LIMA – Behind the grim fatality statistics of the coronavirus pandemic are faces, and one Peruvian artist has made it his mission to memorialize the images of the dead in murals.
“Nobody dies in vain,” Daniel Manrique told EFE of the project to honor the dead in his neighborhood on the slopes of San Cristobal, the crucifix-topped mountain that is emblematic of Lima.
Peru is fifth in the world in COVID-19 cases, with 313,000, and has the tenth-largest death toll, 11,133.
Manrique, who said that at least 45 residents of his working-class community have succumbed to the coronavirus, has been making portraits of the deceased and presenting them to their loved ones.
Now, the 35-year-old artist and neighborhood activist is adorning the streets and parks of San Cristobal with murals of the departed.
“My objective is that they remain alive in memory. I think it will make us feel good to the see them when they are immortalized in a mural,” Manrique said of the initiative, which he is carrying out with the help of his wife, Carla Magan, an artist in her own right.
“They are people who have died in this space where we all co-exist,” he told EFE, brush in hand, while recreating the features of Eustacia Julca, 72, who died of COVID-19 a day after the disease claimed the life of her niece.
The smiling face of “Tachita” Julca can now be seen in an exuberantly colorful mural Manrique painted on a surface in a small park near the top of the mountain that offers a panoramic view of the capital.
“On reaching the summit here, one finds oneself at peace,” the muralist said. “I believe that this space is ideal to remember our neighbors, to sit down and perhaps even converse with them.”
Manrique, an admirer of Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla (1963-1923), completed the piece in barely three hours, with little need to consult the photo of Tachita on his cell-phone.
Like most residents of the neighborhood, Manrique saw Julca most days as she sold popcorn from a small stand on the street.
“She always smiled at me and I always had to buy something for her smile. It was the most tender,” Manrique recalled. “She was a quiet person, but always joyful with a smile.”
In light of the greater danger COVID-19 poses to the elderly, Julca should have stayed home, but she couldn’t afford not to work.
Neighbors were devastated when they viewed a video of Tachita in the throes of the illness and to make matter worse, Tachita’s family had to wait for more than a month to receive her ashes because of an administrative mix-up at the hospital.
Robert Canaquiri, the husband of one of Julca’s nieces, was moved to see Tachita’s face beaming out from the mural.
“Seeing her here gives me the sensation that she will accompany us for much longer, especially for the people of the neighborhood, who loved her very much and this way, they will be able to remember her,” Canaquiri told EFE.
“I think the entire family will come to visit her, not just to see the work of art by our friend Daniel, but also to remember her,” he said.
Not all of Manrique’s murals depict coronavirus victims.
Farther down the mountain, he has created a mural depicting Lutz Sherlock, a 20-year-old man who perished of stomach cancer during the pandemic.
Though the virus didn’t kill Sherlock, it played a role in his demise, as hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients were unable to provide him the treatment he needed.
Tachita and Lutz will soon be joined in the collection by Lizardo Jimenes, who died of coronavirus at 83 after helping care for neighbors infected with COVID-19.
The image of the octogenarian community leader is already in Manrique’s sketchbook.