The interdisciplinary theatre project Desierto (Desert) under production in the city of Tacna in southern Peru in the months of November and December 2008 had a heated beginning. A social conflict between mine workers and their mining company degenerated into riots in which a number of people were killed; a state of emergency was declared and street meetings were outlawed. A difficult situation for an artistic project focused in and on use of public space.
"We watched the Tacna Prefecture being consumed by flames and were forced to flee the city centre by tear gas bombs and tanks. Although things have quieted down now, the state of emergency is still in effect and prospects for a political solution to the social conflict are non-existent. The riots made the social differences that exist in Tacna much clearer, and our ideas of the desert as an exotic living environment are much more realistic. Now we refer to it as the 'hot' desert", says Roberto Palza, the artistic director of the Peruvian theatre group DeçiertoPicante.
The Desierto project is a cooperative venture by an international group of artists led by DeçiertoPicante, with the Dutch theatre companies Theatre Embassy and Cascoland. "Naturally the political events made the project difficult from the very beginning, but the project theme also proved to be very current: the desert as a social and cultural environment and sustainable development for the future. As far as that goes, we could not have wanted a more turbulent breeding ground. That is one of the challenges of working in public space: how to respond to unexpected events and integrate them into your working process", explained Roel Schoenmakers of Cascoland.
"The first phase of the project was situated in the migrant district Baranquilla: one of the seats of fire during the riots that occurred before the state of emergency was declared. Nevertheless, we consciously chose not to close up the project. As a result, there was much interaction between the local population and our project. That confirmed our idea that we could not only respond to the current events, but also significantly intervene in the public space in a way that could touch the inhabitants of Tacna", says Schoenmakers.
Theatre Embassy is a partner of the Hivos Culture Fund.