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  • Forgetting to Remember:Performance and Conflict in a Post TRC Peru
  • Katherine Jean Nigh (bio)

On the evening of 19 July 2011, I stood in the Plaza Mayor of Lima, gathering with hundreds of others to celebrate the fortieth Anniversary of Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani. The central Plaza, which symbolizes Peru's history, government, and triumphs, is also considered to be the birthplace of the city: it is surrounded by the Government Palace, the Cathedral of Lima, and other buildings representing the government. But within the history of Peru represented by this Plaza, many verguenzas (shames) and painful memories exist including those stretching back to the sixteenth-century Spanish conquest. Yuyachkani (the Quechua word means, "I am thinking/I am remembering"), is a theatre collective based in Lima that often celebrates and criticizes Peru's complex history. This theatre was formed in 1971, and since then has established itself as a world-renowned theatre company by pushing the boundaries of aesthetics within performance and cultural representation. Their performances often explore the cultural divides that contributed to the devastating violence within Peru, a recurrent theme in their performances even before the civil war began. During the war they represented the indigenous populations and the violence that took place in their rural communities when it was still unsafe and culturally taboo to do so; the performers openly criticized politicians and even received warnings from The Shining Path (a militaristic group largely responsible for the violence of the Dirty War).

But on the summer evening of 2011 we gathered to celebrate not criticize. Hundreds of artists and performers circled the Plaza. These artists had worked with Yuyachkani in different capacities or had been invited to celebrate the anniversary. We were also there to commemorate Jose Maria Arguedas, Peruvian author and anthropologist, who has inspired Yuyachkani's work. The evening offered us a fantastic spectacle replete with gorgeous masks, danzantes de Tijeras (scissors dancers), music, and performance. As I walked around the Plaza, on the opposite side of the main stage where people performed I noticed a large group of people standing in front of the Palace. They held candles and for a brief moment I thought that they were commemorating the victims of the (Peruvian) Dirty War and were [End Page 145] there to support Yuyachkani. When I looked more closely, however, I realized that they were carrying large photographs of Alberto Fujimori, the former Peruvian President who is currently in prison for committing crimes against humanity. Yuyachkani has been known to be quite critical of Fujimori in their performances and the members of the group were active critics of Fujimori outside of their work with the group. I wondered if the group was there to protest Yuyachkani. It seemed, however, from what we could gather from other attendees of the anniversary event, that the Fujimori supporters did not know the Yuyachakani celebration would be taking place. Indeed at first—in a moment of dramatic irony even the best of playwrights could not have scripted—the Fujimori supporters thought that the Yuyachkani performers had assembled to support them.

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Fig. 1.

Fujimori Supporters at the Plaza Mayor, 19 July 2011. Photograph by Katherine Jean Nigh.

Seven years prior to this celebration, in 2004, I traveled to Peru for the first time to participate in a course on performance and justice with New York University's Hemispheric Institute. It was then that I first saw a performance of Sin Titulo (Without Title), a play that addresses the country's Dirty War of the 1980s, a topic I knew relatively little about. As I met academics, anthropologists, activists, and artists in Lima, as well as members of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and performers from Yuyachkani, I was compelled to believe that the reconciliation attempts of the 2001 Truth and Reconciliation Commission [End Page 146] could heal the wounds of those who experienced the trauma of the decades-long war. I thought that the motto, Nunca Mas (Never Again) could be accomplished through the efforts of the TRC and artists and activists including Yuyachkani. But my experience in the Plaza in 2011 instigated my growing recognition that the...


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