Lima has faced a long struggle to address violence against women within the city. El femicido o feminicido, one of the most troubling forms of this violence, is frequently the subject of news reports on the evening television. Throughout the city, posters that declare the names of murdered women, survivors of sexual assault, and victims of the state’s inaction, are plastered on the facades of buildings and hung on lamp posts. On the streets, it isn’t uncommon to see a man hovering over his girlfriend and speaking loudly inches from her face as she cowers or averts her eyes. Although it is unfair to attribute this same level of violence to the quotidian lives of all men and women in Lima, open and unaddressed harm to women hangs heavily over many residents, as can be observed in daily conversations and nightly reports of another dead woman found in another part of the city.
This macabre scene indeed seems to be an entrenched reality for many Lima residents, and feminicidos often paint the image of anti-woman violence a crimson red. As previously mentioned, posters on the walls of buildings frequently depict bloodied figures with hands covering their mouth. In one case, a poster simply displayed the chalk outline of a woman in a black background. There were no words. In this scene are two important features of anti-woman violence in Lima. First, is the intense display of abuse, pain, and death. Second, is the position of these posters on the solid, permanent walls of buildings. Street art and graffiti depicting feminicide on the streets of Lima locate violence on the the facades of businesses, public buildings, and street-side stores. They transform neutral bricks and mortar into harbingers of assault and murder targeting women, illuminating the violence that exists entrenched within Lima’s permanent institutions. In this role, the chalk outline is particularly powerful, searching for the victimized body of the woman on the solid, ordered walls of Central Lima’s public offices.
In this scene, the permanent, sturdy buildings of downtown Lima symbolize perpetuated violence. Women’s expressed frustration at the lack of a public response to the suffering they experience repaints the city’s buildings in the sanguine colors of their participation in this anguish. State institutions such as the city police force, the municipal security, or Serenazgo, legislators, and courts have all failed to bring perpetrators of assault and murder to justice, and have frequently left women as the sole defenders of their bodies and rights. Likewise, the private sector has failed to provide women with protections in their workplace, and frequently protect abusive male managers and owners. The public and the private, both made permanent and visible through the brick, steel, and concrete materials of Lima’s downtown buildings, are additionally built upon the structures of power that violate women, and protect their abusers.
Contrasted to the “permanence” of the buildings in Lima’s historic center, are the spaces and subjects in between them. The people that pass below the towering structures in the central district are temporary compared to the lengthy stretches of time that the buildings exist, power emanating from their design and operation. As I pass underneath the “Palacio de Justicia”, Ministry of Justice and Human Rights building (depicted in “Images of Transience”), I cannot help but notice the fleeting nature of my presence. I cannot stand back and witness the entire mass of the building without needing to turn my head, or walk to another part of the street. In relation to my perspective, the Palacio extends far and wide and remains in position as I must walk around it to examine its full expanse. Additionally, its towering gray walls, reminiscent of a 1920s police “noir” film, bring to mind intense permanence and stability. Those who walk before it are only brief participants in the public order that emanates from the Palacio’s steps.
However, the impermanence of the pedestrian, the passerby, the everyday citizen, forms and reforms in ways that amass more power and presence. The “Dia de la Mujer”, an international movement for the celebration of women and solidarity in a struggle for equal rights and treatment was one such event that transformed the passing citizen into a powerful march. On March 8, 2019, I was able to participate and support the women’s march on el Dia de la Mujer, where thousands of women and men marched throughout the city, filling the roads of downtown Lima, and occupying the entirety of the city space. The color purple flooded avenues and transformed the spaces in between the massive buildings of the historic center into a solid entity.
Women chanted in unison, “tembla, tembla, tembla las machistas, todo Latin America somos las feministas”. They lifted similar banners depicting feminicides, chains, blood, and pain, while simultaneously holding hands and crossing arms. Indigenous feminist groups presented their message through traditional dances. As well, Afro–Peruanas pounded cajones as they advanced throughout the city. Both of these displays adopted an intersectional stance of inclusive solidarity, but also redirected the “transient” march into forms that exuded great energy and passion. Below the Palacio de la Justicia, the march proceeded, enveloping the imposing building in a wave of purple. For the night, the solid gray walls of the ministry seemed adrift in an ocean of the movement as if it itself could be washed away in a moment. Perhaps this is the power of a march. Although it is temporary, it is powerful. The relationship between permanence and transience in the forms of structural violence and popular response transitions from one into the other. What seems as if it could exist for thousands of years can be washed away in the passionate waves of an intentionally temporary movement. Yet, when the march disperses as well, the building still stands, as the remnants of the movement litter the streets. Potentiality. Alternatives. Futures. Perhaps this is what the march presents with so much ardor.