CIVIL IMPOTENCE & ART | on Peru’s new political turmoil

written by Rodrigo Ghattas-Pérez

I must start this writing by acknowledging, and helplessly admitting a cynical and adventurous blend [for the purpose of this writing] of the political views of five of my must-read authors: Peruvian intellectual, essayist and poet Sebastián Salazar Bondy; Canadian writer and activist AK Thompson; French novelist, pro-revolt, and political activist Jean Genet and American multi-racial pleasure activist, social-justice facilitator, and author Adrienne Maree Brown.

It is no news that the current pandemic does no good to freedom and democracy for most countries in the world and Peru, my home country, is certainly no exception. Last Monday, in an undeniably insipid historic moment – a worrisome Deja Vu time-traveled us to the 90s, to one of the most devastating dictatorships in Peru and Latin America, that one of Alberto Fujimori – when President Martí­n Vizcarra was ousted in a coup led by a corrupt Congress. However, enraged at his removal, thousands across the country have taken to the streets daily in protest, refusing to recognize the new government.

Peru has experienced one of the world’s worst virus outbreaks and has the highest per capita COVID-19 mortality rate of any country on the globe. It is in this context when a long and well-rooted virus [CORRUPTION] shows its most Machiavellian face in an opportunistic move, beyond irresponsible, to remove Vizcarra [our legitimate although questionable president] using an anti-constitutional trick. This other virus, a sort of long-time Stockholm syndrome-like condition for the Peruvian people, has had far more casualties than COVID-19 would ever have in the country. At the start of the outbreak, Peru only counted on fifty (50) ICU beds [health system corruption] for a total population of 33 million people, no wonder every former living Peruvian president is being probed or has been charged with corruption charges.

Although important to lay out the symptoms and repercussions of such an act and to briefly trace back the timeline of this anti-democratic event, I would like, in addition, and for the sake of an own civic catharsis, to also share my thoughts and feelings on my current confusing and partly unfertile civic-state and political impotence or perhaps, a frustrating distanced and bodiless insurrection. Not to be too self-inflicting but perhaps I do suffer from a self-imposed exile [cultural and political, even more artistic]. A Peruvian-Palestinian in Norway, an artist escaping from his inherited impossibility of being himself, far scarier, of becoming – the artist he wanted to be. Through a kind of global citizenship journey, I have explored Peru much more in distance than in closeness, in its own light, I’d dare to apply that statement also to my father’s homeland Palestine. 

In retrospect, I have probably acquired more knowledge about my country when 10 000 km away than through my monotonous upbringing and bohemian walks in Lima in the 2000s, before resettling in the U.S. and later in Europe. I guess it is right for me to say that I have not yet come to full terms with my own civic responsibilities, neither physical nor intellectual, and as a multi-racial body navigating a globally connected context, I can’t help but ask myself to which geography(ies) do I owe my citizenship or is it my civic-minded spirit a global asset? But in the impossibility of joining my fellow citizens in protest during these uncertain times, I have found a restless mind that can’t help but replaying my mother’s premonition endless times “you will never make a living as an artist in our country!”, she still firmly believes it. I can see now how I managed to dodge a prescribed and precarious national – artistic as well – destiny and therefore I am no longer a direct victim but just a far-in-distance spectator.

Nonetheless, when your country is in the midst of a political, humanitarian, and health crisis, you can’t help but wonder how can I contribute to explore ways in which socially-just futures can exist for Peruvians and particularly for Peruvian artists? Is it then as ‘simple’ as encouraging creative civic participation in society and to promote cultural and ecological cooperation? Or, is it a bigger challenge to find allies that think of art as a transformative force and not merely as an aesthetical representation and certainly not as a commodity? It is perhaps, for some of you, strange to be talking about art and culture in such a sudden way, but isn’t it art & culture relevant as it becomes the space where new and radical politics can be tested, practiced, and improved? Providing our civil societies with alternative and well-formulated [that’s the hope!] culturally engaged politics and healthy infrastructures for the future.

I believe Democracy is site-specific and Revolution is not a one-time event, and they both rely on locally rooted civil society synergy that constantly revitalizes them. Yet, how to do this in pandemic times when Democracy is hijacked, face-masked demonstrators and activists suffer police brutality (smoke bombs, undercover illegal arrests, etc.), and all this is happening in the most urgent health and economic crisis ever experienced in the country? More so, corporatization of contemporary cultural and activist labor has sped up the clock, demanding increased speed and efficiency from artists and cultural agents regardless of the consequences for their already exhausted body. Where will the (sy)energy find a spark and make combustion, perhaps in the collective revitalization of the exhausted body and/or in the hope for a socially-fair democracy?

What is undeniable in this context is that politicians are socially-distancing from democracy while an apparent opposite effect is taking place among the people of Peru. Yesterday, the biggest demonstration ever in the history of the country took place. For Peruvians, whenever available, it is always possible and necessary to criticize the conservative [fragment and corrupt] national project that has been pushed for many years in Peruvian politics, as it feeds from a kind of nostalgia of the colonialist past that many want to leave behind. What the population of Peru did last night was a beautiful collective and civil exercise, synchronously-aware that everything that was taken for granted in our political system had to be challenged and re-imagined. They did not engage in irrational and unproductive violence, but into a liberating and constructive one, and ultimately, utopian. What it is a country other than always an unreachable utopia? a never-ending transformation of society; a project for common happiness, human coexistence, and social peace.

What Peruvians are doing through these demonstrations is to restore long-ago lost solidarity, mutual trust, and the Commons of the country, even if temporarily. Together they bravely made a new ‘noise’ for the country, they got rid of all the background noise that has prevented them for years to hear the powerful sound emanating from the deepens of the “real Peru”. Using metal pans and spoons they created a new rhythm that I would not describe otherly than as a tactical and aesthetical choice, an instrument of importance for mutual care and imagination. Imagining together, beyond their oppressors, and co-producing a unique approach to creative and active citizenship. Only to face us with another cruel yet needed realization: the fear to lose democracy is bigger than losing your own life at the hands of COVID-19, as there is no life without the Commons and therefore no hope for a future bio-citizenship.

It is then, in the aesthesis and aesthetics of that revolution, that arts and culture find its place and play a key role in addressing public and political matters. Articulating a pluricultural space to foster new forms of independent and self-organized processes of citizenship exploration, as well as suggesting new practical ways of communal and cooperative living and social action. It is then important to insist on promoting the future of more equitable and sustainable creative-civil communities. It is maybe our only hope to achieve sustainable change and to keep projecting alternative and positive realities into the world.

This text is an intellectual and civic event, a form of solidarity to my fellow citizens and artists, and an invitation to debate. As well as an invitation for transnational solidarity, to any global citizen in Oslo to join the demonstration in support of the people of Peru and against the new illegal and unconstitutional government. The protest will take place on Saturday 14th November [at 14:00] at the Oslo Opera House.

*image: Health workers from the Hospital Nacional Guillermo Almenara Irigoyen
taken from the FB page Noakeiko

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