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People celebrate in Chiapas

Chiapas 1996: Los Saltimbanqui Tour

In March, 1996, Moshe Cohen, the founder of Clowns Without Borders USA, joined three Italians (Pierpaolo Di Justo, Claudio y Consuelo) on an expedition organized by two Mexican pupeteers (Los Saltimbanqui). The project was in collaboration with Centro Derechos Humanos Frey Bartolome de las Casas, and was sponsored by Payasos Sin Fronteras, the Spanish chapter of Clowns Without Borders.

The artists traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, to perform in the Zapatista aguascalientes of Oventik, La Garucha and La Realidad, as well as smaller communities, and in the campamento during the peace talks at San Andreas S’amachem de los Pobres. At these first official talks between Zapatistas and the Mexican government, security consisted of three lines of human barricades surrounding the building where the talks took place: The innermost line was formed by Red Cross volunteers; the second by Zapatista sympathizers; and the third was the military. There were two shifts of sympathisers, with the second staying in the marketplace where the clowns performed.

The artists frequently interacted with people who were unused to their style of performance, but were open to and curious about the payasos. During this time of immense change in Chiapas, Moshe experienced a conflicted role: The artists were told that their presence helped deescalate possible military aggression, yet the payasos were also responsible for bringing “new” ideas into indigenous communities.

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