Autoretrato gloria evaporada

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Artwork title translation

Evaporated Gloria Self-Portrait

Artwork material

photographic print

Artwork dimensions

height: 70cm
width: 54 cm

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Autoretrato Gloria evaporada (Evaporated Gloria Self-portrait) belongs to a series of works Eduardo Villanes made from 1994-1995. This black and white photograph shows a male figure (Villanes) holding a cardboard box on his head obscuring his face. The box reads Gloria in a stylised typeface like that common to consumer products. Gloria is a Peruvian brand of evaporated milk sold in many Latin American countries. Villanes has altered the lettering on this particular box to read “gente evaporada” (evaporated people) instead of “leche evaporada” (evaporated milk). The photograph is murky and shows imperfections in the printing process, shadows engulf the figure and the use of flash lighting recalls police ‘mug shot’ photography. This photograph however, resists identifying its subject whose face is almost completely obscured except for tufts of hair emanating from the top of the box.

The Gloria evaporada project was Villanes’ artistic response to the Cantuta massacre in 1992 in which nine university students and their lecturer from the Universidad nacional de educación Enrique Guzmán y Valle- or La Cantuta as it is otherwise known- were kidnapped by a death squad, murdered and their burnt remains discovered in a mass grave during the dark years of the Alberto Fujimori (in office 1990-2000) regime in Peru. Following their discovery the remains of the students and their lecturer were returned to relatives in recycled boxes like the one Villanes is seen holding in this photograph. The attempt to make the university students and their lecturer disappear in this way and the manner in which their burnt remains were returned was a contemptuous act of disregard for human life and was symptomatic of the campaign of terror that the regime used to maintain control and supress opposition. The regime claimed the methods were justified because of the threat posed by the leftist insurgency groups such as the Shining Path which had declared war on the Peruvian State. Human rights abuses were committed by both the state and guerrilla groups and Peru’s indigenous population were some of the worst affected by these crimes. The Cantuta massacre along with the Barrios Altos massacre, in which 15 people were killed in 1991, formed the basis for Alberto Fujimori’s trial and 25 year sentence for human rights abuses in 2007. Fujimori served only nine years of his sentence as he was subsequently pardoned by President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on Christmas Eve 2017.

Villanes’ self-portrait explores the interstice between performance and documentation. Through the photograph, Villanes captures the moment he gesturally aligns his own body with the Cantuta dead. Villanes’ pose is reminiscent of a prisoner facing execution. The cardboard box reduces the subject to anonymity, stripping away its identity, echoing the attempt to disappear and destroy evidence of the Cantuta victim’s existence by burning their bodies. Villanes’ gesture reminds the spectator that the Gloria boxes were a vital piece of evidence in this crime. The photograph forensically recreates this crime.

The Gloria boxes have continued to be the raw material for a series of related works by the artist. Villanes used the boxes to make 400 exhibition invites to his exhibition opening 25 October 1994. For the invites he silkscreened this photograph in bold colours appropriating the blue and red Gloria brand colours onto recycled Gloria boxes. The silk-screen adopts a pop aesthetic and the bright colour scheme of Chicha posters, a Peruvian style used in poster art advertising cumbia and chicha music events. (1) ESCALA holds a contemporary reproduction of one of these invites, the originals have since been lost. The invite pulls spectators in to the artwork and the tragedy of the Catuta massacre by giving them a part of the artwork, a piece of evidence in this event. (2)

Villanes continued to highlight the case of the Cantuta massacre by expanding the arena of his work. Following amnesties given to human rights abusers by Alberto Fujimori, Villanes plastered the word “evaporados” (evaporated) constructed from silhouetted hands made from Gloria boxes on a central highway in Lima. Alongside the acquisition of Autoretrato (1993) and Invitación-objeto (2012) ESCALA also acquired a museum folio including photographs of this urban intervention. Villanes continues to use urban space intervention in many of his works and this early example both highlighted the case of Cantuta and brought the artwork to a new audiences. This approach resonates with strategies used in Argentina in the 1960s where the collective project Tucumán Arde used graffiti in public spaces to protest the dictatorship the Juan Carlos Ongania dictatorship and protested the closure of sugar refineries in the Tucumán province of Argentina. ESCALA has archival holdings related to Tucumán Arde.

On 23 June 1995 Villanes extended this body of work with a performance during a protest march. In response to amnesty laws absolving the death squads responsible for la Cantuta and Barrios Altos massacres, human rights organisations marched in Lima to demand justice and protest these impunity laws. Villanes crafted an additional fifty Gloria boxes to be worn by the marching protesters. Villanes handed out pieces of paper explaining the manner in which the police had returned the Cantuta students remains to their relatives. The text invited people to wear a similar box and march to Congress. A series of black and white photographs included in the museum folio acquired by ESCALA depict a sea of protesters wearing Gloria cardboard boxes. One image shows Villanes giving the piece of paper about the performance to an anti-riot police officer. Another image shows the discarded boxes thrown over a police barricade at the Congress building. Through this act of “restaging the return of the remains,” (3) as Villanes puts it, he used participation, protest and activism to give presence and remember the disappeared students and their lecturer in the face of state sponsored forgetting during this period.

1- Villanes desribes the influnces of Pop art and Chicha on this piece on his website, see (accessed 01.05.2018)

2- Villanes has describes his intention to give invitees an artwork and part of the exhbition on his website (accessed 01.05.2018)

3-"ón de la devolución de los restos", my translation. (accessed 01.05.2018)

Sebastian Bustamante-Brauning

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