July/ August 2007

School of Art and Open Studio or Perquin

During the months of July and August of 2007, the School of Art and Open Studio or Perquin created a mural at the front of the House of CEBES, Comunidades Eclesiales de Base de El Salvador.

A mural had been painted on the same wall early in the 90’s and the first project was to recover the existing mural since, as artists, we do not like to deface artwork created before we arrive. However, after examining the damage of the mural and that of the wall it was evident that the wall would not resist for long time. It was, then, imperative to remove the existing mural, prepare the wall properly and paint another mural.

What would be this mural about? Padre Rogelio Ponseele, a legendary Belgium priest who fought the war in Morazan wanted the portraits of Monseñor Romero, of Sister Silvia and of Octavio Ortiz Luna. Three martyrs that perished in El Salvador during the 12 years Civil War.

Hermana Silvia Arriola died on January 17, 1981 in Cutumay Camones, Santa Ana, victim of a military operation that left very few survivors in a group of over 200 people.

Padre Octavio Ortiz Luna was 34 when he was murdered on January 20, 1979, together with four other very young seminarists. Not only they were shot at by a military operation inside the communal house “El Despertar”, they were also run over by a tank.

Monseñor Romero arrived that same day to the military morgue where the bodies had been sent. Monseñor was unable to identify Octavio, for he was a mass of blood and crashed bones. Monseñor, kneeling on the floor, drenched in Octavio’s blood collected his dilapidated body in his arms and like a mother to her child, repeated many times, “Octavio, my son”

Monseñor cried bitterly and continued to exclaim in loud voice for all military personal to hear: “I can not believe that you are so savage as to run over these people with a tank!!!!!

Then he ordered a woman who was part of the grieving group to get a photo camera to take a final image of the mortal damage inflicted to Octavio and the other four young seminarists to have as proof of military abuses.

“Octavio, my son”

Monseñor Romero became “The Voice of the Voiceless” and in his tenacious determination to bring justice to El Salvador, he indicted the military and the government of El Salvador. He accused the Death Squads and gave lists of names and last names of people who were responsible of violations of human rights.

On March 24, 1980, when he was giving mass at the small church of the “Hospitalito”, he was shot at while he was ascending the Sacred Host in the moment of the transformation of bread into the Body of Christ.

Monseñor Romero died instantly, and in that moment he crossed the passage of life of humans into the life of the immortals. He is the most revere martyr of El Salvador.

These three monumental people were to become part of our mural. We asked Claudia Verenice Flores Escolero and Rosa del Carmen Argueta to be the ones to render the portraits. Together with the presence of children and community of today and corn plantation we were asked to add as theme of the mural the issue of ownership of water.

We had the wonderful participation of guest artists in this project: Trudy Reagan, who visited us in July and who taught classes in figurative drawing, was generous enough as to create initial drawings of the three main portraits in the mural. Her contribution was enormous. Amelia Berumen, CCA graduate and dear friend of Perquin, joined us to teach classes to the women of CEBES in clothing alteration. The class was a great success ! Amelia, was also part of the painting group. Amelia’s cousin, “el Primo”, John Berumen who is in the field of education came to Perquin after being in Chiapas. John was easily captured in the mural project! John expressed his interest in returning next year to further research the educational model of the School of Art in Perquin. Esteban Dussart a Belgium scientist who works with FECANM in the expansion of Apiculture, painted bees and bee keepers. Our dear friend Valeria Galliso, who was with us in 2005 helping shape the first steps of our school, came back on July 26 and she is still in Perquin until August 28. Having Valeria with us, creating art and designing art projects has been a wonderful grift and such a joy!!! we are hoping that her visits from Argentina to Perquin will continue in the future.

Together with the “International” participants, we had as always, the participation of children, youth and adults who joined and partook in the creation of this mural. Youth from Villa del Rosario came every morning, which meant that they had to wake up at 4 am , in order to take the 5 am bus from their community to ours in order to be painting at 7:30 in Perquin. Remember that we were painting this mural in the rainy season which is maddening! it starts raining every day at around noon. The working hours of painting are only in the morning.

Early in July 2007, there was a pacifist uprising of civilians in Suchitoto, Sonsonate. People were demonstrating and protesting against the privatization of water. Salvadoran President Tony Saca, had the brilliant idea of selling the water, even “rain water” to a multinational corporation. The gathering of the community was a joined protest against this policy.

Unarmed people, a lot of them elderly and children were repressed by police and military forces. Brutally, the military attacked civilians, took people to prison with no allegation and conducted the usual savage performance of power against people who have the right to express their discontent.

Our mural addresses water coming from rivers and waterfalls, being tubed and being used by the people, who have all the right in this world NOT to pay to a private corporation for the use of water.

Or of rain!

By the time the mural was being finished, people came from far away to take pictures of themselves with Monseñor Romero, Octavio and Silvia.

On August 15, we had a small and moving public presentation of the “almost” finished mural.

Padre Rogelio Ponseele spoke. He thanked the artists for “having brought Monseñor Romero, Silvia and Octavio, far from beyond death”. Rogelio spoke of the power of art that brings to a community the people who we most love and most need in these times so cruel in so many ways. We need them for inspiration and to guide us to be better people and to serve our communities.

Carmen Elena Hernandez, who personally knew and worked with Silvia, Octavio and Monseñor, told me: “We will have to bring Don Alejandro Ortiz, Octavio’s father , who is elderly and very ill, but who still lives in Cacaopera. The trip will be worth, for he will be coming to visit his son who is now in Perquin, amongst us.”

Rosita del Carmen Argueta and Claudita Verenice Flores Escolero, the artists who had rendered the portraits were thanked specially for having allowed through their art the arrival of such beloved people.

Art in Perquin is a fabric of emotions, of historic memory and of community building that happens amidst colors, shapes, laughter and hope.

Thank you to all of you who have helped all of us and our beloved School of Art in Perquin to exist. We could not have created this project without your help and your trust in our work.

Thank you ! Thank you ! Thank you !!!!

Claudia Bernardi

Berkeley, August 21, 2007.

Download a video of the Walls of Hope School of Art made by our friend Debi Lorenc:

Similar Posts


  1. hola compañeros soy un estudian te de la UES.solo quiero saber si ustedes tien infornacion de el padre ortiz y la hermana silvia. el caso es q ten go una tarea sobre este caso de violacion de l,os derechos. humanos asi q si tinen in formaciion aganmela yegar a mi correo porfa

Comments are closed.