There are exhibits that hit you in the gut like a sucker punch. Yuyanapaq: Para Recordar, at the Museo de la Nación in Lima, is one of them. Located on the 6th floor of the museum, a Soviet-style concrete bunker that lords over Avenida Javier Prado Este in San Borja, the show was put together by the Peruvian Truth & Reconciliation Commission. It explores the 20 years of violence, beginning in 1980, suffered primarily by poor campesinos throughout the country during what is euphemistically described as Peru’s “internal conflict.”
It’s difficult to sum up in a few sentences what exactly happened during that period. Like so much of Peruvian history, it is a fantasmagoria of violence and obfuscation. The conflict was a protracted struggle between two leftist insurgency groups — Sendero Luminoso and the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA) — against the Peruvian government, which had little idea how to manage a guerilla war. Caught in the middle were tens of thousands of poor campesinos, who suffered massacres, torture and disappearances at the hands of the heavy-handed national police, in addition to the regular bouts of terror inflicted by the insurgency groups. (Sendero Luminoso in its later days was particularly renowned for its bloody tactics, especially against union leaders and other activists.) An exact death toll will never be known. Some estimates are as high as 70,000.
The exhibit, which consists primarily of black and white photography from throughout the era, was first staged by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission beginning in 2003 and has been housed at the Museo de la Nación since last year. It is absolutely breathtakingly riveting. If you’re anywhere near Lima, this is an absolute must-see.
Museo de la Nación, Javier Prado Este 2466 in San Borja. Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Click on images to view large.
December 26, 1980. Sendero Luminoso leaves dogs hanging around streets of central Lima. This one was left with a note that read, “Teng Siao Ping, hijo de perra” (Deng Xiao Ping, son of a bitch). (Photo by Carlos Bendezú, Revista Caretas.)
At the funeral of 19-year-old Senderista Edith Lagos in the city of Ayacucho. One of the more charismatic members of the group, Lagos was killed by the national police in September of 1982. At least ten thousand people turned out for her funeral, reflecting a high degree of discontent with the police. (Photo by Carlos Dominguez.)
In 1983, eight journalists went to investigate skirmishes between campesinos and senderistas in the remote village of Uchuraccay in Ayacucho. All eight were massacred by indigenous campesinos, reportedly put up to the task by Peruvian military forces. The journalists, above, were: Jorge Sedano, Amador Garcia, Jorge Luis Mendivil, Felix Gavilan, Pedro Sanchez, Willy Retto y Eduardo de la Piniella. The photo was taken by Octavio Infante, of Revista Caretas, one of the victims. Read more about the case here.
In another failed attempt to kill off senderistas, the military massacred 32 campesinos in the Ayacucho village of Soccos. Here, families witness the exhumation of the bodies. November 1983. (Photo by Vera Lentz.)
Various images document the result of a clash between members of the MRTA and the military in 1989. (Photos by Diario Correa.)
Objects found on June 1, 1990 in a house that had been occupied by Sendero Luminoso founder and mastermind Abimael Guzmán in the tony Lima neighborhood of Monterrico. Clues discovered here ultimately led to his capture in September of 1992. (Photo by Vera Lentz.)
The conflict left behind countless orphans. This photograph by Cecilia Laraburre, from the series Ciertos Vacíos, shows a row of beds at an orphanage in Puerto Ocopa in Junín, 1995.
Hundreds of people were disappeared by the military in its effort against Sendero. A final room in the exhibit pays tribute to them. A few simple photographs hang as various audio tracks from the Truth & Reconciliation hearings play in the background. It is incredibly moving.