By Chandran Nair
The floor of his workshop, on the roof of his family’s house in the San Juan de Lurigancho neighborhood of the Peruvian capital, is cluttered with small wooden retablo boxes, some unpainted, others decorated with colorful flowers. The interiors of most of the boxes are filled with biblical scenes in which Jesus, Mary and Joseph are portrayed as indigenous people, and llamas replace camels.
Mabilón was born in Ayacucho, an Andean city known for its handicrafts, into a family with a long tradition of making retablos. He fled to Lima after a Maoist guerrilla group, Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, launched a brutal insurgency leading to tens of thousands of deaths in the highland region around the city in the early 1980s.
Mabilón sells his work in Peru and overseas. But the earnings from this time-consuming craft are meager, and many other retablo-makers have abandoned the craft to take up other work. Today, only around 50 families in Lima make retablos, just half of them working by hand as Mabilón does.
Lima, Peru | Photographer: Jesper Klemedsson
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