Lucía Ixchíu: As an Indigenous Woman, Art Has Saved My Life

Born in Totonicapán, Guatemala, Lucía Ixchíu studied architecture at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala. Her practice is cross-disciplinary, including music, dance, painting and cultural management. Her work stands out for the creation of community and communicative networks, which make visible territorial injustices and colonial continuities.

C&AL: How did you come to hold events that were more clearly political in nature?

LI: That started in 2012, when I decided to migrate to Guatemala City to study architecture and that year a community organization took to the streets to demonstrate against the rise in electricity. During that demonstration, the army killed seven people from my town, Totonicapán, and wounded more than 30. The Alaska Summit Massacre was the first peacetime massacre committed by the Guatemalan military. Sixteen days later, on October 20, the student group where I was already a member took to the streets with other people to express their rejection of the massacre and the army. The state created a criminalization case for them, in addition to that it imposed a fine on them for having demonstrated. That is when the Solidarity Festivals arise. With Carlos Cano and another colleague, Javier, we asked ourselves what we could do to give our support. So we organized a first conference in May 2013. Political art is born as a way to transform, to tell, to denounce. It is our political tool and that is why I always distance myself from art for art’s sake.

C&AL: What are the festival’s main activities?

LI: In Guatemala there is a lot going on regarding defending territory, people fighting for mother earth, for water, against extractivism. For us, the issue is to link art to journalism. What we did was go to the territory and document through social networks. That began generating communication with people in the territories, who sent us information so that we could publish it. That’s when we also began to incorporate a very strong component of graphic design. But now two out of the three of us at the festival are abroad, in exile, in Spain.

C&AL: What role does art play for you? How important is it in your personal life and in your political struggle?

LI: As an indigenous woman, art has saved my life. My voice is a fundamental part as a means of expression. Whenever I can sing, I do. Painting is a more intimate and introspective matter for me. Before I left Guatemala, painting was my therapy, what allowed me to build those other multicolored universes that are inside the painting. There is also the issue of diverse identities. All artists have to be cultural managers, because we have no other option. I believe that at a global level the work of the artist or cultural manager is a precarious job, a job that is poorly paid, unrecognized and exploited. But I do not use victimization to express myself; instead, I express myself as being free and as having the possibility of building other narratives. From there comes artistic exercise.

C&AL: Depending on the next general elections in 2023, would you return to Guatemala?

LI: The elections are very critical for the future of the country. Guatemala is now in a dictatorship; it ranks first in poverty and malnutrition in Latin America. But yes, if there are conditions to return, we will return to be able to continue with our work on the ground.

C&AL: Faced with so many obstacles, inequalities, injustices, how do you motivate yourself to continue fighting?

LI: I am part of a collective project, a very old project, so I am doing what corresponds to me and what many others have already done before. I greatly admire the grandmothers of Sepur Zarco, the indigenous women survivors of sexual violence, and I greatly admire my grandmothers and my mother. They are women who have opened their paths for us. This knowledge shelters us, that some of us have to live the night, so that others can live the day. My grandmothers had to keep their silence wo that today I can scream. 

C&AL: Could you tell me a little about the exhibition El Pasado Adelante: Muchas somos todxs (The Past Ahead: Many of Us are All)?

LI: I was invited by Gabriel Rodríguez, an architect, just like me, to do a curatorial exercise for the bicentenary of Guatemala’s independence. Our intention was to do it from another perspective, making other realities visible. For us as two people, we found it was important to break with that idea of just one curator. From that notion we built a collective text: the text of the exhibition is an interview that seeks to make these collectivities visible, and together we made a mural of Atanasio Tzul.

C&AL: What are your next projects?

LI: I am starting to put together the initial ideas of what will be an exhibition on exile and the uprooting in which I find myself, as part of a necessary exercise to break the silences that exist regarding this reality that does not end when people are forced out of our territories. It is there that it begins, from an individual and collective view of what this represents. From Festivales Solidarios (Solidarity Festivals) we are also recently setting up a school of indigenous art, music and communication called La Colmena, where we want to collectively put the knowledge that we have acquired in recent years in our work from community cultural management. We have plans to make an itinerant tour of Europe for the defense of the Territory and Mother Earth and we also want to put together a photographic exhibition of the processes that we have documented over the last ten years. We have many dreams, and we are open to those who want to support us to make them come true.

Lucía Ixchíu is a Guatemalan artist with a cross-disciplinary practice that includes music, dance, painting, and cultural management.

Hannah K. Grimmer is a doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies. She researches the relationship between visual arts, social movements, and memory activism.

Translation: Sara Hanaburgh