Alessandro Cinque, Perú, un Estado Tóxico

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by Raya Editorial (no book link, publisher site here). Softcover (16.5 x 24 cm), with 23 black-and-white photographs. Includes texts by K’ana Runa, Fernando Serrano, Claudio Portugal and Adela Zhang, Ariana Kana Magaño, and the artist. Art direction and design by Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo and Sebastian Lopez Ubaque. In an edition of 500 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Peru has immense mineral resources, found mainly in its mountains, and its mining industry is considered essential to the country’s economic development. The country is the world’s second-largest producer of copper, silver, and zinc, and is Latin America’s largest producer of gold. But many Peruvian indigenous communities live near major mining projects, which pose serious health risks and destroy their vital natural resources. 

The work of Alessandro Cinque, an Italian photojournalist currently based in Peru, examines environmental and socio-political issues in Latin America, and particularly the devastating impact of mining on indigenous Quechua communities (primarily living in the Peruvian Andes) and their lands. Cinque has spent the past six years traveling around the region – a journey that has covered 20,000 km and 35 mining communities – to document the destructive impact of unrestricted mining, particularly on native populations. 

Earlier this year, Cinque published a zine about this project titled Perú, un Estado Tóxico (“Peru, A Toxic State”). The publication was primarily produced to be distributed to indigenous communities across the region, with the goals of informing them about the ongoing mining and creating a dialogue between communities in various locations that experience similar situations. 

The publication has a unique design. The cover captures a woman in a traditional outfit with a hat covering her face lying on land which appears dry and cracked by severe drought. This cover, made of a thicker cardboard paper, unfolds into a poster. One side depicts an indigenous woman in a field with a bird, a reference to the unique connections between people, land, and animals. The other side contains four images (the cover photo is one of them) including a woman lovingly bathing her teenage son who has cerebral palsy, a man standing against a wall, and a drone view of the mining town of Cerro de Pasco where residents live around a huge open-pit mine. The internal part of the zine is printed on newsprint paper, and its layout resembles that of a newspaper. The idea is to bring this information to remote places where a traditional local press is not available. Multiple fold outs open to additional layers of content, and the pages are held together by two strings in red and white, representing the colors of the Peruvian flag.

The publication opens with a simple map showing the locations Cinque has visited over the years. It unfolds to a page with an essay by the journalist and Quechua indigenous activist K’ana Runa describing the devastating impact of the mining industry on the local population. A study published by CENSOPAS in 2010 shows that almost the entire population evaluated had been exposed to at least one toxic metal. Nearby photographs shows an overturned truck in the valley as its contents spill into the environment, and in the image under it, a young woman displays her potato harvest, with the proximity of the pictures making the contamination issue clear.

A number of photographs also document renewed waves of protest. One image shows residents of Mollendo, a town in southern Peru, protesting the proposed Tia Maria open-pit mining project. It depicts armed police forces clashing with locals. In another photograph, a man shouts during a demonstration in Lima. Mining protests normally take place locally, but in this case, families from Cerro De Pasco, a city high in the Andes mountains, traveled to the capital to raise awareness of health issues caused by mining, as many of their children had been diagnosed with dangerously high levels of lead.

The zine ends with an essay by Ariana Kana Magaño, an activist and member of the municipal council of Espinar. She recalls her childhood and learning to live in harmony with nature, and being told that these were the signs of underdevelopment. She also talks about her decision to participate in local political life to demand justice for her community. The images placed next to her words depict unrests in Espinar province in 2022 and a former mining worker showing an X-ray of his lungs. Mining dust has contaminated groundwaters and soil, causing lung disease, and the zine advocates for indigenous communities having more of a say in the politics that affect their livelihoods. 

The content and design of Perú, un Estado Tóxico support its unique and unusual distribution within various villages. Its relatively inexpensive production decisions, that optimize effectiveness and clarity in the presenting of information, are aimed at reaching an audience quite different than the regular photobook community. 

Perú, un Estado Tóxico is a small, yet brilliant publication. It is a sensitive project that exposes the devastating impact of the mining industry on local communities and reminds us of the fragility of our environment. Not only does it document the problem, but it also attempts to create a dialogue between various affected communities in the hopes of making a difference. No matter how modest it may seem, Cinque delivers his message with force. It’s a well-conceived contemporary protest book.

Collector’s POV: Alessandro Cinque does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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