Hidden Jewels of Lima: Parque de Bellas Artes, La Victoria

By Tony Darrington

This part of the Lima district of La Victoria is known for its car accessory traders. Any spare part, anything for or connected to the motor vehicle can be obtained on or near Avenida Mexico.

What you are not expecting to find are works of art.

The unpromising side street  is lined on one side by warehouses – this one contains imported agricultural vehicles and new yellow trucks ready for distribution and on the other by a plain grubby brick and concrete wall. However, someone has planted trees along the sidewalk and there appears to be an even denser cluster of trees on the other side of the wall. Towards the corner of the block there is an aperture in the wall which is decorated and protected by a figure of eight motif.

Through the opening there is a sight for sore eyes that immediately raises the spirit. What we are looking at is La Rica Vicky’s (local name for La Victoria), until now, best kept secret: the Parque de Bellas Artes.

The existence of the park is due to the extraordinary persistence and dogged courage of one man and his supporters. That man is the innovative sculptor Isidro Gutiérrez Alfaro, who almost thirty years ago came across this space, not much bigger than one acre, which at that time could more accurately be termed a rubbish dump.

Isidro cleared the land and planted trees and flowering shrubs, gradually populating the gardens with sculptures. He swore never to leave the site – not even to exhibit elsewhere – until he had achieved his objective for the area: to secure the future of what has been named the Parque de Bellas Artes.

Isidro Gutiérrez is an erudite man who has applied science, in this case kinetics, to the design of his sculptures. His great innovation has been to create sculptures in stone and wood that seem to float in space, moving gracefully, the various parts balancing each other.

Conventional still photography cannot do this justice. Great slabs of stone are perched in the air defying gravity. Head, wings, tail and claws are seemingly disarticulated, yet move in some three-dimensional synchronization.  Great sculptors bring stone to life – witness Henry Moore. Gutiérrez makes stone move. Other artists do this in metal, but it is rare to find in stone.

Children of any age will love this aspect of the park and we just hope that the natural beauty of the surroundings will somehow say “stop” to potential vandals, miscreants and thieves – so that Isidro Gutiérrez can place his kinetic art on open display.

Another sub-genre of Isidro’s work are the more than life-size, full-figure sculptures: that of Christ welcomes the visitor to the park, whilst one of creole music composer Chabuca Granda still has to be moved out of the present protecting shed into, presumably, the new museum building.

GENTRIFICATION à la VICTORIA

Suddenly we turn around and the trim figure of a horse rears up virtually vertically, obscuring our vision of a new sky-scratching block of apartments – tall enough to impose themselves on the skyline but not quite scraping the heavens. One wonders how much the location of a trendy (not yet but soon) sculpture park in front of your main window might put onto the value of your property. A few years ago this was an unrelentingly decaying industrial area with a reputation in the police force of one of the most dangerous of postings.

Who knows, we may one day be promised that the President himself will come to open the newly landscaped surfaces, the tourist café in the glorietta and a new art museum building in the south-east corner housing the most delicate of the collection. If the park is to be surrounded by other sky-scratchers, this will inevitably detract from the feeling of intimacy, seclusion, even secrecy which the park induces. Add a new urban light railway (the infamous tren eléctrico) – which is due to pass within one block of the park along the Avenida Aviación – and one is staring overdevelopment in the face.

The imminent success of the park – after years of struggle and bare survival by Isidro Gutiérrez – threatens its own unique character.

Hurry along and catch the park before it becomes enshrined in the mayor’s tourist project for La Victoria. Was this the same local council that not so long ago sent in the municipal heavies to evict the sculptor and his works of art? Or before the money-machine of the Gamarra textile merchants snaps up the undreamt-of chic converted-warehouse lofts.

The uncompleted “museum corner” is still overshadowed by ugly warehouses and some low-income apartments. There is, therefore, some way still to go before the word gentrified can even begin to be used. And somehow we hope that European-style gentrification will not take over, that is, one social class replacing another on the back of a steep appreciation in property values. Front doors get painted but traditional cultural life is sterilized.

The main point that an art-based project can be an engine for community growth has been appreciated for some time. It is good to know that it is just as applicable on Avenida Mexico as in Manhattan. Art is not a luxury but an instrument of beauty banishing the beast.

Returning to sculptures in the park, another sub-genre must be that of the Portrait in Stone. “Bring me the head of Garcia” they said in the nineties and here President Alan García has been caught in his younger days at, they say, a decisive moment in his career. The welcoming Christ is in the background. The guardian-curator and environment-protector looks on. He had unveiled the sculpture for us and provided a rare moment in time: here we can assess the stature of a silent Garcia. 

There is an Epstein-esque Inca and a concerned Cesar Vallejo – usually considered Peru’s greatest literary figure of the past.  The jury is, of course, still out on the reputation of living writers.

WHERE: Parque de las Bellas Artes, 15th block Av. Mexico, next to Calle Antonio Bazo and Ignacio Cossio. 

WHEN: Open 9am to 4pm 

HOW TO GET THERE: Proceed along the Via Expresa until you come to the exit for Avenida Mexico. Go east to the fifteenth block of Mexico and there, just opposite the entrance to the great labyrinthine garment district of Gamarra, turn right onto a little side street (Antonio Bazo) that leads to Calle Ignacio Cossio and La Victoria’s Bellas Artes park.

One important piece of advice: You may prefer to go in a secure taxi, particularly if you are new to Lima and the language. 

Postscript: We overheard one visitor complain as they walked through the entrance to the park that “I wouldn’t visit this part of Lima even if you paid me.” Not only did this not quite make sense as the visitor quite clearly was already visiting the area and was not under any particular form of duress. The same visitor on leaving the Park was full of praise for the sculptures, their setting and the beneficial effect the Parque de Bellas Artes was having on the area.

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