NDMOA hosts Living through Violence exhibit

Gnarled hands hold a small photo of a man in profile. Girls and boys stand with their hands over their hearts at the wake for a classmate, assassinated for "treason" by terrorists from the Shining Path. A man with a machete wound covered by a dir...

woman holds ID
A woman holds the photo ID of a relative who disappeared in Ayacucho, Peru, in this 1984 photo by Vera Lentz.

Gnarled hands hold a small photo of a man in profile. Girls and boys stand with their hands over their hearts at the wake for a classmate, assassinated for "treason" by terrorists from the Shining Path. A man with a machete wound covered by a dirty cloth stares at the camera.

The stark and dramatic photographs at North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks document what happened in Peru from 1980 to 2000 during one of the most violent periods in the South American country's history.

Among the photos hang beautiful textiles, woven with monkeys, birds and geometric patterns, dyed in shades of pink and purple, with three-dimensional stitched borders of bugs and lizards. The textiles, visitors to the exhibit are told, testify to the resilience of humans to survive.

The exhibit "Yuyanapaq: To Remember Living Through Violence," will be up through March 20. Its photographs, taken by journalists, were gathered by the government's Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The textiles were made by residents of Ayacucho, Peru, the birthplace of the Maoist group Sendero Luminoso, or The Shining Path.

During those terrible years, Peru underwent unprecedented political violence that involved a painful pattern of assassinations, kidnapping, forced disappearances, tortures, unfair detentions, serious crimes and violations of human rights, says a description of the exhibit that includes excerpts from the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission website.


Declare war

The Shining Path declared war against the state, which began an onslaught of violence that affected hundreds of thousands of Peruvians. Almost 60,000 people were killed, and some 600,000 people were forced to abandon their homes, generating an internal displacement phenomenon that affected social networks at locations of origin as well as destination sites. Ayacucho, in particular, was home to the most violence.

Truth and Reconciliation

The civil war ended and the government created the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2001 to analyze the political, social and cultural conditions and behaviors that contributed to the violence by the state and by society. They were also charged with developing plans for the administration of justice and to make proposals for moral and material redress of violations.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission felt that to get at the truth it was trying to unravel, it was important to complement its written report with visual documents. The Commission created an Image Bank that was open to the public and included nearly 1,700 photographs.

It also prepared the photo exhibit "Yuyanapaq: To Remember," a selection of more than 200 photographs which told the story of the war to a wider national and international public. While the main exhibit took place in the capital, Lima, a smaller selection of pictures was taken to other cities in the country and abroad. Those are the photographs currently displayed at the North Dakota Museum of Art.

Textile works

At the heart of the exhibit's textile works are two by the Oncebay textile family from Ayacucho.


Now in its forth generation of textile workers, the family lives in the heart of Ayacucho, and its small shop faces Plaza Santa Ana. For decades, this multi-generational family has made a living from their textiles, as travelers flocked to this old colonial church.

During the time of violence, tourism disappeared and sales dwindled to nothing. It became dangerous to even go to the market. Who was the enemy? All peasants of Andean ancestry were suspect.

Barricaded in the family compound, the family members faced endless empty days. What to do? They raised a few chickens and vegetables, and food was hard to come by. They kept to themselves.

Then, led by eldest son, Saturnino, the family spent the 1980s researching and studying the weaving, embroidery and design technique of the Peruvian pre-Columbian cultures.

After 12 years, they began to recreate the techniques of the Wari culture, which is characterized by its fine weaving and high quality. From the Paracas, they drew embroidery, design and dyeing techniques. They also taught themselves the Chancay Kelim technique and the Incas geometric designs.

Rediscovering Peru's traditions

The Oncebay School, as they refer to it, has created a new style that rediscovered the Peruvian traditional art of textile. Its goal was to incorporate ancient designs and techniques into more contemporary textiles. The creation of each piece is started as a ritual, offering coca leaves, Inca cigars and chicha de jora to the Apus or local mountain deities.

Each member of the family had a part in the fabrication of a textile. Honorario was in charge of natural dyeing. Silvia spun alpaca, sheep and cotton wool into fine threads. Saturnino, Manuel, Alfredo and Johnny developed the designs and wove the textiles on two-pedal looms. The three sisters, Alejandrina, Sofía and Vilma, embroidered the woven fabrics.


Other families followed, each creating its own contemporary version of ancient masterpieces. Once again, humans rescued themselves through their art. Like internees at a concentration camp, the Peruvians hiding from violence all around them found the creation of art made life bearable, if only for a little while.

The North Dakota Museum of Art is located on Centennial Drive on the UND campus. Its hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from 1 to 5 p.m. weekends.

Admission is by suggested donation -- $5 from adults and change from children. For more information, call (701) 777-4195 or visit .

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