In 1989, Alfredo Marquéz used an image of Mao in an artwork. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. For every artist, the need to create and be heard is as basic as food and shelter. But what happens when you live in a country where the state clamps down on free thinkers, forcing artists to censor themselves? Four Peruvian visual artists, including Marquéz, defy this tyranny through their work and ignite change, challenging ordinary people to speak out. Spanning two decades of corrupt governments and inept leaders, this film tells the story of these inspiring artists.

...enormously timely and a must pedagogical tool for students of human rights, sociology, and the Americas.

Macarena Gómez-Barris, Assistant Professor, Sociology and American Studies and Ethnicity, USC
Synopsis: 

In 1989, Alfredo Márquez used an image of Mao in an artwork. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. For every artist, the need to create and be heard is as basic as food and shelter. But what happens when you live in a country where the state clamps down on free thinkers, forcing artists to censure themselves? Four Peruvian visual artists, including Márquez, defy this tyranny through their work and ignite change, challenging ordinary people to speak out. These struggles and commitments raise the question: Is freedom of expression a right or a privilege?

Spanning two decades of corrupt governments and inept leaders, this film tells the story of four inspiring artists: Claudio Jiménez Quispe flees his home in Ayacucho because of insurgency with the Shining Path, a Maoist rebel group. He chronicles this violence in his retablos, traditional wooden display boxes. Alfredo Márquez, active in the 1980s underground punk scene, produces bold, political images despite four years of unjust imprisonment. With the downfall of former president Alberto Fujimori, critics targeted Japanese Peruvians like Eduardo Tokeshi, yet he reaffirms his identity through a series of red and white Peruvian flags. Natalia Iguíñiz provokes the Catholic Church and the socially conservative middle class with controversial images that challenge gender and class. Each artist teaches us what it means to persevere and make art in a country like Perú.

Highlighting amazing contemporary Peruvian artwork, this film combines gritty Super 8 with raw verité footage.  It also features music by iconic Peruvian bands, Leusemia and Uchpa, and Los Angeles indie rockers, Pilar Díaz and David Green, of los abandoned.

Reviews

A must-see film for those who study the Americas--and, for those interested in expanding their Asian American politics, culture, and race and ethnic relations curricula.

Russell C. Leong, UCLA Amerasia Journal

Its acute observations about the contemporary art scene in Perú's vibrant but troubled society make it compulsory watching for all who are concerned with the intersections of art and politics.

Carolyn Dean, Professor, History of Art & Visual Culture, UCSC

A brilliant, reflexive film about the empowering potential of art, Against the Grain: An Artist's Survival Guide to Perú inspires us to bear witness, moves us to anger and tears, and possibly mobilizes us to action.

Janet Walker, Professor, Film and Media Studies, UCSB

The filmmaker's own presence as a Japanese-American woman making a documentary on these artists during the post-Fujimori years adds yet another layer of complexity, as she interacts with urban society and the ethnically and socially diverse artists she chose to present in this outstanding documentary.

Prof. Freya Schiwy, Latin American Media and Cultural Studies, UCR

While the film offers a compelling and compassionate account of several artists' lives in a troubling era of recent Peruvian history, it also raises questions that resonate far beyond that context.

Jonathan Ritter, Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology, UCR

...important for research about not just Peru and art, but also about government oppression, global human rights, ethics, censorship, women's studies, and cultural studies.

Meg Garrett, Media Studies Librarian, Honnold Library, Claremont Colleges
Director's Commentary: 

In 2001-02, I was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to begin work on a film in Perú. My original intention was to focus on the presidency of Alberto Fujimori and his usage of identity to leverage power, but by the time I arrived in Perú, he had fled the country and sought refuge in Japan. Shortly before my arrival, Fujimori's dictatorship unraveled amidst charges of corruption and fraud. Explosive protests spearheaded by artists in Lima mobilized the opposition. These public art projects inspired me to consider the role artists play in Perú and how the tumultuous history of Fujimori's government had affected their ability to survive as critics of their society.

It was from Perú that I also observed the aftermath of 9/11 in the United States. The fear, the thirst for revenge, heightened security measures and the suspension of certain civil liberties were similar to reactions that had occurred in Perú during its own civil war.  I realized that as an American, I had a lot to learn from Peruvians who had endured the violence associated with the Shining Path, a ruthless rebel group, and the government’s subsequent efforts to suppress them. In particular, I wanted to share what I had learned from Peruvian artists about the role that artists can play as social critics. I was impressed with their perseverance, passion and commitment to fight for freedom of expression. I felt resolved, as a global citizen, to share some of these lessons through my film.

On my approach:

I base my documentaries on personal testimonials to hopefully allow the individuals in the films to tell their own stories. In Against the Grain, I concentrated on their roles as artists and less on their personal lives. Because this film explores the subject of art and focuses on the role of artists in society, it could lend itself to a less formally conventional approach. Yet I ultimately chose to use interviews to structure the story because I felt this was the most effective means of making their message accessible and through which a broad audience could identify with these artists.