It is June. I am not in Perquin. I am in Berkeley.
Being equidistant from the beginning of the year and from its end, looking at what has happened in 2007 from the perspective of month # 6, I am gathering memories of incalculable magnitude.
I am in Berkeley, but with luggage already packed and filled with art materials to return to El Salvador at the end of June.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the life of the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin is that it continues to function while I am not in El Salvador performing the role of “director” of the school. This happens thanks to our local team of artists/ teachers/ “capacitadores”. America Argentina Vaquerano, Claudia Verenice Flores Escolero, Rosa del Carmen Argueta and Rigoberto Rodríguez Martínez, teach the weekly art classes to children, youth and adults and they have created full-scale public art projects such as the painting of the Central park of Perquin, with participation of children and youth.
In this last paragraph, the biggest jewel of our school is kept: Today the school is being directed, administrated and run by local Salvadoran people who three years ago, had never done art, had never taught art and who would no consider themselves artists. Two and half years later, Dina, Claudita Verenice, Rosita del Carmen and Rigo, are the pillars of the school. We share a constant dialogue in which the partnership of ideas and projects remain the structure of our educational methodology.
They are scrupulous in the use of available funds, they write impeccable reports to keep me informed of what they do while I am abroad, they create new partnerships with local leaders and develop and carry on art projects in Perquin and other communities in Morazán.
The early vision of the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin contemplated as its biggest achievement a self sufficient, self-sustainable school. Two years after its creation the school can function without my presence or directorship. It can be said, then, that we are moving into an auspicious realm.
How can I start to describe what has happened in 2007?
Enumerating monthly, this happened so far:
- “Art in One World”, conference at Cal Arts
- ECAP, painting a mural with survivors of massacres in Guatemala.
- Rufina, The last gift of her presence
- The Health Clinic built at El Mozote
- Mary Baldwin College, a collaborative mural project
- Dare to Hope: Fundraising event organized to supportthe School of Art in Perquin in San José, California.
- Creating Frescoes on Paper at Segura Art.
January: ARTS IN THE ONE WORLD: CULTURE AND IDENTITY
Shape and shape shifting – How the arts and culture help destroy/create the sense of self and other
A Conference at CalArts, Jan 25-28, 2007
Eric Ehn is Dean of the Department of Theatre and Performing Arts at CalArts. Eric and I met in the 90’s working together in the creation of a full-scale event based on El Salvador and the recent legacy of war. The program of Peace and Justice at Santa Clara University organized this event. Since then, Eric and I have found ourselves connected through common interests and convictions summarized in the confidence that art can, and given the chance will contribute in the arduous towards conflict resolutions in areas of the world suffering from great damage as consequence of wars and violence.
The description of this conference outlines:
“Premise: that epochal changes in perception may occur rapidly, and that art workers participate in these shifts both knowingly and unknowingly. The answer to the question “what must we do” is elementally tied to our sense of who we are (as we are, so must we grow). Movement towards a coherent planet requires a practical celebration of diversity, diversity requires self assertion, which requires nuanced vehicles of expression; nuance requires the layering of memory and memory requires organizing symbols and myths. Art, for the sake of the one world, needs to know its practices regarding identity.
Our goal: to share work, ways of working, and ideas – in particular as they relate to the negotiation of borders (national, economic, personal, artistic…), conflict transformation (opening space to allow full participation in one’s creation), the recovery of historical memory (held in discourse, in imagery), and coexistence (polymorphous).”
Many of the presenters of this conference, had in common that they had confronted genocide empirically. It was not a conference of scholars. It was a conference of wounded people and the ones who were not wounded, were empathetic enough as to listen carefully to the damaged.
My presentation was entitled:
El Mozote, 25 years after: The art of inventing bridges and passages, or overcoming confrontation through exercising diplomacy while creating collaborative and community based projects.
The lecture focused on the creation of the mural project at El Mozote , June-August 2006, painted by children, youth and adults from the community of El Mozote in partnership with seven students from the California College of the Arts. I presented the evidence of the magnificent effervescence of color and dynamic depiction of memories and hopes of the people from El Mozote where art and art practice became a way to reach conflict resolution. The mural became a ground for mediation. Painting the mural was perceived and implemented as liaison connecting, reinforcing and legitimizing the life, history and culture of the community.
In a place like El Mozote demolished not only by the constant presence of the memory of the massacre but also, by the catastrophic poverty of the post war period, the communal and collaborative mural became a proposal for restoration, a diplomatic activity performed with brushes and colors.
I was deeply inspired at CalArts listening to people from all over the world. Committed and diligent artists confirmed that creating together we may seed the kernel of a new stage of the world in which the exercise of solidarity is possible, where building communities through art is a tangible reality, where the pursue of joy is not candid but a militancy and where the distances of the geographic frontiers are ever more near, not for the struggles imposed by globalization but, by the tenacity of men and women who do not want to live and die in sadness.
An invitation was produced to me as part of the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin: “Please, come to Rwanda”.
I accepted it. I will go next year, 2008.
February: TRIP TO LA ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA.
“The brush is like a candle, it has light on one end”
Doña Elena, Nebaj.
Last year in October I got a phone call from Franc Kernjak, from ECAP, Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial, Community Studies and Psychosocial Action Team, asking me if I would go to Guatemala in 2007 to work in a project creating art with a group of survivors of massacres.
I was intrigued and inspired. I suggested to Franc that he came to Perquin to witness first hand what we do in Morazan and to evaluate if the “Perquin model” would be pertinent or advisable to be implemented in the upcoming conference in Guatemala.
Franc came to Perquin accompanied by Olga Alicia Paz, who has worked extensively with women survivors of sexual violence as result of the armed conflict. In the weekend we shared in Perquin we took Franc and Olga Alicia to locations where we had created murals or public art projects. They were impressed both by the scope of the work in terms of scale and numbers but, more importantly, by the artistry with which the final product was accomplished. Franc and Olga left with the certainty that a model of community and collaborative art, similar to the one we use in Perquin, would be applicable in the communities they serve.
The First International Conference on Psychosocial Work in the Exhumation Process, Forced Disappearance, Justice and Truth took place in La Antigua, Guatemala on February 21 to 23, 2007.
Organizations around the world were invited to be participants of this conference to learn about common experiences with psychosocial work related to the search of disappeared people with an special focus on the pre and post work related to exhumation processes of mass graves.
- “Since 1998, ECAP has carried out psychosocial work in the process of searching for the disappeared, including psychosocial support of more than 70 exhumations in Guatemala. Based on this experience, we believe that both survivors and the families of victims must be supported during investigations (i.e. anthropological, historical, and forensic research) and documentation of violent actions committed in the context of political violence or armed conflicts. In addition, they and the larger society should be provided with the elements necessary to help interpret the dynamic and consequences of violence and its concrete manifestations. Taken together, this work strives to reduce the impact of violence in the past, present and future.”
The School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin was invited to share with the participants of this project the strategies that have allowed us to build art from communal trauma and historic memory.
America Argentina Vaquerano, (Dina), Claudia Verenice Flores Escolero and myself arrived to La Antigua with a luggage filled with mural paints. Our contribution within the conference was the creation of a mural project. The participants of this collaborative and community effort were survivors of massacres from the North/ Western region of Guatemala.
The group of 15 people came to La Antigua from distant regions: Don Juan Francisco and Domingo Caba came from Estrella Polar, Nebaj. Don Luis and Don Santiago came from Chajul and Quiche, Doña Elena and Jacinta came from Nebaj and Ixcan. Doña Margarita and Gloria came from Chimaltenango. Andrea, Maria, Marcelina, Paulita and Anabella, came from Rabinal, Baja Verapaz. The group was further conformed by Lidia Yok, Otilia and Pedro, three “capacitadores” from ECAP.
They wore remarkable garments of great beauty. Their indigenous languages spoke of their traditions, unique and ancient. They came from distant lands expanding geographically from the mountain range and cold climate to the tropical central region of Guatemala. The “huipiles”, masterfully embroidered textile pieces most frequently created by the women who wear them, narrated in color symbols the history from their communities. One can identify where a person comes from according to the colors of the garments he/ she wears. The group was varied in origins, their languages and traditions. What they all had in common was the tragedy of being a survivor of a massacre.
The state terror inaugurated in the late 50’s in Guatemala leveled the life and people of the communities to “ground zero”. A more perverse “ground zero’, than the one we are accustomed to hear about related to New York, 9-11, for its voracity against indigenous people (pueblos originarios) has its start five hundred years ago and it still savages the land and culture of the Guatemalan people. The casualties of violations of human rights are uncountable but, as a way to state the calamity and seriousness of the carnage against civilian population it is usually accepted a number reaching half a million people “disappeared” in the last five decades as consequence of political violence. The numbers of displaced or exiled Guatemalans are virtually unknown and unrecorded.
With these references of their history in mind, Dina, Claudita Verenice and myself started our work, sharing with the group some of the murals we have created in El Salvador.
We were all staying at a small hotel that led to an easier communication since we were housed in the same space we ate together, came and went as a large group. We did need assistance with translations for the languages they spoke brought sounds of tongues spoken before Columbus ever arrived to our continent. They spoke Achi, Quiche, Kaktchikel, Kanjobal and Mam. Most of them understood Spanish but chose to talk to us through their interpreters.
On Sunday night we gathered as a group in a small hotel room. All of them and all of us concentrated in front of a screen to see the art from Morazan. Prominently, we described the mural at El Mozote for the resemblance to their own history being survivors of massacres. They were moved. They were astonished to learn of such carnage elsewhere. They had though, until that very moment, that the humiliations and damage of their own communities were unique.
On Monday, early in the morning we started the rendering of the first ideas, producing the first and most important question:
“What would you like to say in this mural?”
Think of the mural as pages in a history book, “ What history would you like to tell your family, your community and to the world?”
They were silent. Attentive.
Some of them declared that they did not know how to write or read. We insured them that words were not necessary. We were writing this large history book in the form of a mural with images coming from memories.
“Do you have memories that you want to share?”
They asked if the memories needed to be “happy” or “sad”?
We explained that they were the ones to decide.
It is important to remark that none of the participants of this project had ever done art in this way. However, we pointed out the mastery with which they are able to embroider their textiles. This allusion proved helpful allowing the group to focus on a blank page with no fears and almost no hesitation.
We were perplexed at witnessing their capacity to select images gathered through the monumental tapestry of their memories, drawings landed on the papers like anchors of episodes. Most of them painfully eloquent: helicopters, people being killed by helicopters, crops on fire, houses on fire, animals killed, people running away, hiding. There were corn plantations and there were images depicting vernacular life.
Paper and pencils, markers and colors defined a mapping of their history that became personal and tangible causing some women to weep while they rendered. The ones who did not cry comforted the ones who did. The men wrote a long poem later to become the words of a song. The words narrated the massacre of Estrella Polar (March 22, 1982) in Nebaj and the 12 years that the few survivors of the massacre lived in hiding in the thicket of the jungle. They stressed how arduous it had been to live deprived from salt.
The conference and the mural were to take place at the Spanish Center of Cooperation, El Centro de la Cooperación Española, a beautiful colonial building that had been a convent. The mural would be painted on canvas allowing that the final piece could travel to the different communities where the survivors came from.
On Tuesday, the drawings were transported to the location of the mural. The canvas was stretched on temporary wooden walls. The participants applied gesso on the canvas becoming familiar with the vastness of the piece. The extended canvas measured 8 m long X 1,80 m high (approximately 24 ‘ long X 6 ‘ high). Most of the participants voiced concern of not being able to paint such a vast field.
We told them, “Fear not! You will!”
While the gesso settled the group concentrated on the first guidelines of composition deciding where some of the selected images would go and what would be the central part of the mural.
The participants seemed to gravitate towards a composition divided in five narrative segments identifying the five communities they came from. We, artists from the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin accompanied the process clarifying doubts and concerns. We intervened only when we were asked. The Guatemalan artists took most decisions.
Don Luis from Chajul stood up. He said:
“Brothers and Sisters, until now I have believed that what happened to us in our community of Chajul was tragic. I also thought that had not happened elsewhere. To my horror I see now, that what happened in Chajul happened also in your lands. We have the same memories. We have lost families, our homes and our children. For this, I propose that we will paint a mural not divided in five parts for our stories are the same.”
The participants agreed. The composition was resolved identifying the left part as the past, the center as the present and the right section would be the future.
The borders of this mural were created observing the abstractions of the women’s huipiles, which identified in colors and design their geographic origin, The top of the mural alluded to Chimaltenango, the right and left was inspired on Nebaj and Quiche and the bottom was referential to Rabinal.
The left part of the mural presents a community on fire. There are people lined up by the army, their un-free hands clasped with ropes. The people are depicted small while the army men are large and threatening. There are pathways leading to the mountains, secret passages known by local people only. In the ferocity of the massacre some women and men found refuge in hiding. Children, by in large, had perished. They were too small to run and too heavy to be carried.
The very few people who survived the massacre were now painting the mural. No one else was left alive.
The participants of this mural project had acute memories of everything they saw.
In the creative process, the group of Guatemalan artists started noticing that Doña Elena was a fabulous depicter of helicopters while Santiago was a “landscape artist”. Many of them, intuitively first and very purposely later, became aware of their unique talents and without our intervention, they would ask one another to paint a helicopter here, or a corn plantation there, or a cardamom bush in front of a hill. This exchange inaugurated a collaborative project in which the capacities of some would be at the service of the ideas of the others.
It was wonderful to witness how these collaboration strategies got implemented.
Dina, Claudita Verenice and I assisted the group by mixing colors for them until, of course, they discovered that they could do the mixing of colors themselves. With no hesitation they transited on this first day of work at the mural (let’s remember that it was only Tuesday!) from never having done murals or paintings to mixing their own colors, choosing how to apply them, being aware of shadows and lights, transparencies and opacity of colors and how to better use background and foreground.
Doña Elena smiled at me and said: “Brushes are like candles, they have light at one end”.
On Wednesday morning Dina, Claudita Verenice and myself arrived to the site of the mural at 8:30 am to find that everyone else had arrived earlier. They had taken the box of art materials from storage and they were painting, mixing colors, going from one place to the other of the mural collaborating with each other adding color to background fields while some others were rendering new images on the mural.
Periodically, I would recommend: “Artists! Take few steps back to see how wonderful it is!”
They did take the step back and in astonishment of their own accomplishment, laughed and celebrated. And, rapidly, they went back to work!
Doña Elena, a 62 year-old respected midwife and a healer, leader in her community of Nebaj had not been a midwife at the time of the massacre. I saw Elena painting with unbreakable concentration a pregnant woman assisted by another woman wearing a huipil from Nebaj. When I had the opportunity, I asked her if she knew who those women were?
“When the army came to our community and we saw they were killing everyone, many of us run to the mountains. Many died. Others were able to hide. I was running with one of my sons. I reached the top of a hill and could hide. He was caught. He was killed. From where I was, I saw his body being thrown into the river, his head disengaged from his body. I heard screams that were not loud but were screams of pain. I turned around and saw a woman, few steps behind me. She was in labor. I was aware that I could do nothing more for my son but I could help another child to be born. I opened the legs of that woman and another son came to this world. From then on I became a midwife.”
A while later, Elena asked Jacinta to paint her son being taken to the river and being killed and thrown into the agitated waters. Elena asked Jacinta:
“Please, paint him kindly. He was a good man”.
That same afternoon, I saw Doña Elena touching her neck, gently. I asked her if she had any pain, if she needed assistance.
“I could run no more and I was caught. I was hanged and left for dead dangling from a tree. But I dropped. That is how I survived. The rope they wrapped around my neck made these scars. I am touching the scars because I want to remember. I want to paint what happened that day.”
This revelation carries an incalculable calamity. Doña Elena, a woman that exudes wisdom and compassion, was suspended from a tree, left as dead, as a tragic fruit of madness. Doña Elena touched the scars of her neck to bring the memories as compass of her sorrow.
Doña Margarita, from Chimaltenango, seemed to be praying. She was on her knees, painting on the center of the mural. She was painting what appeared to be squares, one on top of the other, vertically. She was crying quietly. I approached and asked her if she needed anything, if I could be of any help?
“These that I am painting are boxes. The boxes we are given after the exhumations. These are the boxes that bring the remains of my six sons killed in the massacre. But we still need to find other sons and four daughters. We do not know where they are buried.”
Doña Margarita painted the boxes with the remains of her sons and she also painted the yet to be found killed sons and daughters. She did this with agonizing tenderness. She surrounded the boxes and the laying bodies on the field with a singular line that resembled a protected receptacle, a womb, confining organ of life, not of death.
When Doña Margarita finished with the depiction of this uterus of love and despair, she stepped away from it studying carefully what had emerged from the continent of her remembrance.
She said: “Now I want to paint a tree of chile and one of lemon because these memories are sharp and they are sour.”
El Chile y El Limón became a mantra amongst all of us, a way to summarize the incalculable multifaceted constellation of human suffering and the unimaginable endurance, the beauty, the determination to remain dignified.
On Thursday, the Guatemalan artists who had been cautious on Tuesday, timidly stating that they would never be able to cover the large surface of the canvas, were asking two days later if there was any extra fabric left to create an extension to our mural.
The right part of the mural representing the future became a joy of colors where a school is painted with great enthusiasm; a boy and a girl in the foreground dressed in Mayan garments have books in their hands; a lake; a helicopter not of war but of tourism; a church surrounded by people celebrating; a marimba and musicians; a doctor and a pregnant woman painted by Doña Elena who, at that point, said that she was willing to share the responsibility of bringing children to this world in partnership with a trained physician.
What the future hopes for is health and education. They deserve education and they expect health.
They have neither.
After much suffering they do not yet have the most elemental services that a community have the right to expect, to claim or to demand.
The mural was finished on the late afternoon of Thursday, to our shared surprised,
“Artists, please, take a step back and see how beautiful the mural is”, I said.
We all took several steps back to see the mural in its glory, a remarkable collaborative and communal experience that took the shape of colors and forms, a history book that narrated terrible events culminating with a vision of hope for a future less tragic than the past they all shared.
We all shared.
We were speechless. Soundless, nesting happiness so profound that words could not assist us in communicating the emotions.
Some of us cried.
We embraced and thanked each other aware that nothing of what had just happened could or would have taken place had it not been for a communal vision.
That was, in fact, the success of the mural.
The conference was scheduled to close on Friday afternoon. Initially, the Guatemalan artists had decided not to speak publicly which we respected and understood. But on the last day of the event, the Guatemalan artists changed their mind. Now, they wanted to present the mural publicly. They selected Domingo from Nebaj and Anabella from Rabinal to be the public presenters of the piece.
They requested to move the mural to a more visible and prominent part of the building. Painted on canvas, we could move the mural to the center of the building and attach it from the second floor balcony allowing it to be seen in its full magnificence.
There are unique moments in life when instants that are fugitive conglomerate in a form of light, like a diamond of truth.
This was such an instance. Domingo and Anabella spoke, the rest of the Guatemalan artists were behind them as a Greek chorus, echoing with their presence the witnessing of the massacres. They spoke about the damage they carry in their personal experiences. They told the audience about the importance of having come to work together in this mural. They voiced that they learned how to speak about terrible memories with beauty.
And for that, they thanked us.
More than two hundred people coming from all parts of the world, participants of this conference, celebrated the mural as the most successful part of the five days event. They congratulated the Guatemalan artists and asked them permission to photograph them and the artwork.
At the end of the day, the Guatemalan artists in groups or individually approached Dina, Claudita Verenice and myself to ask to create art schools in their communities.
Anabella, who is both a survivor of a massacre and a survivor of sexual violence as result of state terror said:
“ We are now at the point in which we have to tell our daughters what happened to us. Please, come to Rabinal, we want to learn how to speak about terrible pasts with the beauty you have taught us. Come to Rabinal to create a school like the one you have in Perquin”.
We said we would.
The mural was ready for traveling. It would be shown first in Rabinal. From there it would travel to other locations.
In early April, I learned from Lydia Yok that the presentation of the mural in Rabinal had been a roaring success. Its welcoming had surpassed all expectations. The problem now was that the ECAP group had received life threats. The transporting of the mural to other communities was unsafe. Safety and security could not be taken for granted. ECAP was requesting custody from the UN or the international community. They needed to take the mural from Rabinal to Nebaj.
The peace process in Guatemala is precarious. This episode shows the fracture of a process towards justice. Our Guatemalan artists friends are beholders of monumental courage. They defiantly arrived to La Antigua in February to share with us their truths in the pages of a history book made of memory, color and “candles” that have light at one end.
We are honored to have met and worked in partnership with the Guatemalan artists and with ECAP. We will remain devote to our promise to return to their communities to implant the seeds of another School of Art with the model of Perquin.
MARCH: RUFINA: The gift of her presence.
_“Perhaps I will not be here next year, but it is now in your hands to continue telling the world what happened at El Mozote. I have done it for the last 25 years”_
I spoke to Rufina on the evening of Monday, March 5th. She had been unwell. She had spent the weekend in Nahuaterique (Honduras) with family and friends feeling quite ill, although she could not say what was wrong. She could not say and doctors from the Hospital of San Francisco Gotera could not say either for she was sent back home with the recommendation of watching her diet.
Early in the morning of March 6, Martita called telling me that something had gone terribly wrong during the night. Rufina had been taken to the Hospital in San Miguel, about two hours from where we live.
I called Sister Anne Griffin from Arambala. Both of us rushed to the hospital. Before going to San Miguel we went to El Mozote to meet James Williams, Video Producer from Discovery News. Rufina had accepted an interview with the Discovery Channel on that morning of March 6. Anna thought that it was important to respond to it. She and I were asked to talk about what had happened at El Mozote in the name of Rufina Amaya.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, Rufina was dying.
Rufina asked during the last public speech she gave on December 9, at the ceremony of the 25th anniversary of the massacre that we would, from that moment on, disseminate her testimony.
“Perhaps I will not be here next year, but it is now in your hands to continue telling the world what happened at El Mozote. I have done it for the last 25 years”
As we were entering San Miguel I got a call from Martita saying that her mother had just died. It was about 12:40 pm. Anna and I were speechless. What to say, really? Death has this unique talent to slap us with fury any given time we confront it. Rufina, who in life had acquired the greatness of someone beyond living, was dead. It was inconceivable to think of Rufina’s death.
The cause of death is unclear: a stroke, perhaps more than one; heart failure, heart attack, possibly more than one.
It is unclear.
It is a blessing that she died without a long suffering
We met Marta, Fidelia, Ana Yansi, Mino, Walter, Henry, family members of Rufina’s. They were at the morgue. I was waiting outside the morgue standing in a corridor.
A covered body was brought in on a wheeled stretcher.
It was Rufina.
Her body was prepared for a long funeral thinking that people from many parts of El Salvador would come to pay homage to Rufina Amaya Márquez the only survivor o the massacre at El Mozote.
We took Rufina back to Morazán in a coffin traveling on the back of a pick up truck. I was in the vehicle that drove behind the pick up truck. The two hours from San Miguel to Rufina’s house in Quebrachos were surreal. Rufina, laying on a closed coffin making the same journey that she had done the day before, immortal now, saluting from beyond death.
The news of Rufina’s death traveled fast. Within minutes cellular phones were ringing in many languages. Expectant callers from all over the world were ready to take the first flight out to El Salvador. When our saddened caravan turned at “Kilometer 18” initiating the entrance to Morazán, trucks, buses and private cars had messages painted with large white soapy letters: “Rufina, PRESENTE!”
Children of schools were at the edges of the road respectfully seeing Rufina as she passed.
The memorial ceremony started right away on Tuesday night. It lasted until Friday noon. There was not a single moment when a crowd did not surround Rufina’s coffin. Rufina’s house is humble, it is small. In that smallness the hundreds of people that came at all times forced a constant traffic of people arriving and going, congregating. This was done with impeccable respect.
People came from all over the world. I saw people that I had known in the sanctuary movement in the Bay Area. There were people from the world of human rights from El Salvador and abroad. Journalist, photographers, documenters, people who had collected at one time or another the monumental evidence of Rufina’s testimony.
I was aware of the immense privilege I had for having met Rufina, having befriend her and having heard, first hand, in more than one occasion, her testimony. Her unstoppable rendering of how it all happened that December 11 of 1981. I had been one of the recipients of her commitment while she narrated, over and over again, the truth of what happened at El Mozote.
Rufina was buried on Friday, March 9, at El Mozote. A crowd of thousands of people accompanied her in her last journey.
She is buried by the monument, under the names of the people who perished in the massacre. She is buried with her children and her community.
MARCH: THE CLINIC AT EL MOZOTE
“When we were germinating Rufina in our earth, a group of architects came to build a clinic for us at El Mozote.”/
“Cuando estabamos sembrando a Rufina en nuestra tierra un grupo de arquitectos llegó a construirnos una clínica en El Mozote” – Don Florentin, Community leader from El Mozote.
El Mozote is a multi layered, mysterious in many ways, beyond sadness location of the world. In an inexplicable way, a place filled with a peculiar, complicated sense of hope.
I have visited El Mozote almost every year since 1992. The life of the community, the people who live there, the personal and tragic histories of everyone I know in this pained village, continue to be intertwined with a unique sense of tenderness that I cannot explain nor describe.
On March 9, while “we were germinating Rufina in our earth”, a group of architects and builders came to El Mozote to build a health clinic.
The process had started in September 2006 after a conversation with John Glick representing Gesundheit Institute created by Patch Adams, MD.
I am collecting the following paragraphs written by John Glick from the Gesundheit Institute web page.
(Please, refer to the original web page for a complete rendering of John Glick’s report.)
SWORDS, PLOUGHSHARES AND FRIENDS…
On the Collaborative Construction of a Medical Clinic
In El Mozote, El Salvador, March 2007
by John Glick, MD,
In January 2006, Gesundheit, led by Gesundheit’s Creative Building Project Team from Vermont, and with help from Homes from the Heart, Camp Winnarainbow, Airline Ambassadors, Jet Blue Airways, and local El Salvadorians, designed and built a freestanding medical clinic in Rancho Quemado, El Salvador. We planned to return in 2007 to build another clinic in the remote mountainous region of western El Salvador, where people living in poverty and isolation must travel great distances for health care.
Claudia Bernardi is an Argentinian artist/activist who took part in the exhumation of mass graves in El Mozote. She has established an ongoing collaborative art project and school for children, youth, adults and the elderly in Perquin, a community located 4 km north of El Mozote. She works, through mural painting and art education, to deepen the processes of remembrance and hope, in service of healing, redemption, justice and human dignity. She describes El Mozote as ”….. multi-layered, mysterious in many ways,…. a place filled with a peculiar, yet complicated sense of hope……I have been coming to El Mozote almost every year since 1992. The life of the community, the people who live there, the personal and tragic histories of everyone I know in this pained village, continue to be intertwined with a unique sense of tenderness that I cannot explain nor describe…..” Encouraged by this tenderness and inspired by Rufina’s example of courage, honesty and hope, she has devoted her energies towards helping the healing process of one of the western hemispheres greatest modern traumas.
Bernardi was invited to be artist-in-residence last fall to Mary Baldwin College, in Staunton, Virginia, on the recommendation of Marlena (wife of Paul, friend of John), a Mary Baldwin professor. One day, I met with Paul, Claudia, Penelope (a filmmaker), and, as friends do, we found common ground. Gesundheit was seeking a community in need of a clinic; Claudia was seeking help for El Mozote, which had no clinic. People were returning to El Mozote, but with the poverty and rural isolation, the nightmare of 25 years ago takes a long time, a very long time to heal. Many promises are made; not as many are kept. Some groups come and work (law students, for example, to arbitrate land disputes among relatives of the slain). Claudia returned to El Mozote to meet with Dave and Jim, to assess the possibility of building a clinic in El Mozote.
The Building Projects Team returned to El Salvador to scout two possible community clinic locations in November, 2006. Chalantango, an extremely remote mountain village and El Mozote. But floods had washed out the road to Chalantango. Higher forces seemed to be guiding the unfolding of the mission. Dave and Jim, with Claudia and her friend Sister Ann, together met with the people of El Mozote. Dave: “We found a mural on the side of a church with a depiction of a medical clinic…..That, and the expressions of hope on the faces of El Mozote residents carried the day. El Mozote it was to be.”
Patch worked in his persistent, passionate way and raised most of the $35,000. A friend of Jim’s donated $10,000. Jim and Dave offered two designs for the clinic to the people of El Mozote before they agreed on the third. Homes from the Heart contracted local workers to grade the building site. Danica, a friend of Paul’s and a carpenter on the 2006 building project, did the organizational work with volunteers and Jet Blue. On March 8, 2007 all the volunteers (with their tools, chainsaws, humanitarian aid, a few clown noses and a guitar) traveled from New York to El Salvador on a flight provided by JetBlue. On the way to El Salvador, the volunteers learned that, after 25 years carrying the weight of an enormous collective and personal tragedy, Rufina, the sole survivor of the massacre at El Mozote, had died 2 days before, of a stroke. She was 64 years old.
And He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
— Micah: 4: 1-3
Dave Sellers one of the architects and leaders of the projects described the experience in this way: (from an email to Claudia)
Dave Sellers responds: THE BUILDING OF THE CLINIC AT EL MOZOTE
Claudia, I agree with you regarding many voices. Here is my description of the clinic and why we designed it for that location.
Jim and I visited El Salvador in October to evaluate two possible clinic locations, one in Chalatanango and one in El Mozote. The Chalatanango site was impossible as the road was washed out, so the Gods seemed to guide us to El Mozote. Claudia was in Perquin at the time of our visit and gave us a personal tour of the site. It was impossible to keep a dry eye on seeing and feeling the energy that resides in that small town. My sense then and now, after putting the roof on the clinic, is that El Mozote has a larger story to tell than the horror of that murderous day.
I can’t predict what that story will be, but a number of things are lining up. That one person miraculously survived and had the courage to withstand the power of the US, the Military and tell the real story is in itself one in a million. That the day of her funeral and the passing of real time history is the exact same day we arrived to start the clinic and initiate a new history with a temple of healing. For the service it seemed like the entire population came with everyone dressed up in respect with their best dresses and shirts, whole families, old, and young. And at the exact same time, 100 feet away, our team from the US, patched together from across the nation, arrived dressed for work, coupled with the anxiety and uncertainty that we could gather the local volunteers, find the right materials, struggle with the language, work together for the first time and deliver a strong and beautiful design for the town. That alone is breath-taking. That the destruction of the town was with US made tools (guns), and the healing center is being rebuilt with US made tools (hammers) and the transition is at the exact same time as her funeral must have some meaning that will take time to sink in.
When I saw the mural with the clinic painted on the wall as a part of the town, I sensed that it should be literally in the town center, so our first idea was to integrate the new clinic into the existing town common room. We sent drawings to Sister Anne to review with the town, and they rightfully and politely rejected this idea suggesting instead the land they owned behind the town building. We struggled with this November and December and January up in freezing Vermont. Then a simple idea emerged with a square building, lining up with the end of the town common space. This seemed like it would create a signal at the entrance to the town square that the center extends up the hill. We also felt that the center of the clinic should be high to allow natural circulation of heat and to be seen from the town square above the roof of the common building. My intuition was to hold up the main room with trees from the area. They symbolize the natural strength of nature and their organic irregularities acknowledge the difference between all human bodies. It was only later in the week that Claudia told the story of Rufina hiding and being protected by a tree. . I haven’t put it all together yet but, doesn’t it seem right that what protected her that terrible day would be the same as the center structure that holds the healing shelter together, trees.
The clinic has four rooms at the corners, three exam rooms and a dr. office, storage and files. In the center is a high space with 8 trees holding up the roof structure. Between the trees are benches for patient waiting and for hygiene teaching. Rainwater will be collected off the roof of the common space (an enormous roof) and used for flush toilets and wash-basins.
The best part of the design has been the process of building it. With 5 trained clowns and magicians, 4 Jet Blue pilots 3 flight attendants, 6 trained architects and the rest builders. (7 women and 14 men) the process went smoothly from the start with everyone pitching in. The local families including loads of kids from 5 yrs. old to teenagers jumped right in mixing cement, carrying water, lumber etc. Thee daily magic shows with juggling were magnetic in pulling the groups together. One elderly woman passing by, knowing (why is it so obvious) I didn’t speak Spanish, held her hand over her heart, nodding her head, smiling and pointing at the new clinic building. Wow!
Architects and Builders who built the Clinic at El Mozote:
Anne Marie Flusche
In July- August, 2007, if weather permits (and we are not expelled by the torrential rains of the rainy season) the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin will conduct the creation of a mural on the walls of the clinic, which, little by little is being called “ Clinica de Salud Rufina Amaya” / Health Clinic Rufina Amaya”
“When we were germinating Rufina in our earth a clinic was built in El Mozote.”
El Mozote continues to be a life affirming community amidst its violent, tragic legacy.
One of the last days I spent at El Mozote, a group of children told me that they would probably expect to live longer because now there was a clinic in town.
They are probably right about that!
THANK YOU!!!!!! Patch Adams, John Glick, The Gesundheit! Institute, Dave Sellers, Jim Adamson, and Paul Borzelleca, Garth Brown, Zappo Dickinson, Anne Marie Flusche, Danica Jamison, Tyler Kobick, Irik Larson, Bob Lyhne, Maria Mauceri, Kevin Mullen, Shane Ouellette, Micah Owens, Cindy Paulus, John Pece, Theresa Petito, Elsi Rose, Bonnie Spillane, Jundid Sykes, Mitch Tucker, Neal Turkington, Casper VanderMei.
APRIL: DARE TO HOPE
A Fundraising Event to Support the School of Art in Perquin
Debi and Chris Lorenc came to El Mozote in December of 2006 to be part of the 25th year commemoration of the massacre. They spent few days in Perquin where they also visited the School of Art. They saw the end of the year exhibition and bought wonderful textile pieces created by our textile star-artist, Don Quique ( Alejandro Vázquez).
The day Debi and Chris were living Perquin while we shared lunch, they spoke about how moved they were after witnessing the work done at the School. They were very kind to offer help to support the efforts of our beloved School of Art.
They returned to the US and to their community in San Jose with a clear vision and a mission that came to fruition in a fundraising event organized on April 23. Unfortunately, I could not attend because I was at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton Virginia.
From Mary Baldwin College I was following the organizing stages of the event. I got moving letters from Debi, Chris and Tessie. Those messages reaffirmed the universal truth of wanting to be part of a communal gathering in the process of construction of hope.
In a recent email Debi Lorenc describes who took part in the DARE TO HOPE.
Here are the people who helped with the event. You can pull the names out. I am currently in the process of making another slide presentation with music to send to our email list to get them to go the website to purchase or donate:
My neighbor Dianne Saichek. She’s a wonderful pianist and designer. In the very beginning she offered some advice on what venue might be good for this event. Slowly, but surely she got infected by the story and the pictures, and by the end she was totally immersed. She worked hours everyday, coordinating and advising, and purchasing things to add the event to make it the best it could possibly be. We couldn’t have done it without her.
Carol Stephenson, Social Justice Program Coordinator at the First Unitarian Church, dedicated a great deal of time helping to coordinate this event with a translator, child care, name tags, invitations, announcements, providing janitorial services and greeters. She was at most of our meetings and an enormous help.
Julie Stover, teacher of a small children’s art school in our neighborhood gave up evenings matting and framing prints. She would love to do some kind of an exchange or collaboration with Walls of Hope—to be continued.
Tessie, you know. We have shared sorrowful stories of our children. She lost her daughter in El Salvador 8 years ago, in an accident. Art and healing is at the center of her life—out of necessity. She gets it in a big way. A great heart and now good friend.
Dorothy Suarez, wife of a Bellarmine teacher, Rob Suarez, that Chris mentioned to you who died 8 years ago. He was very connected to El Mozote and Rufina. She has been needing to connect to El Salvador to continue Rob’s work and this helped her do that.
Martha Barahona, from El Salvador, gave us a great perspective from a Salvadoran point of view. She had great advice and insights.
Our sons, Matt and Nate played music prior to the presentations as people came in. Matt wrote a song about El Mozote. Going there changed both of them in an important way.
Lynn Mauser-Bain , who you know, joined us a little late but was such a gift. Her spirit and enthusiastic energy was always so uplifting. She was always begging to do more. We are very grateful to her.
Maria Luisa, who made the pupusas makes 1,000 pupusas a week for her church. My son said they were the best pupusas, better than any he had in El Salvador.
Belinda Quintanilla found Maria Luisa and helped her get all of the ingredients. Belinda made delicious Salvadoran hot chocolate and brought quesadillas and other pastries. Yummy!
Jeff Fohl, of course took the pictures which I am grateful for because it can be a little demanding and I know it’s sometimes hard to be present while splitting your time with the camera.
Ana Maria De la Torre, who lives with us, and is a fabulous cook from Mexico, dedicated her time to help with the pupusa cooking. She would not take any payment from us, even though we paid the other 3 workers.
Amelia Beruman & Juliette Oken ( Former CCA students who went to Perquin in 2005-2006) prepared their beautiful alter for Rufina. Unfortunately, not many people returned to the sanctuary after the talks so it did not get the attention it deserved. I had Jeff take photos of it so we could give it a prominent place on the website.
Molly Fumia, who first went to El Mozote around 1992 and help start the Bellarmine immersion trips, prepared the slide shoe of the children and the art that we couldn’t get to play. She would like you to have a CD so when we see you we will give you one. We will make sure people get a chance to see it on the website.
There are others who helped:
Tessie’s husband, Rich helped sell and did a fantastic job.
Pearl Saunders, our good friend, also helped sell
Our daughter Ali helped package the card sets and sold food and drink tickets at the event.
Gabrielle, Tessies’s daughter helped package cards.
Martha’s husband, Fredi also played music at the event
– Debi, Chris, Tessie, Lynn, and EVERYONE ELSE!!!!!!!!!!
How can we thank you enough?????
Words are minimum attempts to share the impossible task of acknowledging what your effort means to us, our school, to our dear children, youth and adults who come to the school.
Your effort and your devotion to our vision developed as DARE TO HOPE, is a precious gift. The economic gain of this fundraising will help us to replenish art materials as well as bringing new art possibilities such as ceramics and photography to our classes. Your commitment is inspiring and life affirming. It is an endorsement to our school and to the very reason for which the school exists. You and the people you have congregated on behalf of Walls of Hope insure me that what we do in Perquin is worth doing.
And for that, I thank you.
Many years ago, in my early 20’s when I had already seen terrible violence as a consequence of the military dictatorship in Argentina, I transited a period, which I call rather candidly, my “mystic” period. I guess I was trying to put some order in a soul that had already been brutally damaged, perhaps beyond repair.
I read Santa Teresa de Jesús and Santa Teresa de Avila, San Juan de la Cruz and San Agustin.
It was not easy reading and the amendment of the soul that I was so desperately seeking did not manifest itself clearly.
Until, I came upon a brief sentence by San Agustin, almost a recommendation or an equation of sorts:
“All goodness is, essentially, communicable”
I comprehended then (and it is still true for me now from the platform of middle age) that the description that San Agustin provided was the most essential and most precious rendition of art. Not only of art as the created artifact but, most importantly, the essence of the reason for which any art piece is ever conceived. Art is an attempt to communicate goodness.
The School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin is a goodness that you all help disseminate.
And for that, we thank you!
APRIL- MAY: MAPPING HISTORY AND HOPE
A Community and Collaborative Mural Project at
Mary Baldwin College, Staunton Virginia
I arrived to Mary Baldwin College invited as the 2006-2007 Doenges Artist/ Scholar Residency, a huge honor that I accepted humbly and joyfully. During May Term, April 25 – May 15, 2007, 17 students from Mary Baldwin College in partnership with the community of Staunton and the participation of many friends and collaborators concurred in the creation of a communal and collaborative mural project on a wall at the Newtown Bakery.
The concept of this collaborative mural departs from the name of this class, Mapping History and Hope. Students were challenged to think about the mural as a way to establish liaisons between the community of Staunton, investigating common concerns of relevance regionally, nationally, and internationally. Students were encouraged to become artists and researchers responding to the essential questions: “Who do you think you are in this community?” and “ How can you bridge the gap between your community and others?” This mural allowed us to reflect upon the role of artists as citizens of the world and about the responsibility that art has as a tool of social and civil engagement.
In class we learned about murals and urban interventions created in Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala and Northern Ireland. We tried to comprehend not necessarily how a mural is created, but perhaps more importantly, why a mural is created; how and why people come together to generate a permanent visual statement in a public space as an open history book that narrates an urgent episode or demand in the life of a community.
Many drawings and fluid conversations preceded the creation of the mural now residing in this location. All participating artists were willing and able to let their individual ideas and visions be postponed on behalf of an integrated group effort, narrating the magnificent and multifaceted tapestry of social interactions, of shared memory and the persistence of hope. It has been a privilege and a transforming experience to work for three weeks with a group of visionary young women who were willing to agree with the proposition that something wonderful can and probably will happen if we coincide in a joint effort through our art. This communal experience forced us, gently but pursuantly, to review how we see our art and to what extent are we willing to share it beyond the protective nest of our studios.
We laughed a lot, we ate a lot, thanks to our dear friends from the Newtown Bakery, we worked every day from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm, we were filled with emotion seeing the marvels of our mural becoming a flag of joy, a rendering of our tenacious belief in the beauty of peoples all over the world and in our fundamental trust that peace and justice is obtainable through the praxis of empathy.
Thanking everyone, dearly,
The Mural Chicas!!!!!
Mary Kate Cowher
Professor Marlena Hobson
and Claudia Bernardi
Please: visit Mary Baldwin College website to further learn about the project and to see the final piece which is beautiful!!!
MAY – JUNE : A VISIT TO SEGURA ART
“La Realidad Trabaja en Abierto Misterio/
Reality Works in Open Mystery”
Since I started going to Segura in the early 90’s, I had the feeling of being at the Court of Francisco de Medici. At Segura, I find the unique instance in my life in which I work with undivided attention, totally focused on my art and with no distractions.
I have not created my own work since 2004. All my creative energy, time and money have been channeled to the School of Art in Perquin. Truth be told, I I have not missed creating my own work. The multifaceted demands of Perquin seemed to alleviate or suppress the desire to create frescoes on paper, in clouds of pure and intense pigments.
Brent Bond, Master Printer, indispensable partner in the creative process, assisted me.
The pigments do not allow too much planning. Pigments change constantly and rapidly. I work intuitively, with no planning and no point of reference except the trust that losses, celebrations, doubts, vulnerabilities, memories joyful and not, will emerge.
A female figure, half skeletized-half fleshed, (alter ego of myself, I suppose) populated the geography of the given field of saturated colors.
During my last visit at Segura, I followed the female figure becoming kinetically comfortable, steps forward in a marching attitude. One of the figures is covered with eyes (“Cuerpo Cubierto de Miradas/ Body Filled With Gazes”). She seems to be saying: “Do not harm me, I am watching you “
I was gladly aware that the works narrate a state of the soul in balance, in vulnerability protected now by experience, or determination.
One of the transient figures is almost galloping in her determinate step forward. One foot rests on text. It reads “art”. The other foot stands above “Perquin”. She is holding a snake. The galloping woman is not threatened; she has the snake by its neck, in command, not in fear.
“I am watching you. I will not permit you to harm me”.
I see these new frescoes on paper as auspicious.
The new works will be on exhibit at my upcoming exhibition at 40 Acres Gallery in Sacramento. ”Silence Was Hostile and Almost Perfetc/ El Silencio era Hostil y Casi Perfecto” will open on October 13. The new work will be accompanied by a retrospective of work created in the last decade and a multi media installation entitled “Murmullos/ Whispers”.
I would like to thank Kim Curry Evans, Director of 40 Acres, and Crista Cloutier, Guest Curator, for their work in organizing this exhibition.
Please, visit the web pages of Segura Art and 40 Acres for more information about the work of those agencies supporting artists and about Bernardi’s art.
CONTRIBUTIONS AND FUNDING 2006-2007
In 2007, The School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin continues to be benefited by many people who, generously, provided contributions and donations. They are Guardian Angels who believe in our work.
We receive this support with dear thanks and with the commitment of continuing our work or art in Perquin, the North of Morazán and the world.
I want to thank very specially, Yesenia Sánchez and Intersection for the Arts for their ongoing support and for being our fiscal sponsor allowing the donations and contribution to come to Walls of Hope through the Incubators Program.
I would like to thank Christine Pielenz and Bill Laven from the Potrero Nuevo Fund . They have supported our school since 2005. This year, generously, they continued to do so. I first met Christine and Bill in the 90’s when I was working with the community of political refugees in East Oakland. Christine and Bill have been consistently generous allocating funds towards the creation and continuation of the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin.
THANK YOU CHRISTINE AND BILL!!!!
Davida Coady and Todd Jailer from The San Carlos Foundation have sponsored this art project in Perquin since its very start in 2005. The San Carlos Foundation collects funds to support the education of Rufina’s daughter, Marta Maritza Amaya, known to all of us as Martita.
A group of people, that is becoming larger each year, contributes funds to support Martita going to medical school at the Evangelical University in San Salvador.
THANK YOU SAN CARLOS FOUNDATION!!!! For your support to our beloved School of Art in Perquin and for being a liaison for the funds to support Martita’s studies.
Gertrude Reagan is an artist and an activist who is familiar with the history and the people of El Salvador. In 2007, Trudy, generously, gave a grant to our school that will allow us to be less stressed about paying the salaries of our local teachers. Trudy is also coming to Perquin in July to conduct a series of art workshops for children and youth. THANK YOU TRUDY!!!!!!!!
The Palo Alto Friends Meeting is conformed by people who are activists and supporters of El Salvador. Many of them have traveled to different regions of Morazán and Sonsonate. They are deeply aware of the life and needs of the Salvadoran people. They have gathered their efforts to support our school.
THANK YOU PALO ALTO FRIENDS MEETING!!!!!
The Marra Foundation and Letitia Momirov (Tish) who supported us last years, is supporting us this year as well, the Marra Foundations states in its web page:
??”We look for projects that demonstrate the active involvement of volunteers and participants “on the ground”. By listening to people’s lived experience and expression of their own needs and desires, we can be most attentive to all the impacts of our actions—personal, economic, political, and spiritual.??
From this listening grows a relationship of trust and mutuality. This relationship is essential to building genuine partnership, with the mutual accountability that promotes authentic and lasting change.”
This has certainly be the case between Tish, whom I met through my dear friend Michael Barger, and the School of Art in Perquin. Tish was very gracious to invite me for tea to her house where she was willing to listen to the many stories and realities of our work in Morazan.
THANK YOU MARRA FOUNDATION AND TISH MOMIROV!!!!!!!!!
Elizabeth Wakeman Henderson Charitable Foundation
Gave support to the creation of a children and youth mural project to take place in Perquin and the North of Morazan. We are convinced that the work we do in the school is as much about art as it is about crime prevention amongst youth. It is also a positive and tangible possibility for future job possibilities. The funds received will be used to implement a “touring” mural project extending from Perquin towards very distant areas of Morazan and even Honduras. THANK YOU IAN VAN COLLER AND THE ELIZABETH WAKEMAN HENDERSON CHARITABLE FOUNDATION!!!!!!!!!
We have many dear friends who contributed to our school in the period 2006 and 2007.
All the help, support and generous donations allow the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin to exist, expand and disseminate the message of art in communities in El Salvador, Central America and the world
THANKS YOU TO ALL OF YOU!!!!!!!!!
Sun Sierra Software
Hispanics in Philanthropy
Christopher and Deborah Lorenc
Palo Alto Friends Mtg.
Jewish Community Foundation
The Marra Foundation
Elizabeth Wakeman Henderson Charitable Foundation
EPILOGUE: Our vision for the Future.
“ Venimos a hacer el arte por que nos alegra la vida/
We are coming to create art because it makes our life happier” – Doña Carmencita, grandmother of a young artist from Perquin.
When I arrived to Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, my dear friend Marlena Hobson had kept for me an article printed in the Washington Post few weeks before. It was an article written by Alma Guillermoprieto about Rufina Amaya’s death. Alma Guillermoprieto was one of the first journalists who covered the massacre at El Mozote in 1982. In fact, Alma, together with Raymond Bonner and Susan Meiselas had been at El Mozote only days after the massacre had occurred. Alma saw, first hand, the carnage and the damage. She spoke about that to a country unwilling to learn about the complacency of the US in this killing of civilian population.
The article that Alma wrote in homage to Rufina at the time of her death brings back many of the unresolved issues regarding the Reagan administration as responsible, in part, of the massacre.
While I was at Mary Baldwin College, I got an email from Alma Guillermoprieto. She wanted to donate the funds that the Washington Post had paid her for the recent article about Rufina to the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin. Alma also sent me an article she had written about the children of Perquin during the war.
In Morazán, always in vicinity to El Mozote and to Perquin, life, death, art, damage, rebuilding, yesterday, today and the present seem to collide and run like a silk ribbon between our fingers.
It challenges my intellect and it moves me deeply to think of Alma witnessing the catastrophic evidence of the massacre. 25 years after, she is sending the funds of an article she wrote about the children at war in Perquin to our dear children of Perquin today who are learning to be artists in our school of art.
It is a poetic amendment.
It makes me think that it is a tranquil, minuscule step towards restoration. It is, however, a monumental contribution towards a possible endurable vision: one that brings options else than war to children and youth of Morazán.
When Doña Carmencita, a grandmother of one of our young artists in Perquin told us that she came to create art because it brings happiness to her life, it was not taken as a casual comment. No one in Perquin does “small talk”. If they speak, they mean it.
Doña Carmencita’s brief testimony summarizes the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin’ intent to bring a creative process that culminates in joy to the North of Morazán.
The intention, the effect and the vision for the future of the School’s work is as much about art and creativity as it is about conflict resolution, violence prevention, youth guidance, community building and partnerships and, ultimately, about diplomacy.
We are aware of the painful history of the region and we are confronted daily with the pursuant drainage of desperate youth going on exile for the overwhelming unstoppable poverty that is imposed upon El Salvador today.
The School of Art and Open Studio produces one of those minuscule yet imprescindible steps towards amendment.
We have the evidences of our artworks endorsed by the community. We have the smile of the children, the joy of the elderly and the pride of everyone when they show the concluded murals to tourists and visitors.
They say: “ Nosotros hemos hecho esto/ We have done this”
The “Perquin model” is traveling now, and it is nesting in other places so distant as Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Canada, Northern Ireland and Rwanda.
We are committed to continue our work with our friends from ECAP and develop further projects with survivors of massacres in Guatemala.
We will visit our Guatemalan artists friends with whom we painted the mural in February, bringing the Perquin model to Rabinal, Nebaj, Ixcan, Ixil and Chimaltenango.
Doña Juliana Ama has requested that we will implant the Perquin seed in Izalco, Sonsonate.
Valeria Galliso who was a wonderful contribution to our school in 2005, has created in her community of Firmat, Santa Fe, Argentina, a community and collaborative art project for children and youth that echoes closely our work in Perquin.
Julie Jarvis, from Toronto, Canada, a community artist working with environmental concerns has invited me to be part of a project that includes the sharing of the Perquin model of mural painting with children, youth and adults.
The Bogside Artists form Derry, Northern Ireland welcomed me last November proposing the creation of a community art project building a liaison between Northern Ireland and El Salvador.
Eric Ehn and the Rwandan artists who believe in the power of art to contribute to the restoration of the country after genocide have suggested that the Perquin model of building community through the praxis of art may be a parallel force to the peace process.
Students from the California College of the Arts who came to Perquin in 2005 and 2006 want to return to Morazán to further contribute as “artists in residence”. Other schools such as CAL Arts and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago may be incorporating a visit to the School of Art and Open Studio as part of their curricula.
This is our vision:
We want to disseminate the goodness of the school as far and as varied as possible, trusting that the collaborative and community building nature of our work may help define a less greedy, less damaging, more “solidaria” version of “globalization”.
We are delighted to see our “Perquin model”, like a small cut of a wonderful plant from Morazán becoming seed and growth, nesting in communities all over the world.
For that, we thank you.
Berkeley, June 2007