LIMA, Peru (AP) – Using a pencil and notebook, artist Edilberto Jiménez walks the streets of Lima and cities in the Andes, collecting stories and pictures about the coronavirus health crisis that has devastated Peru.
Later, in his workshop, he completes the scenes while reading the newspapers or watching TV news about the pandemic that killed tens of thousands in his South American homeland.
“It’s like a war with an invisible enemy,” Jiménez says of COVID-19.
“Every drawing tells a story that has influenced me,” says the artist, who drew 750 sketches and selected 100 of them for a book entitled “New Coronavirus and Good Government”.
Its title plays that of another book – “New Chronicle and Good Government”, a work by Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala from 1615, which contains 400 drawings and 1,200 pages and tells of the suffering of indigenous peoples by the Spaniards.
The 56-year-old artist published another book in 2005 with drawings and testimonies of survivors of the internal war between Shining Path rebels and Peruvian security forces in Oreja de Perro, an area in Ayacucho province at the center of a conflict that was almost killed 70,000 people.
“There are similarities between the armed conflict and this pandemic,” says Jiménez, who lived in Ayacucho between 1980 and 2000.
The first drawing in his latest book shows the reaction of members of a Peruvian working class family who stare in shock at the television during the announcement of the start of the state of emergency and mandatory lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The shutdown took 106 days.
Jiménez found scenes near his home. One morning when he came back from the market, he saw an old man fall to the ground and never get up. People walked away from the man saying he was infected.
“Only stray dogs and a few pigeons came near him,” recalls the artist.
Jiménez, who is also an anthropologist, says when he saw the man lying on the ground and the fearful witnesses, it reminded him of what he saw almost four decades ago when a man fell on the streets of Ayacucho during political violence.
His drawing of the pandemic scene shows the man who collapsed on the floor surrounded by hundreds of dead trying to take him away while two barking stray dogs try to defend him.
Other drawings show people dying in front of a hospital door, the police chasing street vendors away with sticks, the unemployed or a family who sees their father dying of a lack of oxygen.
He said he also collected stories by watching TV or reading the news, including an Associated Press story from Lima dated May 20, 2020 about dead bodies and a gardener who hanged himself after learning he was with infected with the virus.
Jiménez’s characters depict “the cruel injustice of Peruvian life,” says Víctor Vich, professor of cultural studies at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, who wrote the prologue for the artist’s book.
The pandemic has resulted in Peru’s intensive care units almost collapsing and the exact death toll from the coronavirus is still being debated. As of Monday, the number of confirmed deaths was 66,770, while the number of suspected COVID-19 deaths was 173,374, according to official figures.
Jiménez says he saw two types of pandemics in Peru: one for the poor and one for those with money. “We live in complete inequality.”
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