Escolero, Rosa del Carmen Argueta and Claudia Bernardi, artists / teachers of the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin developed and implemented art methodologies to assist and facilitate the creation of this community based and collaborative mural located at the Municipal Hall of Panzos/ Salón Municipal de Panzos, which stands adjacent to the park where more than one hundred people were murdered in 1978. The School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin in collaboration with ECAP are responsible for the planning, logistic, infrastructure and general organization of this project.
Carlos Paredes and Jacqueline Mazariaga, Psychosocial workers from ECAP established contact early in he year with the Mayor of Panzos, Mr. Ricardo Rummler, who gave authorization to develop this project involving not only the survivors of the massacre of Panzos, but a vast majority of people such as local teachers, schools, community organizers, local agencies and inhabitants of Panzos. Given the nature of the theme that would be rendered in the mural, it was expected that family members of the perpetrators of the massacre would attend the meetings and be part of the creation of the mural.
Since the beginning of 2010, after being notified that this project was awarded a TRC grant from NALAC, Carlos Paredes ( ECAP) and Claudia Bernardi started a discussion and an exchange of ideas through email
• How this project could be fulfilled?
• How many participants there will be?
• Where is the mural going to be located?
• Would it be an interior wall or an exterior wall?
• Would the wall need to be repaired?
• Would it need only to be properly prepared for the mural?
• How large would the wall be?
• Is there any danger of humidity affecting the wall?
• Is there a rainy season in Panzos that we need to consider?
Carlos’ emails confirmed that more than 200 people wanted to participate. The selected wall was locate din the Municipality Hall and it measured 15 meters long by 4 meters high (50 feet long x 13 feet high).
A delicate building of trust between the artists and the participants frequently precedes community art projects of this sort. Collaborative murals are created when a group of participants feels integrated among themselves and with the facilitating artist/s. This sense of partaking may take few months, if not years.
In Panzos people felt ready and willing to participate in this project having never met the artists and never having done a project involving art making. They would stay with us as a group for about a week, perhaps 10 days. They would have liked to stay longer but they needed to attend their homes and families.
XALIHA’, Rivers that meet. The participants spoke of the Polochic River as an ever-fluent force that undulates, trespasses, adapts to territory and meets other waters, other rivers, far reaching distances that cannot be seen at the origin of the moving liquid snake. They spoke about life as a river. They were unconcerned that we came from so far away to work with them. The rivers were, simply, reaching one another at this time.
The Polochic River extends 194 km long. Its major headstreams arise in the Chamá and Minas mountain ranges. The river is navigable for length of 30 km to Panzós. The river used to be home of crocodiles, fish of all sizes and colors, of turtles, creatures of waters that made the river a spectacular emerald green translucency. The participants said that the river suffered during the armed conflict. Many people were killed and thrown to the waters. The green turned dark red, almost earth-color for the thickness of blood.
Q’eqchi’ indigenous men, women and youth, very few of whom spoke Spanish and most of them illiterate, formed this collective of art and memory. Two interpreters, Francisco Cuz and Matilde Caal worked with us at all times. The sounds of their language became familiar enough to our ignorant ears that we could learn few words, b’antiox (thank you), b’an usilal (please). We wanted to tell them “Good Morning”. They told us that in Q’eqchi’, good morning, afternoon and evening has no difference. The phrase used does not address the time of the day but the state of one’s wellbeing: Ma sa sa’ laa ch’ool, “is there happiness in your heart?”
Claudia Verenice Flores Escolero, Rosa del Carmen Argueta and Claudia
Bernardi departed Perquin, El Salvador, on June 21. We took two huge suitcases filled with mural paint, with brushes, varnishes, chalks, etc. We stayed in San Salvador few days buying more implements. We traveled to Guatemala City on June 23. Having arrived at noon, we took the whole afternoon to buy last moments needs, plastic buckets, plastic covers for the floor, paper, pencils, all the materials needed for the first part of the project which involves finding a common idea through drawing.
We traveled to Panzos on June 26. Carlos Paredes with his 10 years old son Pablo and Verenice, Rosa del Carmen and I, had the opportunity to talk during the 8 hours trip from Guatemala City to Alta Verapaz about many aspects of this project that we had not learned about before.
• How did people know about this project?
• How the recruiting of the participants had been done?
• When? Where?
• What did they know about the project?
ECAP has been working with the people that would become the participants of this project in Panzos and other locations in Alta Verapaz for a decade. ECAP accompanied and supported them during the exhumations conducted in Sierra de las Minas. Many of the participants were in the Park of Panzos on that tragic May 29, 1978. The ones who survived did not return to their communities. They fled to the mountains for shelter. Entire communities of people, sometime 50,
sometime 80, sometime hundreds exited in desperations.
Life in the mountains was awfully hard. There was no water, there was no food; there was no shelter. Children started dying of hunger, some children died of unknown diseases, some were so tired that could no longer walk and would die on their parents’ arms. The elderly, many of whom were ill at the time of escaping, died very shortly after the first weeks of starvation, constant rain and exhaustion.
The Guatemalan army was constantly persecuting them. Whenever they would encounter a terrified group of civilians, they would shoot at them. They would destroy their meager belongings if they still had any. The army burned many people while still alive.
The survivors of this violence buried the dead. The Guatemalan Forensic
Anthropology Team and ECAP have been conducting exhumations to recover human remains of those people who, for over two decades, died or were killed in the Sierra de las Minas.
It is important to point out that the massacre of Panzos is not an isolated event. Rather, it is considered the starting point of an indiscriminate wave of violence perpetrated against civilian population in the Verapaces (Alta and Baja Verapaz).
During the 80’s and 90’s, under the pretence to search and persecute people associated with Guatemalan guerrilla forces, the Guatemalan army conducted torture, extra judicial executions, sexual violence against women and children and massacres against civilian population.
The people who escaped to Sierra de las Minas stayed there for 10 years, for 20 years. Many people died and many others were born. Some youth emerged from the mountains only after 1996. Some of them returned to their lost communities even later.
Men, women and youth with whom we shared this project are the ones who walked about the impenetrable mountains for long time. They learned about the mural project through ECAP. They figured that the people who had assisted them to search for their dead relatives were trustworthy. Thus, the possibility of creating a mural that would tell their communal and personal history of struggle and survival could be trusted as well.
The mural would be a book of history without words that would narrate a different story than the personal testimonies that they had given to human rights agencies and to ECAP. This book of history would contain personal stories that would be rendered as a community effort, in which the memories of one person, would merge, engage, accompany, become, the memories of everyone.
“All this happened to us”, Mayan poem.
IV: First Ideas:
On Sunday, June 27, the participants and the artists/facilitators met for the first time at El Estor, located one hour North from Panzos, overlooking Lake Izabal. Belize is at the other shore of Lake Izabal, few kilometers away from the Atlantic Ocean.
Arrow shows Panzos, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.
Panzos has tropical weather, hot and humid with an average temperature of 90 degrees F. Its vicinity to thick jungles causes an over population of insects, including tarantulas (We actually saw several! Even on our beds!!!!)
Seventy-five Q’etchi’ indigenous men, women and youth, (mostly young men, ages 14 to 22) had come from close and distant communities. We all gathered at an airy, welcoming building.
On this first day we presented artworks created at the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin since its creation in 2005. In power point presentations we showed murals, urban interventions and art classes in Perquin, Guatemala and Colombia. We addressed the war in El Salvador and the resistance of civilian populations. We shared painful histories such as the massacre at El Mozote.
They had never heard about it. They were saddened and concerned when learning about the violence suffered in El Salvador, so similar to the tragedies they had confronted in Guatemala. They responded strongly to the collaborative and community based mural painted in 2006 at El Mozote, the very same place where the massacre had occurred, commemorating 25-years since the carnage.
They heard in silence.
Some of the young participants asked questions about the youth in El Salvador. They wanted to know if another war was possible in El Salvador. “Can another war happen in Guatemala?” I asked. Their answer was devastating. They said that another war could happen because the poverty and segregation suffered by indigenous people has not been remedied. The land that the indigenous people demanded in 1978 still belongs to the “finqueros” (land owners). People came from abroad, took their land and never returned anything of what they had stolen.
A land reform never occurred. The people today had the same difficulties claiming their land that their ancestor had a century ago. The Peace Accords signed on December 28, 1996, brought some resolution regarding the indiscriminate violence against civilian population. But the root of the conflicts, however, still persists.
The second day, June 28, we welcomed the participants with papers, pencils, and erasers. The participants, initially a little insecure in front of the white paper, started drawing with great agility. They would gather in groups of 8 to 10 people. They were responding with their drawings to the initial and most important question:
• What will this mural be about?
What would you want to tell the community of Panzos in this message that will translate ideas into images and colors?
• Is there any particular event or personal and communal histories that you would want to share with people who will see this mural?
• Would you want to say in this mural something that you have never said to anyone before?
They spoke among themselves. Concentrated and attentive to what was being exchanged, some people opted to draw together in the same page, starting spontaneous collaboration. Young men sat in groups but they always consulted the elderly before completing a drawing. They were rendering images as well as retrieving personal and communal memories that belonged to everyone.
Maria tut, Maria Maquin , Jonatahn
Demesiia, Matilde, Beatriz
In the afternoon we sat in a large meeting place where we looked at everyone’s drawings and ideas.
Francisco, Samuel, Carmen, Demesia,, Angelina, Maria
Maria Maquin stood up and told the story of her grandmother. Maria is one of the most famous survivors. “When soldiers come, they come to kill” she said.
Maria Maquin was a 12-year-old girl at the plaza in 1978, standing with her grandmother, Mamá Maquin who was a leader of the protest and one of the first killed. “I played dead. One of the soldiers touched me and said, ‘She’s dead.’” She lived in hiding in the mountains for years after.
Maria Maquin wanted Mamá Maquin to be prominent in the mural. She wanted her alive. She wanted her to be here, today and not dead in the past.
Drawings were displayed showing mountains, animals, birds, plants, trees, corn and cardamom plantations, houses, some of which were burned, some of them destroyed; the Polochic River; the bridge, people crossing the bridge, people thrown dead into the river. Some of the young participants who had worked in collaboration with the elderly presented detailed drawings of violence.
The women mostly drew children, portraying their dead sons and daughters.
They were specific about identifying the location where the children had died. They remembered that well. Most of them had not been able to return to the place where the children were buried. The obligatory and permanent transit forced them to carve graves rushed by the vicinity of the army and always in fear to be found and killed. Thirty years after they hoped to identify where the graves could be located.
The drawings represented the women searching for their dead children.
The mural started taking shape.
None of the participants had seen the wall on which the mural would be painted. We knew that it was 15 meters (50 feet) long by 4 meters (13 feet) high. There was an existing mural in the Municipal Hall painted about 15 years ago by Don Roberto, a local painter from Panzos. It represents the Boca Nueva River in the medium section; a landscape from Alta Verapaz in the right segment and a train descending, in the left segment.
Our mural would start where the other mural ended. The participants thought, correctly, that the extreme right of our mural would meet the old one. It should address the railroad that connected Alta and Baja Verapaz.
Construction of the first railway in Guatemala commenced in 1877 and the first section began operation in 1880, connecting Puerto San José and Escuintla. It was later extended to Guatemala City in 1884. The line to Puerto Barrios, which still exists, was completed in 1908. The network was soon acquired by United Fruit Company, and in 1912 renamed IRCA – International Railways of Central America. The railroad prospered until 1957.
On this second day of workshop, we received the visit of Patricia Dahinten, her husband, her sister and her brother in law all of whom came to El Estor to share with us photographs of great historic value.
Patricia Dahinten’s grandfather is among the German people who came to Alta Verapaz early in the XX th century to build the railroad.
The photographs that Patricia brought showed an affluent Panzos
The economy was built around the railroad that transported coffee, cardamom, cocoa, and many other goods coming from Europe, via large vessels crossing the Atlantic Ocean and arriving to Panzos through Lake Izabal.
Patricia talked dearly about her father, born in Panzos from German parents, who instructed upon them love and respect towards the Germany and Europe. Patricia remembers than when she was a little girl many German people came to Panzos for holidays. Parties and festivities would receive those visitors. Those were the Golden years of Panzos.
In the 30’s and 40’s “finqueros” were allowed through government legislation to take land from the indigenous people. In fact, they could take the land and “own” the indigenous populations that had lived there before. The indigenous people would now work for the “new” landowner, earning no salary. The owner of the land had rights over everything including the virginity of the young women. The “finqueros” had the right to have intercourse with all young women under their power before they would marry an indigenous man.
(El derecho de pernada / right of pernada is a feudal right establishing
landowner’s power over young women living under his teenier)
The hacienda system in Guatemala has its roots in the Spanish Conquest, when the land was seized from indigenous peoples and given as compensation to the new Spanish colonists. After independence in 1821, land ownership remained highly skewed. Indigenous communities lost their rights to land ownership.
The agrarian law of 1894 allowed the sale of state lands to individuals, in other words, land was to be a commodity and not a public good. In 1901 the United Fruit Co began its activities in Guatemala. Between 1924 and 1930. The company paid only a small tax on its exports and earned its profits tax free, and it was also made exempt from existing labor laws.
On June 17, 1952, the Congress of Guatemala approved the Agrarian Reform Law. Its principle objectives were to eliminate all forms of feudalism and labor servitude, distribute land to the landless and near landless, and provide smallholders with credit and technical assistance. In 1953 the united Fruit Company owned 550,000 acres of land in the Atlantic shore. Most of that land was not being utilized. In 1954, a coup de etat organized by the Guatemalan Military with assistance of the United States government forced President Jacobo Arbenz out of his Presidency. Since the coup in 1954 against President Arbenz, not one piece of land has been expropriated in Guatemala, reinforcing an unjust
system of land tenure.
V. At the Municipal Hall/ Salón Municipal
The Municipal Hall is ample, with natural light and fans that work! The building is located adjacent to the Municipality and the park where the massacre occurred in 1978.
The walls had been prepared before our arrival. They were white, pristine.
On Wednesday, June 30th, the participants, the artists and ECAP workers met at 8:30 am. The drawings were displayed and evaluated once more.
Lidia Pretzantzin Yoc is a psychosocial worker and dear friend with whom we worked in Antigua (2007) and in Huehuetenango (2008). Although Lidia works in Nebaj, in the other side of the country, she was willing and able to join us for few days. We asked Lidia to lead the creation of the “guarda ”/ the decorative edge that murals usually have. In order to select images for these decorative motives, we suggested looking at the garments that Guatemalan women wear.
Carmen, Angelina, Margarita, Maria
It is in their huipiles (tops) and cortes (skirts) where the inspiration generates. In this mural of Panzos, women were fast working with Lidia’s guidance selecting images from their worn textiles.
Maria Pop and Lidia Yoc
There are steal columns that interrupt the wall surface. After conversations with the participants, it was decided that the columns would be integrated which meant that they would be painted as part of the mural itself.
Before more ideas were decided upon, the mural was intervened with color. None of the participants had ever done murals project and most of them never held a brush. To see such a large extension of white wall could be intimidating.
We distributed containers of washes, light mural paint, to be applied with sponges, freely and with no restrictions.
The participants painted huge and colorful patches of color all over the mural’s field.
There were two scaffolds, a rare privilege in this project. Predictably, the young men climbed up the scaffold with determination. The women concentrated in tracing the selected images along the edges. Everyone worked at the same time amid a symphony of colors. We all were marveled.
Based on the sketches done the previous days, the participants started drawing main ideas having in consideration a time line transiting form life in the past to a possible future.
These is a list of the main guidelines that the participants created to follow the development of the mural:
• Life before their land had been taken
• “reason” for violence
• Repression and persecution
• Exodus of people from their land to the mountains
• The massacre
• The present
• Towards the future.
Helicopters identified army intervention. The next panel would depict the massacre. There were conversations among the participants regarding who would paint the massacre. Romeo Caal Cabnal, a teacher from Panzos, rendered the main building of the municipality from where the army shot at the crowd reunited in the park. Romeo drew while people came to him to provide details about how the massacre had happened.
Maria Tut, Angelina, Neris, Romeo, Maria Bá, Matilde, Petrona
Mamá Maquin, appeared to the left to the massacre, standing tall and with the land certificate still in her hand.
The Polochic River is an expansion of water that embraces the particpants’ history.
Gloria, Maria Maquin, Rolando, Francisco,Angelina
Diego, Maria, Angelina, Francisco, Claudia, Petrona, Carmen, Samuel
When the drawings were done, we took a step back to see our book of history without words being born.
Petrona, Demesia, Maria Pop
It took very little to go from drawing to painting. The participants were ready and eager to paint fearlessly. We recommended that in a mural, what is located further away, should be painted first. Thus, the first paint applied to the mural would be the sky, then the clouds, mountains, landscape (trees, plantations, etc.) Last, would be people, details, elements that would be seen closer by the observer.
From that moment on, the participants owned the mural.
Colors were traveling from right to left, from left to right, up and down in what appeared to be a choreographed performance.
There was a constant movement of men, women and youth up and down the scaffold, people painting under the scaffold while others painted above it.
Children took position at the lower parts of the mural negotiating space with the women painting the “guardas”/ decorative edges.
Maria Bá, Teresa, Margarita
How? I wondered, 75 people who had never done art, who had never painted a mural, could come together in unison, with no conflict of any sort to render such an enormous field of images and history?
We monitored people who painted a lot and others who painted less. We tried to ensure that everyone would have a balanced participation in the creation of the mural.
Francisco Cuz, Manuel, Maria Maquin, Romeo Caal
A group of women separated themselves from the painting team and were in deliberation when I approached and asked Matilde Caal, our interpreter, what were they discussing? “The decorative edge (guarda)”, she said. Although the edge was almost completed with abstract designs intercalated with animal’s designs, the women were terribly upset to see the animals (birds, deer, ducks) looking to the west. They were looking left.
They explained to us that in Mayan cosmogony the animals always represented in pairs, woven in textiles are looking to the East, to dawn, to day’s start, to the sun, in the same way that the belt the women wear to hold their skirts ties to the right, paralleling the movement of the sun from day to night. The bean plants grow in spiral, looking to day’s break, to the East.
Emilio, Manuel, Rosario
The women wanted the animals in the edge to be repainted and looking right. They gave precise instructions to a group of young men who carried out the women’s orders. Soon, the animals were looking right in their corrected journey towards the East.
Maria Bá , Rosario, Maria Pop
The interpreters worked attentively. All decision were conversed and decided after scrupulous evaluation. Francisco Paau painted a central mountain in an abstract fashion, vertical earth colors placed adjacent to patches of green.
The majority of the participants objected it violently because it did not look like mountains in nature. They formed “focus” groups to discuss whether or not the mountain would stay as Francisco had painted it or if it needed urgent fixing. It took days of deliverance that reminded me of discussions at the United Nations, until a verdict was accepted: the mountain would stay but its size needed to be reduced.
Marcos , Matilde Caal
There were conversations surrounding Mamá Maquin. Her granddaughter, Maria, led the talks. She was determined, passionate in describing the smallest details. Evidently, this was not only a painting. This was a recordation and homage of monumental proportions.
“Art for art’s sake” seemed a distant, impossible concept. In this mural, each and all minuscule parts would become indispensable. The mural was emerging as a life force where nothing was negligent. All that was said was essential for the 75 people working on it.
Mario and Angel from Ixac/ Diego from Ixil
Mario and Angel arrived to Panzos after two days of traveling from Ixcan, in western Guatemala. They crossed the country to be in this project, representing “Ixcan Creativo” an agency of art and community they belong to. Mario and Angel together with Diego, who is from Ixil but works in Rabinal as part of ECAP, had the delicate task of painting Mamá Maquin under her granddaughter’s scrupulous gaze.
To see the mural “becoming” was moving, transforming.
Being later than 5:30 PM, Don Juan Ochoa was still painting, his brush traveling carefully. I approached and suggested that he would continue the following day. He looked at me and said that he did not have any more paint, anyway, that he had not have paint for a while. Surprised, I asked him what was he doing, then? Don Juan smiled. He said, “I am caressing the mural with the brush”? (Estaba acariciándolo)
Maria Maquin, Don Juan Ochoa, Jonathan ( Maria Tut’s grandson)
The mural evolved: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The left part of the mural would have a sun. Towards the end of the week, there were conversations and debate to choose the best option for the sun image. Juan Manuel, one of the teachers of Panzos, brought sketches that were discussed and evaluated.
Maria Tut, Petrona, Maria Bá, Maria Pop, Carmen, Domingo, Reginaldo, Teresa, Romeo, Juan Manuel.
By Sunday, some of the participants had to return to their homes, to their lives before the mural. Not everyone could stay longer than the week that we had shared.
By Sunday, the mural was finished.
We stepped back.
We looked at the mural as if we were looking at it for the first time.
VI: The Mural
This is what we saw:
Starting at the extreme right there is a railroad representing the past, the time before the massacre when the train from the Verapaces transported goods, when life was limited but people had small pieces of land where to work and plant corn.
The Polochic River, long and plentiful of life, of fish and steamboats and cayucos (canoes carved out of trees) starts here.
From the first panel to the second, there are animals, corn plantations, a colorful Guatemalan bus and under a single threatening cloud, there is a land partitioned in the way the “finqueros” secured their property, with wire and fences. Inside the secluded land, there are cattle. There had always been cattle. But now, the finqueros changed the usage of land by taking areas away from planting corn to produce grass to feed the cattle. This measure was a terrible mistake and a
change of economy imposed upon indigenous population with catastrophic effects.
The Polochic River snakes its waters as an endless embrace meeting, at one point, the Boca Nueva River. The water changes colors becoming greener; the bridge separates the time of peace from that of conflict. To the left of the Boca Nueva River there are houses burning.
A man dressed in military uniform shoots at a couple that are escaping with few belongings.
The bullets are drawn carefully indicating their trajectory.
The people that are shot at will not survive. Another couple escapes towards Sierra de las Minas.
Manuel Caal and Rosario Paau grew up in the mountains. For decades they were on the run, escaping. They married and had five children, one of who, Reginaldo Caal Paau, was part of this project as well. Manuel and Rosario painted a mountain they know well called “The Giant”. It does, indeed, look like a large man sleeping on his back, his feet noticeable.
El Gigante, 2010
Manuel and Rosario rendered the Giant perfectly, its dimensions precise, its distance from the river adequate.
Two military helicopters tint the sky dark, menacing. A vulture painted against the threatening blue approaches to snatch the bodies of civilians killed at the bottom of the mountains.
The second column is a codex, with detailed information of how people lived in the mountains, how they hid, how they survived with no food, shelter or water while the Guatemalan army was always chasing them. On the other side of the column, the church of Panzos appears. Under it, there is a huge mass grave, open like a screaming mouth, where people were deposited after the massacre.
The official numbers of deaths do not match the memory of the survivors. There may, in fact, have been more than one hundred people killed on that May 29th, 1978.
Church of Panzos, 2010
The massacre is painted with detail, with minute attention to the expression of all the people depicted, the army men and the victims.
Francisco Cuz, one of our interpreters, was constantly on call translating from Q’eqchi’ into Spanish. He appeared not to have much time for painting. However, he did paint a man seen from the back, starting a long journey towards the mountains. This man is an image of himself after the army came to his house to capture him. He was fortunate enough not to be found. He could not go back. His wife was ill and his five children were small. Yet, he could not return to his
community. He could only try to get to the mountains and hope to survive. He did. He spent many years in the thicket of Sierra de las Minas.
Maria Pop painted her husband hanging from a tree. After being killed (Maria hopes he was killed by then) the army took her husband down and chopped him into pieces. Maria could never retrieve all the body parts to bury her husband properly, with dignity.
Oscar Jan painted a woman killed on the ground and a standing older woman holding a baby. I thought that the elderly woman carrying the baby was protecting him after his mother had died. Oscar corrected my interpretation. The older woman, whose name is Eludia and still lives in Panzos, did take the baby but she was in favor of the army at the time of the massacre. She took especial care in finding children that had survived. She used a knife to kill them. If they were infants, she strangled them.
Army trucks with blind windows travel west. The army never wanted to show their faces when they came to kill.
At the foot of the mountains, an exhumation is taking place. Many of the people who escaped to the mountains after 1978 did not survive. Children and elderly people did not have the strength to endure hunger, fear and an incessant hard climate bringing upon them diseases and death. The survivors buried the dead. The exhumations are retrieving the remains of relatives who died in the mountains.
To the left of the army trucks, the landscape changes and opens up in the form of a rainbow that emerges form a Mayan Altar where candles and copal burn. The bright bands of the rainbow colors separate the tragedy of the massacre from a large, imposing female figure.
This woman, dressed in the traditional garments from Alta Verapaz, is Mamá Maquin. She stands looking straight in the eye of the viewer. She holds a basket with four corns, each of a different color representing, Red is the birth of the day (naciente), Yellow is the wind, White is water, Black is the end of the day (poniente). The pivotal truth of Mayan cosmogony relays within these four colors and their meaning: life, death, transition and survival.
Mamá Maquin holds a rolled up document in her right hand. This Q’eqchi’
woman leader of her community was killed attempting to deliver a letter of protest to the local governmental authorities in Panzos requesting her rights to own her land. She was shot at and killed, but she never let the document go.
The Polochic River reappears at Mamá Maquin’s right. A girl is canoeing by herself on a cayuco. That is Maria Maquin, her granddaughter who escaped the massacre.
After 32 years, Maria depicted her grandmother and the memories of her survival on the mural of the Municipal Hall of Panzos. Her testimony is alive.
Maria Maquin/ Mamá Maquin
The left side of the mural narrates hopes for the future. Trees appear on the mountains, a man works hard on a re-forestation project; there are children; new painted houses; there is a school where children are singing in a playground.
There is an indigenous woman conversing with a ladina woman. Matilde Caal, who painted the two women, told me that from now on, indigenous peoples and non- indigenous people need to come together to demand justice and accountability to impede that other massacres like the one in Panzos, would ever happen again. There is a three-floors new municipality. Pablo Ical Mo, Pablito, painted the building of the municipality with attention to each and all tiles on the roof and bricks of the wall. He considered perspective and space. He was, I thought, a skilled architect. “This”, he said humbly, “is my first attempt to draw”.
Pablo Ical Mo
Above the municipality building the Polochic River appears once last time, completing a long journey from East to West, from the start to its end.
An indigenous woman holds the hand of a young girl.
They are not looking at us. They are facing the sunset. The girl carries the sun, which resembles a kite in movement. She looks faithfully to a bright, peaceful landscape. She can envision the future. The future appears to be now in her hands.
Don Roberto Morán does not see well. He approached the mural and stood three inches away from it.
Don Roberto Moran
He spent hours mapping, at this short distance, the trajectory of the mural, its many layers of information, each detail. When he was done, he turned to me and said: “What we painted is true”.
The mural was a symphony of truth. Inside its sounds, the lives of people who had suffered discrimination, persecution, hunger and fear were rendered. They had never done anything similar before and they had never imagined that they would. Now, in front of the evidence of the remarkable work of art that they had created, they speculated that this could be an opportunity to become visible, recognized, respected.
The mural spoke the truth. We were all native speakers of art.
VII. A Color / Perspective Workshop
News of the creation of the mural had disseminated fast. A group of
schoolteachers from Panzos, El Estor, Teleman, Cahaboncito and other
communities from neighboring towns asked us to organize a workshop teaching basic directions on how to start and develop a mural.
Juan Manuel Choc Cal, Director of a school in Panzos who participated in the painting of the mural proposed that the one-day workshop would be about color and perspective. He had never done art but now, he was ready to paint many more and wanted to teach mural painting to the schoolteachers of his school and guide the children in painting murals all over the school walls.
Twenty-six schoolteachers came to the color and perspective workshop on Wednesday, July 7.
Art, they explained, is not part of the education curricula. If teachers with an independent attitude or desire would include art in the teaching schedule, most frequently, the art form selected was music. Painting, they said, had never been taught in any of the schools they studied at where they taught now.
Rosa del Carmen Argueta, Claudia Verenice Flores Escolero and I, shared with the schoolteachers the wonders of the chromatic circle, the gentle transitions from saturated colors to unsaturated shades, the gratifying measuring of light and darkness that a color can suffer. The schoolteachers were inspired to do a similar exercise with their colleagues and students.
In the afternoon, we placed our attention to basic concepts of perspective.
Although there was still a lot to learn, the teachers felt that with color and perspective, they were ready to replicate the painting of a mural.
VIII: Inauguration Ceremony
The inauguration ceremony was scheduled for Thursday, July 8th. The
participants and their families were expected to arrive at 9:30 am. Despite the heavy rains that had fallen during the last two days that could incapacitate transportation, the participants had left their communities safely and they were on their way to Panzos.
Carlos Paredes and I designed a “diploma” that acknowledged the artistry and participation of every artist in this project. With a handsome Mayan decoration the diploma says:
QuickTime™ and a
are needed to see this picture.
“In recognition of the Artistic Capacity and the Value of Memory.
For your invaluable participation in the creation of this collaborative and
communal mural that tells the story of our community, created at the Municipal
Hall of Panzos.
Panzos, Alta Verapaz, July 8th, 2010.”
The ceremony, humble yet powerful, welcomed more than one hundred people.
Municipal Hall of Panzos, Alta Verapaz, July 8, 2010
The Mayor Mr. Ricardo Rummler was there together with the Judge of Panzos and members of the Municipality. Mr. García, an Education Deputy who, during the massacre was a “military commissioner/ comisionado militar” (his job was to select civilians to be executed) extended his thanks to everyone in the project: ECAP, the authorities of Panzos, the artists of the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin. He neglected to acknowledge or thank the participants.
I spoke following Mr. Garcia. I thanked him for his recognition to the work we had done as facilitators but strongly recommended to identify that the real artists of this project were the men, women and youth, all indigenous civilians who had, in a week, created a mural of remarkable beauty with a potent message bringing memories from the past catapulting them to the future.
We called their names and handled them the diplomas.
Many of the participants came forward crying. Men and women, deeply moved, told us that being illiterate, they had never thought or imagined, they had never dreamt a recognition of this sort. They were accustomed to think of themselves as worthless, dispensable. They had not been given “a place in the world” that would respect their identity and their integrity.
Emilio Cucul, a man who escaped to the mountains in 1978 when he was 11 years old and whose family was massacred, was eloquent. He reaffirmed that, indeed, they had been the painters. They had been the narrators of a story that had never been told publicly until now.
He indicted the Mayor and the authorities present at the ceremony:
“A nosotros nos desprecian. Siempre nos han despreciado sin siquiera conocernos. En este mural, volvemos a sentir que valemos la pena, que no tienen por que matarnos”
“Everyone despises us. It has always been this way. You despise us without even knowing who we are. In this mural we feel that we are worth, that there is no reason for which you have to kill us”.
Beauty is a long and arduous journey towards an uncorrupted part of the soul where hope is still housed, despite inflicted tragedies, massacres and undignified forgetfulness of the value of people.
“Why am I being hurt?”
No one deserves to be wrongly treated.
It has been a privilege of incalculable magnitude to facilitate and help develop this mural project with Q’eqchi’ men, women, youth and children.
Artists from Panzos, 2010
It is their story the one we are honoring.
Mural in Panzos, Recovering Historic Memory, 2010
Municipal Hall of Panzos, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala
IX: Before Departing:
A wonderful lunch was served to all the participants, guests, families and friends.
The day was plentiful, moving, and intense.
Around 3:00 PM, when were about to leave the Municipal Hall, Arturo Juc Juc, found us where Rosa del Carmen, Verenice and I were saying our good byes to everyone, looking intently, he asked:
“At what time are we going to start the next mural?”
We were surprised! This was the end of a mural not the start of another one. Before we could respond, Arturo said:
“I want to be a painter to tell stories with colors, just as you taught us”
X: “Ma sa laa ch’ool?” /Are you happy in your heart?
“Sa lin ch’ool.” Yes, I am happy in my heart
On an email dated July 28, Carlos Paredes, psychosocial worked from ECAP wrote.
Estoy contento con los resultados del mural, el proceso fue maravilloso, pero los efectos aún más. Las expectativas que teníamos se han superado al 200%. Te cuento, la semana pasado nos reunimos con la supervisión de educación para agradecer el apoyo, etc., de esa reunión salieron muchas cosas, entre ellas 2 talleres sobre memoria y verdad como herramientas de trabajo pedagógico. En los talleres participarán los directores de las escuelas cercanas al pueblo y de donde está la mayoría de los sobrevivientes de la masacre de Panzós, para hacer una evaluación y puesta en práctica del aprendizaje de los talleres, los maestros prepararan a los estudiantes de sus escuelas para realizar una muestra de memoria, en total participarán 20 escuelas. La última semana de agosto se celebra la feria municipal en panzós, y, en el salón municipal realizaremos una “Feria de la memoria” donde las escuelas presentarán sus trabajos, funcionará como ferias populares cada escuela con un espacio delimitado, el escenario será obviamente todo el salón donde el mural tendrá un lugar importantisimo.
A nivel comunitario la gente quedó tan emocionada con la experiencia que junto a la fundación Guillermo Toriello realizaremos a partir del día martes 3 de agosto 6 murales, uno en cada comunidad, el trabajo se hará en las paredes de las escuelas, las comunidades son: San José Tinajas, San Isidro, Los Angeles, San José Las Minas, Santo Toribio y Corozal.
Estoy sorprendido de la cantidad de posibilidades que estan surgiendo y las que surgiran, de nuevo muchas gracias por tan maravillosa experiencia.
I am very happy with the results of the mural; the results are wonderful but its effect is even more remarkable. The expectations that we had have been fulfilled and increased 200%. I want to tell you that last week we had a meeting with the supervisors of the board of education to thank them for their support. From that meeting emerged a number of projects including two workshops about Memory and Truth as tools of pedagogic work. The participants of these workshops will be directors of schools neighboring Panzos, where the majority of the survivors of the massacre of Panzos still live. In order to make an evaluation and praxis of what has been learned in the workshops, the teachers will prepare their students and they will direct the planning of an exhibition about “Historic Memory”. During the first week of August the municipal fair will take place in Panzos. In the Municipal Hall, we will host a “Memory Fair”, where the different schools will present their outcomes and final projects. This process will remain an openended
forum in which the mural will have an enormous importance.
Regarding the community, everyone who participated in the mural remained so moved by this experience that with the Guillermo Toriello Foundation we will paint murals from August 3 to 6. We will paint one mural in each community from where the youth comes from. We will paint the murals on school walls in San José Tinajas, San Isidro, Los Angeles, San José Las Minas, Santo Toribio y Corozal.
I am surprised of the many possibilities that are emerging and those many more that are still to come. I must say again, thank you for this wonderful experience.
X: Thanks and Acknowledgements.
Each community project is a weaving of common efforts. Each thread is part of a texture of trust creating a textile of hope.
We would like to thank NALAC, National Association of Latino Art and Culture, Transnational Cultural Remittances (TCR) grant. We could not have been able to develop such an ambitious project without their support.
We would like to thank Intersection for the Arts for its support to Walls of Hope and the School of Art in Perquin.
We would like to thank ECAP, especially to Carlos Paredes, Jacqueline Mazariaga and Lidia Yoc, Psychosocial workers who facilitated and organized the contact with the participants of this project.
We would like to thank Matilde Caal and Francisco Cuz, our dear interpreters without who we could have not established a meaningful communication with the
Above all, we would like to express our thanks and appreciation to all the men, women, youth and children who participated in this project. We have been deeply moved and profoundly inspired by the gift of learning their personal and communal history during the last thirty years.
This mural in Panzos belongs to them, their communities, their historic memory and their persistent demand for justice.
Claudia Verenice, Claudia , Rosa del Carmen
Claudia Verenice Flores Escolero
Rosa del Carmen Argueta
School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin, El Salvador
Berkeley, California, August 8, 2010.