Andean Eroticism and the Ancestral Tables of Sarhua

Venuca Evanán is an artist from Lima who is revitalizing the tradition of the Tables of Sarhua, an ancient Ayacuchan artistic tradition, adapting modern materials and exploring new themes such as eroticism. Working with a collective, the artist gives visibility to the victims of government repression and promotes gender equality.

C&AL: Peru is currently going through a social and political crisis. In fact, we had to postpone our interview because of a national strike. In your work, you bring awareness to indigenous women* and their relevance in the social, cultural and political sphere. How do you weave that indigenous and feminist perspective into your creative process?

VE: This situation (Peru’s political crisis) began in December, and those of us who are children of peasants, whose identity is most deeply rooted in our communities, have been greatly affected. Personally, I was afraid; it frightened me to see the way they mistreat the population. They were killing people for merely protesting against the government. Also, the State is propagating language that refers to us as vandals and terrorists. How can I talk about feminism and empowerment if the state is terrorizing me? They (the government) say that they seek democracy, but that is totally false. You cannot impose democracy.

So, what we did was get together with friends to create the Retablos por la Memoria (Altarpieces for Memory) collective. This came about after they started killing people in Ayacucho, a district that has been historically oppressed. It was like suddenly reopening a wound that was healing. We channel that pain by supporting the protest, going out to march, and through art. We used the Huamanga altarpieces as a reference and the first one we made was to bring visibility to the victims of the government. Then more girls joined, and we made banners where the people who came out to the marches could write their denunciations and demands and have their voices heard. All the frustration and pain were channeled through the body.

Getting back to the part of your question relating to feminism, I started painting in 2018. People would refer to my father and I as the “Primitive Evanán and his daughter.” I didn’t like that. I have a name, a talent, my opinions and ideas. Little by little, I sought to be recognized for who I am and not as someone’s daughter. And that’s how I started painting, reflecting on my experiences, my environment and my own interests. It seemed unfair to me and even more so in these times that when I would read art history books, there were no women. But I could see that there were and are women creating, so I started talking to art historians and making installations. I started out with painting and experimenting with other media. I also wanted to learn how to make murals, illustrate, use textiles, and make conceptual art. Everything whirling around in me and coming out of my concerns.

*Venuca prefers to self-identify as someone from a community, since the term “indigenous” can have a discriminatory and derogatory meaning in the Peruvian context.

C&AL: You were born and raised in Lima, the city where you currently live. How has this influenced your relationship with the land and with Sarhuan culture?

VE: My parents migrated to the capital in 1957 but we always maintained a connection with the community. They created a center for teaching and disseminating 
Sarhuan art in Lima. I trained there, with my dad and mom, sitting at a small table painting and talking. I learned how to use colors, the quill and from time to time they would take me to the community. My mom had me when she was 42 and tells me that she would sit and paint while she was pregnant with me. That was when my love of Sarhuan art began. Although I grew up in the capital, my world has always been art, Sarhua tables and Sarhuan culture.

Growing up in Lima did have an influence on me, and that is precisely where my new ideas come from. For a while, I was represented by a gallery in Lima, and I started contacting other artists. I learned to see and listen to contemporary ideas that inspired me. I have gone to NGO trainings about women, empowerment, and I took a course on feminism. All of that has contributed to my thinking and who I am. It has helped me to reformulate questions without distancing myself from where I come from.

I go to the community to visit relatives and to give workshops to boys and girls. Recently, I was there for the water festival, called the Bendición del Agua (Blessing of the Water). The way the community thinks about nature is different. You feel as though you are part of the elements. Likewise, the community persists and resists through its Quechua language. They resist through their customs, their art, and through their love of the people and their customs. I feel very proud to come from that land. Also, one of my goals is to learn Quechua fluently, and I want my daughter to learn it too so that she doesn’t forget her language.

Similarly, I question why until now women have not taken on leadership roles in the community. 90% of authority figures continue to be men. I believe that to improve, men and women need to listen to one other. Everyone has their own thoughts and perspective. If we listen to each other, we can achieve a balance. Although everyone challenges me and says I can’t, eventually, I want to hold a position and live there for a year.

C&AL: What are you working on now and what are your future projects?

VE: Doors have begun opening up outside of Peru, and that makes me very happy and motivates me to be productive. Currently, I am working on an exhibition for the Instituto de Visión in Colombia. Recently, we reached an agreement to work with a gallery in Madrid called Enhorabuena. I am also going to participate in the Cuenca Biennial in Ecuador with Sandra Gamarra. And next year we will be in Chile and New York. I am happy to continue circulating my work and making it visible as a woman artist with my community’s heritage.

Lately, I’ve been painting about Andean eroticism, exploring textiles and other media. Sandra and I are going to work on democratization from the community’s point of view and on issues of women’s visibility. We have talked about how to address the issue of the political situation in Peru. For my part, I’m going to address the topic through the Sarhua Tables, and she has her own personal approach.

Venuca Evanán (Lima, 1987), is a visual artist, activist and educator. Heir to the artistic expressions of the Sarhua community, of the Ayacucho region in the south of Peru, she specializes in painting with natural earth tones and bird feathers.

Translation: Sara Hanaburgh