Meg Kulikowski’21
April 10, 2024

Yuyanapaq: A Photography Exhibit, an Assignment, and a Book

A decade of student and faculty work has come together into a book which documents and reflects on the human rights violations that took place in Peru between 1980 and 2000, two of the bloodiest decades in the nation’s history.

A new book of photos and essays titled Yuyanapaq Photographs: Two Decades of Peru’s Armed Conflict in Focus, published last fall by Beloit College Press, documents a photography exhibit depicting one of the country’s deadliest periods.

Edited by Pablo Toral, international relations and Latin American and Caribbean studies professor, and Wright Museum of Art Director and Art History Professor Joy Beckman, the book includes essays on the photographs written by Toral’s students over the past decade.

A search for truth

The photography exhibit “Yuyanapaq. Para Recordar” — translates to “to remember” in both Quechua, Peru’s most widespread indigenous language, and Spanish — first opened in August 2002 at the Museo de la Nación in Lima. A smaller exhibit of some of the photos toured Peru and overseas, including a stop at Beloit College, with support from the Weissberg Program in Human Rights and Social Justice. Its over 250 photographs document human rights violations that took place in Peru between 1980 and 2000, two of the bloodiest decades in the nation’s history.

A person runs with three bags of luggage through ruined buildings. The Peruvian conflict led to destruction and displacement across the country, especially in rural, Quechua-speaking regions like Ayacucho.

An estimated 70,000 Peruvians died or went missing over the period, many of them from the Quechuaspeaking Ayacucho region in the Andean highlands, which has high rates of poverty and illiteracy. Many suffered unthinkable atrocities at the hands of the military and guerilla groups, including the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), a Maoist guerilla group.

Interim Peruvian president Valentín Paniagua established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2000, ratified by President Alejandro Toledo in 2001. The TRC’s goals were to clarify and process the facts of these human rights violations, establish reparations for victims, and hold public hearings and educational programs to inform Peruvians of the commission’s findings. Photographs emerged from this process as a factual and moving form of testimony.

“The critics, especially from the far right, argued that we should not dig up such a painful past,” says Lima native Nancy Chappell, a former photojournalist and curator of the “Yuyanapaq” project. “It was also said that as Peruvians we did not want to remember. Even worse, some minimized what happened. In this difficult context, the TRC saw photography as a powerful tool not only to preserve our visual memory, but also to refresh and unify our memory as a country.”

A victim of violence rolls up a poster in the midst of rubble. Vilcashuamán, a municipality in Ayacucho, Peru, was one of many towns bombarded by the Shining Path.

The TRC’s public impact division asked photographer Mayu Mohanna to investigate photography and photojournalists’ testimonies to incorporate in its findings. Mohanna recommended creating an exhibit (which became “Yuyanapaq”), a published book of photographs, and a digital photo library, and asked Chappell to co-direct the project with her.

Chappell and Mohanna combed through thousands of images from personal collections and public archives, including human rights organizations, the press, the church, and the police. Over 19 months of research, their team of photojournalists uncovered harrowing images depicting labor camps, massacres, mass graves, and torture — human rights violations aimed at weakening the power of the people, directly targeting journalists, grassroots organizers, and indigenous groups.

A Lima protest holding the sign reading No al Terrorism. The “Yuyanapaq” project documented the atrocities inflicted on the Peruvian people during two decades of national unrest, creating photographic evidence. The sign in this Lima protest translates as “No to terrorism.”

Now, the exhibit has been recognized by the National Registry of Cultural Property and Museums for its valuable testimony. Many of its photos are labeled with information gained from testimonies and other sources. Beloit students have been fleshing out even more details, to the benefit of the TRC. When Toral sent the curators of “Yuyanapaq” copies of the new book, the college received a note back thanking students for their contributions to the TRC’s mission.

“We’re the only institution to do student research like this,” says Toral. “With the Weissberg program, the relationship between alumni, donors, students, faculty, and staff, the results in terms of learning have been absolutely world-class.”

A family connection

In 2013, the Weissberg Program in Human Rights and Social Justice — led by Beth Dougherty, a political science professor, and Betsy Brewer, international office director emerita — collaborated with Toral, Chappell, and others to bring the traveling “Yuyanapaq” exhibit to the Wright Museum. Beloit was the first institution in the state of Wisconsin to host the exhibit, and one of few colleges to do so. The exhibit coincided with the week-long visit of Weissberg Chair Diego García-Sayán, then-president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

“We wanted to explore the idea that human rights and social justice transcend borders. That’s the point of international courts,” says Toral.

“We have international boundaries, but in the end, we’re all together in this world. We all have rights that need to be respected.”

In his lecture and conversations with students, García-Sayán discussed the Inter-American Court’s ruling on universal rights that was adopted by the majority of Latin American countries.

Weissberg Chair Diego García-Sayán and Beth Dougherty Weissberg Chair Diego García-Sayán, former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, talks with Beloit students in 2013.

The Beloit connections were the result of family ties. While Toral was teaching a course in Peru prior to the “Yuyanapaq” project, he met Chappell through her cousin, Associate Professor of Spanish Oswaldo Voysest. Chappell came to Beloit and met with students to introduce the exhibit.

Toral saw a shift in how students saw the roles of museums and preserving collective memory. “Many students thought museums are where you put dead things,” says Toral. “For them to see that this conflict is an open wound, that it hasn’t healed, acknowledging that it’s there, [and] to see that museums open us up to the world and help us learn about who we are — I think that was an eye-opener.”

An optional assignment

After seeing how they engaged with the exhibit, Toral gave students in his Politics of Latin America and the Caribbean class the option to research one photograph from the collection as an assignment. The research project was so successful that he assigned it to every class he’s taught thereafter — spanning 10 years.

“All of the students who wrote essays were quite impressive, but very few of them were students who were interested in Latin American studies [initially],” he says. “They were more interested in human rights, democracy, the empowerment of disenfranchised groups, and research methods. Many of them knew [the importance] of what they were doing, but for others, it came as a surprise.”

Yuyanapac Photographs: Two Decades of Peru's Armed Conflict in Focus Book Cover Edited by Beloit faculty Pablo Toral and Joy Beckman, “Yuyanapaq” is a published book of essays written by Toral's students over the course of 10 years.Gisela Sarabia-Sandoval’22 was one of those students. She was a sophomore international relations major with a minor in Latin American and Caribbean studies when she took Toral’s class. The “Yuyanapaq” project got her even more excited to learn about human rights and transitional justice in Latin America, subjects she studies now as a dual-master’s/Ph.D. student at Florida International University. Sarabia- Sandoval heard that Toral recruited a friend and fellow IR student, María Elvira López’21, to work on a book of essays, editing them and checking references, and Toral asked if she could help.

“I really wanted to help him finish the project — I felt committed to see it through,” Sarabia-Sandoval says. “María Elvira and I both wanted to see it flourish. Last fall, when Pablo told me the book would be published in September, that made me really happy.”

Advancing reconciliation

A person stands outside of a bus on an empty road. “[Yuyanapaq] grounded students' education in the real-world cases,” says Pablo Toral. “They worked with scholars and photojournalists and courts that set a standard for the world.”

Toral was pleased to get the book of essays to print, but he was more pleased when he contacted the 16 former students whose essays are in the book and heard about the impact his assignment had made on their careers and lives.

“There are so many things that are unique about this project,” he says. “It grounded students’ education in the real-world cases. They worked with pioneering scholars and photojournalists and courts that set a standard for the world. Hundreds of millions of people now benefit from their work. By working on this assignment, they make a huge difference to advancing the goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru.

“It also showed that leadership can happen anywhere, anytime, and can help us overcome significant challenges. It shows how humble these remarkable people are, and approachable. With hard work and creativity and no money or resources, they affected change and did justice. Students learned that they, too, can be leaders and pioneers.”

Why photographs matter

Members of the National Association of Families of the Kidnapped, Detained, and Disappeared of Peru. Nancy Chappell met with the National Association of Families of the Kidnapped, Detained, and Disappeared of Peru (ANFASEP) to take this photo in 2000.

Before co-curating “Yuyanapaq,” Chappell was a longtime photojournalist, covering Peruvian President Fujimori’s campaign and the armed conflict in the Ayacucho region in the early 1990s. She saw violence and destruction firsthand, and early in her career, was unconvinced that her job would change anything.

In June 1992, the Shining Path called for a paro armado, or armed strike, threatening citizens to stay in the area or risk facing violence. Chappell was sent to photograph the central highway and watched as the Shining Path placed a red flag at the top of a hill. Chaos ensued.

“On my way back, I saw a taxi driver burnt alive by the Shining Path. It was painful. He was the age of my father. I took photos and came home shaking. I thought maybe I should go to my family somewhere else, but I couldn’t run away — my life was here. That night, I heard a big bomb and fell out of bed. I felt impacted, and like my photography wouldn’t help.”

Rattled by the violence, Chappell took a contract job for a local magazine and tried to forget. But when her friend and co-curator Mayu Mohanna reached out to ask if she might want to be involved in the project that became “Yuyanapaq,” she remembered how much she and other photojournalists risked to bring the truth to the public. She used her old contacts and experiences during the conflict to make a difference.

“Thanks to them, we have proof of what happened,” she says. “You can argue with the TRC’s stats or writing about the conflict, but with photography, no one can say it didn’t happen. I realized [‘Yuyanapaq’] does change things. No single person or thing can stop a war, but photography can make you more empathetic with the pain of those involved — gain solidarity. ‘Yuyanapaq’ tells what happened from the eyes of the victims, puts a face and names to the victims of the war.”

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