“Illegal mining makes up over half of the Madre de Dios economy. Analysts estimate that the region produces 18 tons of gold per year, which is more than 10% of Peru’s total production,” according to Peru Reports
On Monday Nov. 23, Madre de Dios, in the Peruvian Amazon, declared a regional strike against Government efforts to reduce illegal mining and logging. Workers from various sectors including construction, mining, logging, and agriculture, among others, are demanding that the government rescind multiple decrees that aim to reduce the illegal practices.
Workers argue that by attempting to eliminate these illegal markets, not only are they affecting those that work in them directly, but the entire Madre de Dios community.
On the other hand, Minister of the Environment, Manuel Pulgar, claims that the leader of the strike, regional governor Luis Otsuka is blatantly destroying the Amazon.
Huepetuhe is a district in the Madre de Dios region, and is primarily known for illegal gold mining. It was chosen to be this year’s subject for Hawapi organization’s fourth annual public intervention.
A team of artists from diverse fields working in remote, provincial locations in Peru, Hawapi has a unique proposition: to challenge artists to engage with their environment, and themselves, in a new way.
_The HAWAPI 2015 team; Maxim front and center, kneeling. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Maxim Holland)_
Director of this team is Maxim Holland, founder of Tambo Film A producer and an artist, he saw that Peru’s provinces have great artistic potential. Additionally, something needed to happen to improve awareness on conflict zones and environmental emergencies within the country.
So he embarked on a project to invite artists to engage publicly in provincial locations carefully chosen based on their histories as isolated and neglected communities. Once they’ve chosen a location, the team invites specialists to create pieces of art during an on-site, 10-day residency, and later they present their project in Lima.
Every year and every location has been unique; they have each presented challenges and broadened diverse perspectives, explains Holland. The first year they went to Cerro de Pasco (2012), the second year to Pisco (2013), the third year to Pariacaca (2014), and finally to Huepetuhe (2015).
Months after the residency in September, Holland said to me while laughing, “I’m still struggling to understand what the hell happened.”
Huepetuhe has been producing illegal gold for more than 30 years, but Holland explained that it’s within the last four to five years that the media has been covering the rapid growth of the industry. And recently, the ways the Peruvian government has attempted to crush it.
_Sketch of artists building cultural center. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Maxim Holland)_
In April of 2014, the Peruvian government intervened in Huepetuhe to reduce illegal mining. El Comercio reports that at least 1,500 police officials entered the area to destroy bulldozers, front loaders, tanks and other equipment used in informal mining. According to Holland, the government’s strategy frightened the locals and instilled in them a paranoia of outsiders.
“They went in with helicopters and bombed machinery in a sudden unannounced violent act and since then, the community has been suspicious to outsiders, fairly understandably. Which is why it makes it so dangerous to be there, and why we made certain decisions such as taking the sketch artists instead of taking photographs,” said Holland.
It is in this context that Hawapi decided to create a public intervention in the remote gold mining community of Huepetuhe. Within a context of suspicion that forbid the artists to take cameras and forced them to constantly question their intentions, but at the same time, produced an environment of sincerity.
With only 10 days to complete their projects, artists took their positions, teaming up with locals or working independently to put together their installations and works of art based off of the Huepetuhe environment.
Holland and the team arrived to Huepetuhe and rather than attempting to fit in and stay unnoticed as to not disturb the community’s natural flow, they made a “spectacle.” Hawapi chose innocent transparency instead of a quiet intervention that might have been taken for a suspicious threat.
_Sketch of a Huepetuhe sticker created by two HAWAPI artists. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Maxim Holland)_
Two invited architects, Augusto Román and Jose Bauer created the cultural center, the heart of the spectacle. They built, using donated and salvaged materials, a canopy-cultural center in the middle of the village’s Plaza de Armas, “and the effect was immediate.” Serving as the only structure providing shade in the Plaza de Armas, the project “activated the public space” and allowed the artists to explain what they were doing to curious locals.
“It was really hard trying to explain to the locals what we wanted to do, but it’s always been hard. And also what we do is kinda weird,” said Holland with a smirk. In a place like Huepetuhe words like “artist,” “performance,” and “installation,” carry entirely different meanings for the locals.
“You can’t even use that kind of vocabulary,” said Holland, emphasizing the difficulty to communicate what they were doing. The locals couldn’t grasp why they would travel there in the first place, and that they had no direct, concrete benefit to their project. The suspicions ran so high that rumors had begun to circulate that the Hawapi artists were actually working for an oil company, sent to brainwash children.
The Hawapi team wasn’t only received by suspicious questioning, perhaps one of their biggest fans was the local news anchor (whose day job entails dressing up for events as a clown). Every day the news station invited different Hawapi artists to be interviewed, allowing the town to get more familiarized with the project.
One of those artists includes photographer and economist Philippe Gruenberg. Forced to find a different medium other than a camera, he teamed up with a local pastry chef and together they baked a cake in the shape of the Huepetuhe landscape: jungle, gold nuggets and all.
On the final day of the project, between 300-400 locals lined up in the Plaza de Armas to get a taste of this 2 meters by 80 cm cake, “and that was just chaos,” said Holland playing with his beard and laughing. “That was an amazing project.”
_Sketch of the Huepetuhe-themed cake and feast. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Maxim Holland)_
Holland continued to tell me about the rest of the artists’ brilliant projects; from a set of wings made from mercury vapor lamps to a logo that symbolizes Huepetuhe made into stickers. The Hawapi team succeeded to create and engage with the community.
Since they finished, the artists have left Huepetuhe and returned to their homes in Lima or abroad. And, the Madre de Dios region is at a standoff with the Peruvian government.
To Holland, the government is not putting enough effort into investing “in the regional economy in order to compete with and eventually compensate for the income generated by gold mining.” He believes a hard-line approach is needed, but not one that provokes putting communities in danger.
“It saddens me to see that both the government and the local authorities continue to resort to violence and confrontation instead of looking for long term creative solutions to the problem. Seeing the strikes has made all of us worried for the safety and well being of all the wonderful people we met in Huepetuhe.”
As for Hawapi, Holland concluded that there might not be a “real answer” to their project in Huepetuhe. But in the end, what stands out to him is a comparison between art and gold.
“Why do we actually value gold? When you think about it gold is completely useless, it’s just something pretty…and there’s parallels with that. Why do we value art?… [art]continues to be thrown into question. That art is and has some inherent value and that it’s worth taking these risks to go into these places to better understand them but also to help these artists produce something of worth that’s more meaningful and thoughtful, and I think that at the end of the day that’s the driving force behind Hawapi.”
_Sketch of cultural center in Huepetuhe Plaza de Armas. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Maxim Holland)_
Don’t miss Hawapi’s expo January 14 in the Sala Miro Quesada Garland in Miraflores, Lima, Peru.
http://elcomercio.pe/peru/madre-de-dios/huepetuhe-destruyen-maquinaria-clan-baca-casas-noticia-1725883http://elcomercio.pe/peru/madre-de-dios/huepetuhe-destruyen-maquinaria-clan-baca-casas-noticia-1725883 in Peru_ spoke with the founder of Hawapi, an art collective focused on environmental emergencies in Peru’s provinces.