Retorno de los Refugiados
(Return of the Refugees)
38" x 52", oil on canvas.
Antonio C. Ixtamer (painter) and Vicente Cumes Pop (theme and supervision)
Purchased by Vicente Cumes Pop for Arte Maya
This, the fourth theme given to Ixtamer by Vicente Cumes, is Ixtamer’s first large format painting, and still one of his most important. Painted at a time when a peace accord was being negotiated and Guatemala refugees who had fled to southern Mexico to escape the violence against them were being allowed to return to Guatemala. The beauty of the painting Return of the Refugees belies genocide which caused these people to become refugees in the first place. This painting presents a positive face, showing the final of a chapter in this sad history of years of violence and a new beginning for the Mayan people.
A caravan of people on foot, burdened down with their possessions, winds through the mountains of Guatemala on the way back to the homes they left. We see thirty three people and three animals in this procession which snakes back in a reverse "s" shape, and it appears that there are more people just around the turn in the road, not visible from our vantage point. The mountains of Guatemala near the frontier with Mexico are very steep. The frontier seems natural because at the border the mountains suddenly rise up out of the high plateaus of Mexico. The valleys between the mountains seem deep partly because they are so narrow. Itamer gives us a good feel for this mountainous part of Guatemala through which the refugees would most certainly pass. To the left of the caravan there is a small stream cascading down the mountain, and a banana tree flowering next to it. The people of the procession wear the traditional dress of their home towns, tattered and torn from their struggle to survive. We can recognize the towns of the people who are in foreground of the painting—Nebaj, Todos Santos, San Martin Chile Verde, Chichicastenango, and San Antonio Palopó are the trajes I can identify. Among these I know that the violence was particularly devastating to the communities of Nebaj and Todos Santos. Partly because they were so isolated, the Guatemalan military (shamefully many of the commanding officers of the atrocities were taught in the United States at the School for the Americas) was able to do what they wanted with relative impunity.
Vicente, in response to a newspaper article which said the government only wanted them to come back by one specific route said "They are Guatemalans too, why can’t they used whatever Guatemala road they want to come back."