38" x 51", oil on canvas
Antonio C. Ixtamer (painter) and Vicente Cumes Pop (theme and supervision)
On the face of it this painting looks idyllic—a few Mayan families have set up living quarters beside a gentle stream in a beautiful forest filled with exotic birds and animals. However, the title—Displaced Villagers—gives us the information necessary to complete the story. These people have been displaced from the town where they normally live. What would cause this? During the years of violence in the 1980's and early ‘90's before the peace accord was signed, Mayan people living in those areas not frequented by tourists where caught between the Guatemalan army and the guerrillas. People suspected of sympathizing with the guerrillas, whether it was true or not, were often killed by the army. As a result many people fled their homes to save their lives. Many fled across the border to Mexico; others, like the people pictured here, hid in the mountains. If they were lucky they could stay close enough to still tend some of their fields, but often the risk was too great. In spite of the political nature of this painting Ixtamer did not incur any danger painting it because any visitor would be told a title which disguised the true theme.
Vicente Cumes who gave this theme to Ixtamer was fortunate to have been performing a play in Guatemala City when the death squad came to his house. He and his brother stayed away from San Pedro until the members of the death squad had been captured and put in jail. To judge from the experience of the San Pedro and San Juan artists and their families this violence affected most Mayan families in Guatemala in some way or other.
Vicente’s wanted Ixtamer to put as many birds and animals in the painting as possible. There are a black monkey, a brown squirrel, a black squirrel, two large colorful birds, a sloth, a quetzal bird (the national bird of Guatemala), what is probably another monkey, a deer, and two turtles.
The shelters have been made of cane and palm fronds. They are eating tortillas, and some hot drink probably coffee or some sort of atol. There is not a lot to sustain them. They would have had to leave their crops and fields, although if they have not gone far they may be able to maintain them still. Many thousands of Mayans, especially those in remote areas where the army could do what they pleased without fear of discovery, fled to Mexico.