Sergio Zevallos and Grupo Chaclacayo

Active from 1983 to 1994, the transgressive Peruvian art collective Grupo Chaclacayo worked in media such as photography and performance to create a series of transgressive works that made use of symbols of urban decay, sexuality, and the symbols of powerful institutions such as the Catholic Church, resulting in a visually shocking and polarizing style. The group consisted of two Peruvians, Sergio Zevallos and Raul Avellaneda, and their German-born former teacher Helmut Psotta.

A photograph of the exhibit “Peru, a dream…”

Against a backdrop of armed conflict between the Peruvian government and various communist rebel groups, the group formed at the art school of Lima’s Pontifical Catholic University. After Psotta was fired for leading subversive workshops that ran counter to the conservative values of the university, the three decamped to a house on the outskirts of Peru, where they lived and worked until 1989, producing works such as the photo series Suburbios (1984) and Rosa Corbis (1986). Their work was exhibited in Peru only once, at the Lima Art Museum in 1984, under the title of “Peru, a dream…” and generated controversy.

The combination of religious iconography with queer bodies and mangled corpses sought to draw attention both to the conservatism which gripped Peru culturally and state violence, including the imprisonment and torture of civilians by the government during the war with the marxist group Shining Path.

Images from “Ambulantes”, part of the Suburbios series of photographs.

The use of physical space is especially interesting. Bodies, healthy or destroyed, are set against ruined buildings and placed in dirty rooms. An opposition is set up between the abandoned feeling locations and the carefully presented human forms. However, the bodies also carry a sense of pain or destruction that mirrors the spaces. Zevallos writes that “in the very womb that gave life to my youth, I interpreted a morbid Danse Macabre surrounded by rubble, my nude body bound by bandages personifying impotence and shamelessness in the face of abandonment, like a sensitive statue on cold stone in the middle of a storm.” (Queer, 66)

Images from “Rosa Cordis”, a collaboration between Zevallos and the artist Frido Martin.

Zevallos also made use of religious figures like Saint Rose, implementing symbols such as crucifixes and crowns of roses in collages and installations that reflected on government violence and the lack of resistance to that violence by, or even collaboration of, the Catholic Church in Peru. Among the most effective elements of the work of Grupo Chaclacayo was the linking of Christian symbols with symbols such as Nazi swastikas, suggesting a link between totalitarian regimes condemned by history and those that have survived into the present.

A self portrait by Zevallos.

The work of the group is noteworthy for its commentary on state control of bodies during a period in which warfare and the AIDS crisis resulted in unprecedented levels of attention paid by the state to queer and dissident bodies. The violent and disruptive self-presentation exhibited by Zevallos seeks to capture both the violence visited onto bodies by the state and the ways in which, nevertheless, these bodies remain unknowable.

From the “Ambulantes” series.

The group was eventually forced to move to Germany in 1989 due to lack of funds, condemnation by the Peruvian art scene and the ongoing social unrest brought about by the war. They organized a few more exhibitions and actions before disbanding in 1995.

Zevallos quotation from the DCA Queer reader. Information and most photos from e-flux.

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