“I felt like a black guy from New York trapped in Peru.” With these words, graffiti artist Entes opens a gathering in his Lima studio to talk about one of the issues still under construction in the Latin American country: Afro-Peruvian identity. His forthcoming manner belongs to the man behind the alias, Lima native Joan Jiménez, a person you can speak with upfront, an artist who, through each painting and mural, maintains a process of self-analysis, a search for identity as well as for a reaction from a multicultural society that doesn’t consider itself as such.
The history of African descendants in Peru and throughout Latin America, is the story of a trans-African people, the story of the lives of those who were brought from the coasts of Africa to the “New World” as slaves. They lost the vestiges of their hometowns, but not their traditions or history, nor, of course, the features and color pointing them towards the Mother Continent.
While the “black” or “mulatto” population was at one point the most representative ethnic group in Lima, after a long period of statistical silence, Afro-Peruvians today represent around 2.5 percent of the population. This may explain their invisibility on an official level, despite their cultural weight. African slaves were transported to the most important regions of the Pacific coast, Lima among them, and mainly to the Chincha or the Ica region of modern Peru. The heterogeneous characteristic of Lima and racial ambiguity in the country are ingredients which may help understand the limbo in which some Afro-Peruvians find themselves. What occurred in order for a young man like Joan Jiménez, alias Entes, to feel like someone from another country, trapped in a Peruvian reality?
Since the age of fifteen, the aerosol can has been an instrument for Entes to develop his artistic preoccupations and to create murals as answers to his identity, undeterred by his parents looking down on their son’s desire to dedicate himself to painting: “Since they didn’t much like the idea of me being a painter, I decided on a format that they wouldn’t understand and therefore wouldn’t worry about what I was doing… My parents never realized, I hid the bag of cans in the tree outside my house. All my friends knew it was there, and that whoever touched it was dead. I suffered a lot to obtain one can, so getting it was a massive effort.”