“…ah, so many centuries against a minute, so many knives to cut a flower, so many bullets to riddle a flag, so much fire to burn a book, so many shoes to crush a dew, so much noise to silence a voice, so many hunters to hunt a single deer, so many cowards against one brave, so many soldiers to shoot a kid…”. – Pedro Sicay, taken from the poem Acerca del venado y sus cazadores, from Los Poemas de Pedro Sicay.
It was not part of my plans to visit the exposition that day, I was in the office editing some pictures when a colleague commented that there would be a presentation with Juanita Escobar, author of the Luis de Lión photographic project. I´ve been postponing my visit to the exposition for matters of time, but I thought that it would be good to take a look while Juanita was there, to have a wider idea of what the project meant to her. Even though I knew who Luis de Lión was, honestly I didn´t know what the exposition was about, I like to go blindly to have the complete experience.
There were some people in the entrance, some kids. A lady was greeting everyone nicely and was welcoming them, I didn´t know who she was. After arriving to the expositions hall I understood who this lady was. She was Mayarí de León, daughter of Luis de Lión, founder of the Mayarí de León Communitarian Art School, an art academy of children and youngsters established in 2008 in San Juan del Obispo, near Antigua. She welcomed us and presented Juanita, then she invited her to say some words.
“What you´re going to see here, is the journey of one of the main characters that is Mayarí, through whom the legacy and memory of her father, Luis de Lión, is told; and it’s her, as this history´s main character that guides, and tell us the memory of her father and his fights with her texts.” -Expressed Juanita. She spoke as well of the collective history of a country where there are many fissures because of violence, but that inside of this history, the legacy of a person with his creativity, happiness and ideas is immerse. “Of course it is a history of pain for a loss, but is the story of the transformation of this loss into a joy”. She added.
She also explained to us how the project was born. Canon selected three photographers from different parts of the world, Juanita was one of them, to collaborate in a project of their choice that would allow them to keep the development of the topics that they had been approaching through their careers. This is how Juanita´s project was born, for a month she immerse herself in the author´s mystic, and developed an intimate photographic project that approaches the different layers that envelops such a complex tragedy as it is a forced disappearance, and the repercussions that this brings to the life of the victim´s closest ones, and their main fight.
Juanita handed Canon sixty pictures that conformed her project, but she left to Mayarí, with whom she created a special bond, a file of approximately five hundred pictures. This exposition is unique in its genre, because contrary to what is accustomed in the photography world, it was not Juanita who selected the exposed pictures, or the order in which they would be placed, or the tags in the pictures. Even more, the day I went to the expo was the second time she saw the exposition. This peculiar exception has a reason to be, and it´s that the exposition was mounted by Mayarí. She selected the pictures and through a magnificent selection of her texts, and her fathers, she takes us to the visual world of Juanita.
While we walked through the gallery, Juanita and Mayarí shared with us the reason of being of each picture. Most of the pictures are portraits, of Mayarí, her mother, the children of the Art School. My favorites were the pictures in which as part of her composition Juanita included other pictures that Mayarí had, of her, her father, her parents wedding, and placed them strategically in different parts of Luis de Lion’s house, house that’s still preserved today as a museum.
Documents facsimiles that had been part of this history were included in the exposition too, like the infamous Military Journal, a list of 183 people that were disappeared between august 1983 and March 1985 by the Guatemalan armed forces. There were also some exams that were scored by Luis de Lión, who was a teacher, and the remains of a book that had been buried in the property where the writer’s home is located.
To me, this exposition represents a story with many participants. It began with a man and his letters, his principles and convictions, in a time in which being an intellectual with progressive ideals was to go against the official thought. A tragedy occurred and it´s mourned even today, by his family, old and young generations, by a nation. The daughter of this man, far from being just another victim of this universal phenomenon, undertook her own path, and kept the ideals of her father, used them alongside with the pain of loss and transformed them into fuel for her fight, like she said while she was describing the first picture on the exposition: “The story begins with the ashes, but there was always fire, and there will be fire and a hope to keep going despite the difficulties that one finds on the road…”.
A well-known photographer joined this story, she was interested in narrating it like she perceived it, and at the same time she became part of it. “It is like if a revolution made children, made woman, was taking power of the streets, and it´s giving life all the time to them. And comes into the houses, and becomes breeze, and becomes kites. Like if this was what this photographic work needed to have, this is adapted to the visual imaginary that one feels reading the work of Luis de Lión.”. Said Juanita.
But these are not the only people who are part of the story, others have been part of it, such as the 400 kids that attend each month to the communitarian library that is located in the Art School, the 700 youngsters (approximately) of the community that had been benefited with artistic formation during the 11 years that the institution had functioned, its remarked former students, its actual students and teachers who are part of Juanita´s collection, the ones who work with the children, the communities that took this project as a referent, and we who take it as inspiration while the story writes itself.
The exposition Proyecto Luis de Lión, is being presented in the Formation Centre of the Spanish Cooperation in La Antigua, since October the 1st and will be open to the public until March the 1st of next year in expositions hall number 6. The Marimba Group of the Mayarí de León Communitarian Art School will have a presentation on November the 23rd in Antigua Guatemala´s Cathedral.