In a passage of his novel Conversación en La Catedral, Mario Vargas Llosa narrates: “From the doorway of La Crónica Santiago looks at the Avenida Tacna without love: cars, uneven and faded buildings, the gaudy skeletons of posters floating in the mist, the gray midday. At what precise moment had Peru fucked itself up?”
Almost fifty years later, another Santiago travels the early hours of Lima, equipped with a photo cámera. He has no time to think that Peru is fucked up while he notices the aesthetic value of this spectral Lima that shows its streets, which belong to a thriller. At first glance his photography reminds me of Polanco’s painting, it is the portrait of a profound Lima that is charged with color. But it is also like a painting by Caravaggio, which, by way of light’s incidence, shows clear highlights on dark backgrounds. A palimpsest that, in addition, refers us to the best Andean Baroque, a complex and contradictory world, but saturated with color.
But it is also the portrait of a city that lives under the permanent atmosphere of our haze, moistened by that drizzle that will never become rain, like our streets that seem not to want to be a city, and like the buildings—always under construction—that do not want to be architecture. Meanwhile, the old structures inherited from the past resist dying and lie there, old, rickety, waiting for the next earthquake. It is the scenography installed on a territory that has to carry on its back a millenary heritage, together with the Hispanic ambition and the republican intention of being modern.
To call urban marginality to all this is, perhaps, a euphemism that is constructed from an idyllic and non-existent image. The portraits of Santiago Bustamante are Lima, the metropolis, the city of survival, of immigrants, of squat settlments and self-construction. But it is also the city of the emerging population, of the entrepreneurs, of those who have decided to become urban without completely abandoning their rural and peasant essence. It is that city fragmented in its essence, where all the faces of a multiracial and pluricultural country —which we are— coexist simultaneously, which makes us a sort of Blade Runner city, where cultures, languages, testimonies of the past, modern options, rituals and myths coexist in simultaneity, presenting an urban scene hard to understand and to order for an orthodox urbanist, but too rich as an aesthetic experience.
From the viewpoint of Santiago’s camera, the city of Lima is seen with love. At what precise moment had Peru “fucked itself up?”