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From Facebook to the Street: Activism on Cusco's Walls

In the days of Facebook we sometimes forget that there are many real-world walls available to play host to messages, expressions and opinions. The virtual doesn't always replace the real, and in the Peruvian city of Cusco there is a special wall which is used as a point of connection between virtual and “real” action. While this wall is sometimes employed as an art gallery or for exhibitions, at other times it becomes a space in which to generate awareness and debate.

In a recent trip to Cusco we found this wall, located in Cusco's central Plaza de Armas, a much visited part of the city, and displaying only a single invitation:

El Muro del Cusco

The Cusco Wall: “Say it out loud.”

Throughout several days it remained untouched. However, in an online search for its virtual counterpart, we found two related Facebook pages. One called Colectivo El Muro Cusco [The Cusco Wall Collective, es], most recently updated on the 22nd April 2011, day it was created. There, we found this photo:

 

El Muro del Cusco:

The Cusco Wall: “Are we free?  We're like you, outraged by neoliberal politics.  For this reason, this space of free expression [exists] to tell the truth, denounce and create awareness.  Get involved!

On the second Facebook page – Colectivo Muro Cusco [Cusco Wall Collective] founded on the 9th February 2012 and still active today – we discovered that photos and activist events spanning diverse issues such as national politics to environmental themes, and many more, are shared. There's also a register of a range of activities that the collective has organized and been a part of, as well as those in which the physical wall has been a recipient for allusive posters and messages, such as [translator's note: the following links all lead to Spanish language pages] “521 años y seguimos resistiendo” [521 years [later] and we continue resisting,” informative activity about the situation of the “uncontacted” villages in the Kugapakori Nahua Nanti Reserve, “Fighting for the defense of water and life,” “Vigil in support of Cajamarca and Espinar,” “Miscommunication Media and its Network of Lies and Smokescreens,” and “What are We Celebrating?” (a critique of the current government stemming from the events of the previous national holiday celebrations).

 

El Muro del Cusco

The Cusco Wall: “End death, pollution and sacking!” Vigil in support of Cajamarca and Espinar.

Throughout later days, we saw activity on the wall.  Stuck to it, we found a series of drawings and photos. The drawings belonged to Rafael Ginzburg [es], an Argentinian artists passing through Cusco making use of his stay, and the space, to exhibit and sell his art:

El Muro del Cusco

The Cusco Wall: Drawings by Rafael Ginzburg

Beside them, there was a small photography exhibition, belonging to Lima visual artist Neptunia Asesina [es].  She told us that she didn't have to carry out any paperwork in order to display her photos on the wall; she simply used the space. The staff of the auditorium of Cusco's Natinoal University of San Antonio Abad, to whom the wall legally belongs, don't seem to have a problem with the situation.

El Muro del Cusco

The Cusco Wall: Photos by Neptunia Asesina.

Days later, we found another type of activity, this time an exercise in generating awareness about the problems currently affecting the people of Cusco – such as bullying, harassment, corruption, domestic violence, gang activity, stress, junk food, rubbish television, etc. – created by students from the National University of San Antonio Abad.

El Muro del Cusco

The Cusco Wall: “Be aware and don't wall yourself in – Gang Activity”.

This time we spoke with one of the exhibitors about the exercise. In the following short video, Bryan Mijail Romero Baca from the National University of San Antonio Abad explains how it is that these types of initiatives came about in his studies:


In order to understand more, we turned to Marco Moscoso [es] a communicator and cultural promoter in Cusco, to tell us more about “The Cusco Wall.”


Claudia, a member of the Colectivo El Muro Cusco [es] responded to our queries via email, and among other things, told us:

Con el colectivo buscamos informar aunque sea un poquito de lo que gran parte de la prensa calla, y que la gente que circula por las calles también se exprese, conozca, se solidarize y vea que lo que sucede nos afecta a todos [...] también intentamos apoyar a otros hermanos sobre todo de las comunidades con información ágil y sencilla a través del muro o folletos informativos, ya que al parecer muchas veces la información desean que este en manos de unos pocos y se pone lo más compleja posible y en medios no muy accesibles para todos (como es el internet en comunidades campesinas) [...] ya que nuestras autoridades, periodistas no quieren hablar… hagamos que los muros del pueblo hablen.

The collective aims to inform, even if only a little, about the great part of what the media silences, and also [hopes that] people who transit through these streets express themselves, are informed, show solidarity and see that what's happening affects us all [...].  We also try to support other brothers, particularly from communities, with agile, simple information using the wall or informative flyers.  It seems that often times, the idea is that information stays in the hands of a minority, in a complicated format and using media which isn't very accessible for everyone (like the Internet in rural communities) [...] and since our authorities and journalists don't want to talk… let's have the walls in our communities to do the talking.

The initiative, both at the University's end and that of collectives such as Muro del Cusco, takes advantage of physical space to raise awareness in people about important issues which are sometimes manipulated or made to seem smaller by the mass media. The collectives use them [physically], however, those who add the ingredient of “virtuality” in these modern times are necessary in order to connect people, spaces and initiatives.

The above is a valid and a very necessary strategy to locate issues for debate in the public sphere, making use of both virtual and non-virtual tools, which in turn, serves to give significant light to the variety of world visions that inhabit a city as culturally rich and diverse as Cusco.

This post was originally published in the blog Globalizado [es] by Juan Arellano.
Eva Bravo and Sonia Ordóñez transcribed and subtitled the first video.
Carmen Palomino and Sonia Ordóñez transcribed and subtitled the second video.

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