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Queer Corpses: Grupo Chaclacayo and the Image of Death

To Helmut, to whose rage and love the ensuing lucubration is due.

The deeply transgressive sexual dissident work of Grupo Chaclacayo (1983–1994) has remained largely unknown until today.] about the transformations in ways of understanding and engaging in politics that took place in Latin America in the 1980s. The first phase of this project was recently presented at the exhibition “Losing the Human Form: A Seismic Image of the 1980s in Latin America” at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía Madrid (October 2012–March 2013) and Museo de Arte de Lima (November 2013–February 2014). Part of this research was conducted in collaboration with the Peruvian researcher Emilio Tarazona between 2008 and 2011. Some of these materials will be presented for the first time in Peru at the exhibition “Sergio Zevallos in the Grupo Chaclacayo, 1982–1994,” curated by Miguel A. López at the Museo de Arte de Lima in November 2013.] Narrated more like a myth or a rumor (almost no one has been able to see their actual works in almost thirty years), this collective endeavor was one of the most daring episodes of artistic experimentation and sexual-political performance to emerge in Peru during the 1980s. These experiments were carried out amidst a violent armed conflict between communist subversive groups and the Peruvian government. Grupo Chaclacayo consisted of three artists (the German Helmut Psotta and his Peruvian students Sergio Zevallos and Raul Avellaneda), who, from 1982 to early 1989, voluntarily sequestered themselves in a house on the outskirts of Lima. In 1989 they were forced to move to Germany by the lack of economic resources in Peru and by the social and political hostility resulting from a war that would leave a death toll of seventy thousand people in nearly two decades (1980–2000). After arriving in Germany a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Grupo Chaclacayo organized an exhibition summing up their work in Peru and including new installations and performances. The exhibition was entitled “Todesbilder. Peru oder Das Ende des europäischen Traums” [Images of Death: Peru or the End of the European Dream] and was shown in cities such as Stuttgart, Bochum, Karlsruhe, and Berlin, among others. The group disbanded around 1995. The works and materials they produced never returned to Peru.

The group’s extensive work is an explosive reworking of the surplus materials of urban modernity (such as city waste and detritus), merging representations of mystical pain and religious martyrdom with thousands of images of tortured and mangled bodies. The terror, incomprehension, and fascination their experiments provoked was the result of the darkness of their work: cheap, anti-glamorous stagings that alluded to ideological dogmatism and sickness; homoerotic representations between abjection and necrophilia; transvestite recodings of mystical pain; the use of coffins and bodily remains, excretions, and fluids; and references to fetuses, corpses, and mutilated and crippled bodies. Far from being an orthodox claim to a homosexual sensibility, their work was an experiment in the production of abnormal and deviant subjectivities that undid gender and social identities, using a sadomasochistic and ritual vocabulary to exorcise the oppressive effects of ideology, religion, and the legacy of colonialism.

It is no coincidence that the emergence of Grupo Chaclacayo paralleled the appearance of an unprecedented countercultural and alternative cultural scene in Lima between 1982 and the early 1990s, known as the “subte” [underground] movement. These disruptive practices took the form of collective experiences at the intersection of rock and punk, ephemeral and precarious self-constructed architecture, DIY fanzines, anarchist movements, junk aesthetics, scum poetry, and shock theatre. A characteristic of these new radical groupings was the refusal to be silent in the face of the torture and disappearances that were part of the “dirty war” that the Peruvian state conducted against many sectors of the civil population as a response to subversive activities and attacks by Shining Path. Rock groups such as Leuzemia [a changed spelling of “Leukemia”], Narcosis, Zcuela Cerrada [a changed spelling of “Closed School”], Guerrilla Urbana [Urban Guerilla] and Autopsia [Autopsy], as well as album covers, agit-prop flyers, and collages produced by artists such as Herbert Rodríguez, Jaime Higa, and Taller NN, testify to the willingness of anarcho-punk artists to confront the dire situation in Peru.

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