Photo Diary: Andean mummies and Peruvian prisons.


Sculpture of an Andean mummy — a work of prisoner art. (Photos by C-M.)

While running around the northern highland city of Chachapoyas, we picked up a small sculpture of a skeleton posed as pre-Columbian mummy. (Many Andean cultures placed the dead in a fetal position prior to burial.) Along with numerous other crafts, the local souvenir stands feature boundless numbers of these mummy carvings in an array of sizes. Many of them are quite crude, but in a small shop near the market, we found one that was quite beautifully done, with a fine attention to detail and proportion. It’s every last vertebrae had been skillfully rendered and there was something poignant about its expression.

I asked the lady who managed the souvenir shop if she knew the name of the artisan who crafted it. She did not. These sculptures, it turns out, are crafted at a nearby maximum security prison, otherwise known as El Penal de Huancas. Apparently, the place is loaded with all manner of unsavory murders, rapists and narcos. A couple of days after we bought the piece, we happened to pay a visit to Huancas and went to see the prison. (From the exterior, since it wasn’t a visitation day.) And I tried to imagine the hands from which my little sculpture emerged.

Pix of the prison after the jump.

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