Harvesting Hope from a Harsh World in ‘Picturing Paradise’

Picturing Paradise: Cuadros from the Peruvian Women of Pamplona Alta as Visions of Hope is an appreciation of hope in the harshest of places, as well as a celebration of female empowerment and ambition. Located in the Atrium Gallery in the Theology and Ministry Library from Oct. 24 to Dec. 16, the exhibition is alive with vibrant colors and three-dimensional designs.

The result of artistic expression and political motivation, the unique cuadros were created by the the women of Compacto Humano and Manos Ancashinos, two art cooperatives located in Pamplona Alta, a shanty town situated on the outskirts of Lima, Peru.

“With bits of cloth, textured fabric, and colored thread, the women of Pamplona Alta craft images that underscore the events that shape their lives,” said Rebecca Berru Davis, Con/Vida Associate and curator of the exhibit. The cuadros they stitch by hand are visual testimonies to their resilience, persistence, and efforts to create beauty in a harsh world.”

While the exhibit is locally sponsored by the Boston College Libraries, the School of Theology and Ministry, and the Church in the 21st Century Center, it is officially sponsored by Con/Vida–Popular Arts of the Americas, which is a nonprofit organization that strives to celebrate diversity throughout the Americas.

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The collection of art is the product of three separate commissioned projects: Hopes and Dreams (January 2006), Inspirations and Motivations (January 2007), and ¿Quien soy yo? (Who am I?) (July 2008), all of which explore each woman’s ambitions for herself, her family, or the world, as well as discuss the communities in which they live.

Some cuadros, if not most, depict pastoral scenes that speak to the beauty that surrounds these women. Botanica (Flower Garden), by Karina Heredia Vela, features intricately woven foliage that support this notion. The trees and cacti envelope a teeming mass of vibrantly colored flowers. Scarlet, fuchsia, and lavender, among other colors, bloom in multitude. Las Islas Ballestas (Paracas National Reserve), by Milagros Aliaga Montesinos, illustrates the Ballestas Islands. The overwhelmingly crowded heaps of sea wolves, penguins, seagulls, fish, whales, flamingos, dolphins, and pelicans illustrate the chaotic and wild atmosphere. The several hues of blue act as the scene’s backdrop. Las Pallas, by Fidencia Liñan Retuerto, uses various fabrics to add more depth to the cuadro. The complexity of this piece is rooted in this quality. The shining lace and shimmering cloth creates a magical scene in the midst of dire circumstances.

Other pieces hold strong political messages. Conflicto en la Selva (Conflict in the Jungle), by Grupo Compacto Humano, is a violent image that encapsulates the pent-up frustrations of the women.

“In June 2009, tensions between the Peruvian government and the indigenous population of the jungle erupted into violence as land and mineral rights were contested. Protests supporting the indigenous took place in the streets of Lima, Peru,” reads the caption. The pure, lush surroundings ironically set the stage for savagery and aggression. The slain are depicted fallen on the ground, while those still in combat fight on.

This pattern continues in Violencia en el Pueblo Joven (Violence in the “Young Town”), by Maria Esther. “Depicted in this cuadro are the challenges and particularities of violence of life in the shanty towns,” she writes in the caption. The lively colors illustrate a disconcerting image. The figures of the piece tear at each other’s clothes and hair. One can almost feel the tension.

The aspirational pieces take a step back from either theme and focus on the lives the women hope and wish for. Verónica Príncipe Liñan’s installment in Hopes and Dreams portrays an opulent wedding, which offers a universal image of love and celebration.

“My dream is to finish my degree and become a professional,” she writes. “Like many women, my dream is to then find a nice man to fall in love with and marry.”

Haydee Delgado Quispe’s piece in Hopes and Dreams shows the inherent beauty of the landscape and ruins.

“This cuadro represents my personal dream. I would love to travel with my whole family to Machu Picchu in a plane or a car,” the caption states. The intricate coloring of the birds flying by the mountains highlights the majestic nature of the scene.

The women of Compacto Humano and Manos Ancashinos know true struggle and understand the strife that can come between a government and its citizens. They also know what it means to dream for what seems like the impossible. The cuadros they have provided us with aren’t just colorful crafts, they are windows into the lives we rarely get to see and will most likely never experience ourselves.

Featured Image by Savanna Kiefer / Heights Editor

About Veronica Gordo 25 Articles
Veronica Gordo is the associate arts editor for The Heights. She's a Yeezus fan, an avocado toast enthusiast, and a lover of all things Stella McCartney. You can follow her on twitter @vero_lena.