Peru’s Desde Adentro
“They were encouraged to use poetry, stories, film, photographs and other art resources, to capture abstract feelings and thoughts in symbolic and imaginative ways. This opened their minds and to new possibilities for constructing their own narratives.”
In Peru’s only juvenile detention centre for young women, a filmmaking project enabled detainees to take ownership of their own stories and replace stigma with pride.
- Trauma informed
As many of the participants were victim survivors of gendered violence, the project required a trauma-informed approach to support the girls in dealing with difficult material.
- Four-stage methodology
A highly structured approach provided scaffolding to ensure the longevity of the project, even when COVID hit.
- Symbolic approach
Detainees were encouraged to use symbolism as a way to approach subjects carrying strong emotion.
When young women are being deprived of their freedom, the opportunity to create becomes an important tool for them not only to feel heard, but also to reimagine and take back control of their own stories.
The Santa Margarita Youth Center is the only youth detention center for girls in Peru. Photo credit: Desde Adentro
Desde Adentro (which means ‘From the Inside’) was a project involving girls detained at the Santa Margarita Youth Center, in the district of San Miguel, Lima, between September 2019 and January of 2021.
Participants created short films, learning the technical skills of filmmaking, but more importantly, they were guided through understanding and managing powerful, often traumatic, experiences.
They learned techniques to talk about fears, dreams, wounds and hopes in an original way, and later to share these stories. For many, this experience of personal reflection, pride and the feeling of being understood was a turning point in their lives.
Participants created short films, learning the technical skills of filmmaking. Photo credit: Desde Adentro
‘Everyone saw it’
‘When I got out, I showed the short film to my whole family. Everyone saw it. My mom was very surprised because it was something produced by me,’ said one participant. ‘My dad didn’t say anything to me at the time; he just came over and gave me a hug. And I liked that, because my dad is not too expressive. And I felt nostalgic…and I teared up a little…The short film was about him. At night, when we were all alone at home, my dad told me that he loved me.’
Desde Adentro was delivered through a step-by-step collaborative methodology to create a collective, multidirectional and explorative experience through filmmaking. It was built on the premise that creation itself is a way to experience freedom.
Santa Margarita Girls
Opened in 1997, the Santa Margarita Youth Center is the only youth detention centre for girls in Peru, with a capacity for only 90 teenagers. The facility is not well supported by the Peruvian Government and it has few resources and poor infrastructure. More importantly, it provides no support for the young women to rehabilitate, and often in fact deepens their sense of isolation and despair.
The majority of the detainees are victim-survivors of gendered violence – psychological, physical and sexual – both within their family structures and in other social spheres. It means that these are young – often racialised – women without any economic resources or emotional support detained at a badly managed detention centre. The young women experience stigma that is often sadly internalised.
Desde Adentro’s approach
The authorities of the Reclusion Center were very supportive of the initiative, recognising that it provided a safe space for the inmates to express themselves, develop tools and receive the much-needed support required for an effective reintegration to society.
The project posed questions such as:
- If the spaces I inhabit are my own body and the detention centre, what can I build from there?
- What are the limits of creation in this context?
- What can I do when intimate and personal stories arise to be shared?
- What do I do with the emotions they produce?
These questions were answered through a methodology divided into four stages.
Stage One: Expression
In the first stage, the participants were guided through different artistic dynamics with the exploration of their own body and voice as the centre points. This aimed to direct their attention towards themselves and generate personal and collective reflections.
They were encouraged to use poetry, stories, film, photographs and other art resources, to capture abstract feelings and thoughts in symbolic and imaginative ways. This opened their minds and to new possibilities for constructing their own narratives.
Participants were encouraged to use symbolism as a way to approach subjects carrying strong emotion. Photo credit: Desde Adentro
Stage Two: Production
During the second stage, the young women were divided into small groups to create five audio-visual stories, starting from the original idea and experimenting from there. They were encouraged to go back to any interesting form, word, or imagery from the previous stage.
Once a theme was defined, they wrote, thought and worked together again, this time planning a schedule and production design. They worked within the time, space and resources available to them.
Finally, the young women filmed their works and took them through post-production, resulting in five short films.
Stage Three: Documentation
One of the main concerns for the project team was the continuity of the project. They wanted to make sure its impact would not be restricted to the young women participating but expanded to youth centre managers, workers and future detainees.
In the third stage, a permanent library for the video and project documents was established with donations by filmmakers, writers and institutions.
Meanwhile, the team also carried out film forums, screenings and talks which allowed an exchange of opinions and emotions, and tackled important or controversial topics addressed in the movies.
Stage Four: Dissemination
The final presentation of the project was in March 2020 at the auditorium of the Centro Cultural de España (CCE) in Lima, with the assistance of over 70 people. The young women filmmakers were present, thanks to a special permit that allowed them to attend and celebrate their accomplishment outside the detention centre. This stage of the project was critical for the young women, since it created a safe space for recognition, positive feedback and validation.
Unfortunately, by mid-March 2020 the COVID pandemic drastically struck Peru, and public presentations originally planned for different cities around the country had to pivot.
An online platform was created to screen the short films, but also to create a sort of memoir, outlining the process and experience, which offers a detailed guide that can be used to replicate the project.
|Jana Ugaz is an artist, curator, teacher and cultural manager, with over 10 years of experience in the production and curatorship of art exhibitions, festivals, literary meetings and other cultural events, both in Peru and abroad. Trained in visual arts at PUCP, with a master’s degree in Cultural Management from the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona) and extension courses in international relations at the European Network on Cultural Management and Policy (Brussels), she has worked independently as cultural manager and producer in numerous projects with a particular focus on community, migration and feminism. She is currently the director and founder of “Maria”, a cultural project aimed to visibilize peruvian women in the art field.|
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