DJ Phatrick

Documentary of the Day: Against the Grain – An Artist’s Survival Guide in Peru (2008)

Against the Grain – An Artist’s Survival Guide in Peru Dir. by Ann Kaneko, 2008

Summary from the documentary’s website:

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.

I watched this last night and was floored by how comprehensive Ann Kaneko, a Japanese-American filmmaker, analyzed the relationship between art, protest, corrupt politics, privilege, and race in Peru. Personal to me, I was captivated by the story of Eduardo Tokeshi, a second generation Japanese Peruvian who’s issues with identity and displacement command his art. Peru is interesting because it’s the first country on the continent to have an East Asian as president, Alberto Fujimori. Kaneko covers how Fujimori’s near facscist rule affected public perception towards the general Japanese community in Peru. Basically, dude gets elected after near economic collapse in 1990 due to his “slanty eyes” which convey the model minority stereotypes of honesty, hard work, and kindness; earning him the term of endearment “El Chino,” which is equivalent in the U.S. of people calling all Asians “Chinaman.” But after 10 years of human rights violations and authoritarian rule, those same “slanty eyes” flipped to stand for “thievery, greed, and imperialism” (watch the trailer). Crazy.

2 Comments so far
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I been doing some reading lately about Japanese-Peruvians as well as Alberto Fujimori. That dude is insane. I’d love to check out this documentary! One thing I can speak to (though Ive never been to Peru) is that perceptions of Asian folks differ greatly outside of the US, depending on where you are (which Im sure you know). In Cuba (which may have been an isolated incidence) “chino” had VERY different connotations than say “chinaman,” here in the U.S. Sh8t is mad hectic over there right now after the hurricane. Tsukimi Kai is sending aid and is holding off on going there this year, but will prolly be going back in 2010. Ill keep you updated if ur still interested in going out there.

Good looks for putting me on to this film Phatty! Ima definitely try and make it to devils pie and/or libre this week if homeowrk aint too crazy.

stay righteous sun.

Comment by colinresponse

“Chino,” in regards to how supporters used it towards Alberto Fujimori, was a term of affection…however, to clarify, it’s kind of a problematic nickname, if you break it down…even if it’s used in affection. Although certain micro racial relationships and customs differ from country to country, I believe that the same colonial relationships, white/euro supremacy, and dehumanization of the “other” apply universally in our world. Calling him “Chino” is kinda like (not literally) calling Obama “Darkie.” MM, that’s a hella extreme simile, but does it kinda make sense? When popular, Fujimori benefited from being “El Chino”; Friendly, Trustworthy, Good-with-money – all “positive” stereotypes. But when unpopular, suddenly “Chino” stood for Imperialism, Thievery, and Greed…

Comment by djphatrick

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