Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Eye that Weeps

El Ojo que Llora is a singular monument in Lima's Campo de Marte ("Field of Mars") park, a gift to the people of Peru from Danish artist Lika Mutal. Moved and inspired by a photographic exhibit on the civil war which Peru endured throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Mutal designed a monument intended to commemorate the dead of that conflict and to inspire reflection on violence and the passions which lead to it, as well as its effects.

The monument, unveiled in August 2005, consists of an eye-like stone embedded in a larger one, set upright in the center of a labyrinth. From the "eye" -when it is on and open to the public- water drips constantly in the manner of tears. The labyrinth is of crushed purple marble, and is bordered by 32,000 rounded stones, on some 26,000 of which volunteers wrote the names, ages, and dates of death or disappearance of victims of political violence from the war.

It is this latter feature that makes El Ojo que Llora such a singular, and controversial, monument, as it includes and mixes not only civilian victims, but soldiers and police officers, and accused subversives killed in prison by the police. Although this was uncontroversial at the time, and even a feature for which the piece was lauded, in time reactionaries seized upon it to defame the artist and attack her work.

In part that was due to a perplexing dictum from the Interamerican Court for Human Rights in 2006, which -along with finding that the Peruvian state was liable for the extrajudicial execution of several dozen imprisoned Shining Path prisoners in 1992, and that the families were owed indemnizations- ordered that their names be added to the monument, a monument over which neither the Court nor Peru's central government had jurisdiction. That not only brought indignation from Peru's conservatives, but then raised it to a fever pitch against the monument itself when it was revealed that those names had been there all along.

In the context of a generalized offensive against the left in this country, conservative and outright reactionary commentators verbally attacked and insulted Lika Mutal and El Ojo que Llora as "a monument to terrorism," and figures all the way up to Congressmembers called for the removal of the monument. Thankfully they did not hold sway.

In Septemeber 2007, however, El Ojo que Llora was severely vandalized. Orange paint was poured on the central stone and splattered on the name stones, many hundreds of which were knocked loose, scattered, and even broken. The stones were put back in place, but it has proved impossible to fully remove all traces of the paint.

Today, el Ojo que Llora is kept behind locked gates -I had to sneak in through a hole in the fence, and was soon ejected by a guard- and only open to the public on a few days a month. The names on the stones are fading, being barely discernible, which is perhaps in keeping with the country which, it seems, would rather forget rather than remember, reflect upon, and understand the violence which produced those names.

No comments: