Sunday, May 25, 2014

Santiago Atitlán - Casa de Maximón / Peace Park / Church Icons

(Note: the best way to view this is to read the text first, then click on the first photo for a slide show)

Maximón (pronounced maa-shee-MOHn) is a “folk saint” worshipped in various forms by Maya people of the western highlands. He was born in Santiago Atitlán. The reverence of Maximón is not approved by the Roman Catholic Church.

Wikipedia says it best: “The legend has it that one day while the village men were off working in the fields, Maximón slept with all of their wives (at once). When they returned, they became so enraged they cut off his arms and legs (this is why most effigies of Maximón are short, often without arms). Somehow he became a god following this, perhaps he was possessed by the god prior. ...

“Where Maximón is venerated, he is represented by an effigy which resides in a different house each year, being moved in a procession during Holy Week. During the rest of the year, devotees visit Maximón in his chosen residence, where his shrine is usually attended by two people from the representing Cofradia who keep the shrine in order and pass offerings from visitors to the effigy. Worshipers offer money, spirits and cigars to gain his favor in exchange for good health, good crops, marriage counseling, amongst other favors. The effigy invariably has a lit cigarette or cigar in its mouth, and in some places, it will have a hole in its mouth to allow the attendants to give it spirits to drink.


Peace Park

In the church

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Presidents and Mothers / Presidentes y madres

photo: courtesy the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala and CMI Guatemala

Yesterday, May 10, was the one-year anniversary of the historic sentence of genocide in Guatemala against Efrain Ríos Montt, president (by coup d’tat) of this country from 1982–1983. It was the first time anywhere that a government official had been tried for crimes against humanity in their own country. The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) issued a “worldwide action in commemoration” of this historic event by asking people to select a phrase or paragraph of the genocide sentence to read aloud (see below).

It was also Mother’s Day here, always on May 10, so the two events are inextricably bound forever. I think of all the mothers in Guatemala who lost loved ones or were brutally raped during the civil war, which ended in 1996 after 36 years. Over 200,000 people were killed and 50,000 displaced during that time (out of only 15 million, about the size of Tennessee); and so many problems still exist. Obviously, it wasn’t just Ríos Montt who was responsible, but the evidence against him was fierce, and the 86-year-old man was sentenced to 80 years imprisonment.

“We the Judges believe that the means of proof that we have analyzed prove that the inhabitants of Santa María Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal and San Gaspar Chajul belonged to the Ixil ethnic group, [that] they were persons dedicated to agricultural activities, and [that they] belonged to a civilian population that was attacked without offering resistance. [It] has been amply demonstrated by the historical, social and military expert opinions, as well as by the testimony of eyewitnesses, that the men, women, elderly people and children were subjected to inhuman treatment, [given that] they were removed from their houses, subjected to torture, a great number of women were raped, and the survivors were forced to flee to the mountains in order to save their lives. [This] shows that they were treated with extreme cruelty and brutal perversion. [It] has been demonstrated that the aim was to cause the disappearance of the Ixil ethnic group.”

Unfortunately,  the conviction was annulled 10 days later by the Constitutional Court (CC), based on a complaint from Ríos Montt's defense attorney.

The standing president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina (elected in 2012), was a military general in the 1980s, heavily suspected of having a hand in the disappearance or murder of civilians at that time. An article in Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) charged that Pérez Molina's government has been taking “careful and calculated” steps “to stifle dissent.” The article details attacks (sometimes fatal) on journalists, human rights defenders, dam or mining opponents, unionists, judges and prosecutors. The widely-respected Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, who successfully brought the case against Montt, has been dismissed as of the end of this month. One of the judges has also been dismissed.

According to FPIF:
Attacks on human rights defenders — a term encompassing journalists, judicial workers, unionists, indigenous leaders, and others working for basic rights — increased last year by 126%. ...
18 human rights defenders were assassinated, a 72% increase over 2012, even as the country’s general murder rate has decreased. ...
Last year the government filed 61 unsubstantiated criminal complaints against human rights defenders, holding some leaders for months on charges ranging from usurpation to terrorism. Most of those targeted were indigenous leaders defending their land from transnational companies that are erecting large-scale mining projects, plantations of sugar cane and palm oil, and hydroelectric dams without the consent of communities. ...
Journalists, too, have been sued, for charges ranging from slander and extortion to insulting the president. ...
4 journalists were assassinated in 2013. ...

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe wrote the original Mother's Day Proclamation when she was 51 years old (she also wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”). It was an appeal to womanhood to rise against war in response to the Franco-Prussian War. She was appalled by “the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest ... a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed.”
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have heart, whether our baptism be that of water or tears!

Say firmly:

'We will not have our great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.

Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limits of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consider with its objects to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
apron designs by Lisa Simms, 2014 Santiago Guatemala
designs by Lisa Simms, 2014

Please help me commemorate the brave actions of Guatemalans in bringing a war criminal to trial.

By the way, our own former president, George W. Bush, is a convicted war criminal as well. In February 2011, Bush was forced to cancel a scheduled appearance in Geneva, Switzerland “after human rights groups filed a criminal complaint charging him with violating international treaties against torture. 

Bush, along with former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and several other top Bush administration officials — were convicted of war crimes in absentia by a special war crimes tribunal in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission was convened and conducted according to internationally recognized procedures and rules of evidence, and the week-long hearing ended with the five-member panel unanimously delivering guilty verdicts.

Happy Mother's Day!

Ruiz-Goiriena, Romina. "A Year after Genocide Trial, Has Justice Been Done?" CNN. Cable News Network, 07 May 2014. Web. 11 May 2014. <>.

"Guatemala: Victims Challenge Suspension of Ríos Montt Trial." World War 4 Report, 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 May 2014. <>.

Davis, Patricia. "Guatemala: Suppressing Dissent at Home and Abroad - FPIF." Foreign Policy In Focus. N.p., 24 Apr. 2014. Web. 05 May 2014. <>.

"Bush Administration Convicted of War Crimes." Information Clearing House. N.p., 31 May 2013. Web. 11 May 2014. <>.

Ridley, Yvonne. "Bush Convicted of War Crimes in Absentia." Foreign Policy Journal. N.p., 12 May 2012. Web. 11 May 2014. <>.

Davis, Patricia. "In Guatemala, A Mass Grave for the Truth." Foreign Policy In Focus. N.p., 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 May 2014. <>.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Door / Una Puerta

My last post, "A Real Estate Show," garnered this response from a friend/colleague, and I thought it opportune to respond here.
Julie. ever since I read this blog post a couple of days ago I've been thinking about it, there's something very disturbing, trying to put my finger on it. I think it is this: the dwellings you picture are dwellings, they are homes to actual people who have joys and sorrows, sicknesses and healths, generosities and greed - they are people like the rest of us, not statistics. I know this, I was in that same area many years ago: they are real people like the rest of us. what did you hope our, the readers, response would be? you offer no entrance here... 
R, you’re not the only one who has found this post disturbing. “Depressing” is a word I heard. “Relevant” is another, putting our own [“American”] lives “into perspective.” I wanted to remove the subjective voice (just the facts, ma’am) but that’s a way of being subjective too, isn't it? There are so many stats that I’m still compiling, issues crop up like a Whac-a-Mole and I’m trying to find a way through it myself, it’s a process to be sure.

Let me ask you, would you have felt the same way had I posted luxurious houses, beautiful homes? Would you still need a way to enter?

Statistics do represent real people. I post them to communicate a different picture, an overall demographic that is useful for the reader (and me) to understand particular aspects of a country. In this case, it gives concrete numbers to the poverty, health, education, families, women, work, and the environment in Guatemala, and enables me (and the reader) to put these issues into a new context. This morning, for example, I started noticing how many kids I saw in town that weren’t in school. I hadn’t been aware of that before.

The photographs of the homes I took are in stark contrast to traditional travel photos and blogs, the impetus for which was an invitation to participate in recent exhibitions around the Lower East Side based on a 1980 event, the Real Estate Show, staged by Collaborative Projects (Colab), an artist coalition I was involved with back in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s (see below for backstory). Thanks to Lisa Kahane with the help of Coleen Fitzgibben, my work was printed and installed in absentia.

"'The Real Estate Show' What Next?" at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space. Photo: Lisa Kahane
Installation view (vertical column to the left of "Free Speech") of Real Estate Guatemala by Julie Harrison, 2014, at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space. Photo: Lisa Kahane

Numerous rounds of e-mails between former members of Colab on the subject of “Frustration with the ‘Art world’ as a means for accomplishing anything” ensued, some debating the reviews garnered (see also below for links), others festering with old wounds and bravado, seeming (to me) endemic of the insular world we occupy in NYC (and the United States).

We forget about the bigger picture sometimes, and living here in Guatemala (or traveling almost anywhere outside the United States, for that matter), helps me understand myself better. I’ve mentioned in this blog the conflicts I have with my “privilege,” whether it’s being educated, light-skinned or middle-class. As an aging hippie, I tend to romanticize the “other” in my travels, and sometimes epitomize a Third-Worldist view, much to my confusion.

When I read other “blogs” about Guatemala, they focus on monuments, history, food, entertainment, culture, recreation, beauty, people, and fun! Good restaurants, cheap or luxury hotels, the expat life! This post was meant as a reality that a lot of people who travel don’t talk about.

I’ve been reflecting on the global refugee crisis, which is probably one of the most troublesome issues to me right now, and how it relates to climate change. There are connections, for example, between the current Syrian war and the preceding years-long drought there that forced so many to become refuges before the war. I shudder to think about what will happen in my children’s lifetime as climate change prevails. But there are so many other problems these days to consider as well, and poverty is a huge one!

Now for the backstory (from the press release): Colab broke into “a vacant city-owned building at 123-125 Delancey St. on December 30,1979 and installed the Real Estate Show on New Year’s Eve, questioning city policies on housing and development. The police closed the exhibition Jan. 2, 1980. 

"Real Estate Show" flyer by Becky Howland, 1979
Scene outside the "Real Estate Show" with police guarding city workers nailing the doors shut following the eviction of the artists, 1980. "Octopus Mural" by Becky Howland. Photo: Lawrence Lehmann

"Negotiations with Colab artists and the City led to the NYC Dept. of Buildings exchanging another city-owned building at 156 Rivington St. to the artists as an alternative to 125 Delancey. Colab artists developed 156 Rivington as the ongoing arts space ABC No Rio, which is still running after 34 years. 

Exterior of ABC No Rio's "Animals Living in Cities" show with dog stencils by Anton Van Dalen,1980. Photo: Anton Van Dalen

"Meanwhile, 125 Delancey is now a vacant lot waiting to be developed by the Essex Crossing/ Seward Park Urban Renewal (SPURA), which will include a new Warhol Museum. To commemorate this affirmative history between artists, New York City and our new Mayor, there are five galleries presenting exhibitions."


"The Real Estate Show, Was Then… Is Now” exhibition of the original 1980 Real Estate Show artwork; opened Friday April 4th: 6-8 pm James Fuentes Gallery 55 Delancey St (Allen/Eldridge Sts), New York, NY 10002

Installation view, ‘The Real Estate Show Revisited’ at James Fuentes (image courtesy James Fuentes and the artists), 2014

“RESx: Real Estate Show Extended” opened Weds. April 9th, 7-10pm, ABC No Rio 156 Rivington St (Suffolk/Clinton Sts.), New York, NY 10002. Open call to artists to bring disposable real estate related art through April, including media events. Contact for dates & times:

“No City An Island” opened Thurs. April 10, 6-8 pm, The Lodge Gallery at 131 Chrystie Street between Delancey and Broome Sts. on the Lower East Side.

“The Real Estate Show, What Next: 2014” opened Weds. April 18, 5-7pm; Cuchifritos Gallery/Essex St. Market 120 Essex St. New York, NY 10002; art show and performances. Contact for event times,

"In and Around Collaborative Projects" at Spectacle Theater, 124 South 3rd St. Brooklyn, NY, 11211, real estate show related film screenings in May 2014; contact for dates/times,


"A Legendary Guerilla Exhibit, 'The Real Estate Show,’ Is Revived in a Proper Gallery" by  Daniel Maurer,

"Putting the ‘No’ in ‘Nostalgia’" by Robert C. Morgan, Hyperallergic, April 23, 2014,  

"A Legendary Guerilla Exhibit, ‘The Real Estate Show,’ Is Revived in a Proper Gallery” by Daniel Maurer, Bedford + Bowery, April 7, 2014,

“'The Real Estate Show' Slideshow and Commentary" by Whitney Kimball, Art Fag City, April 8, 2014,