Review: Colombia’s recent past packs a punch
Those viewers watching the Dutch TV show ‘Wie is de Mol?’ during the past few weeks were treated to the landscape of Colombia as a beautiful backdrop to the show. But the photograph of the kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt in the exhibition Here/Now (2019) reminds us of the fact that this is also the country torn by decades of conflict between the government and the paramilitary organisations FARC and ELN, even as it was being ravaged by the violence of the cocaine mafia. This is a country where 220,000 people died violently during the past fifty years and almost six million people were driven from their homes.
Here/Now is an exhibition of current Colombian art and photo-journalism that has been compiled by the guest curator Carolina Ponce de León. The exhibition is divided between two locations in North Amsterdam, but the part exhibited on the NDSM shipyard is especially visceral.
The work by Miguel Ángel Rojas, for example, is a short film depicting a retired soldier from the Colombian army whose lower arms and hands were blown off by a landmine. In the film he uses his stumps to wash the camouflage paint off his face. You feel compelled to bear witness, but you long to turn away.
Even the entertaining, rhythmical video made by Nadia Granados, in which she shows how the drug trade has infiltrated the language (‘narco novelas, narcopolitica, narcodólares, narcomodelo’) leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But ultimately, it’s the photographs that truly bring home the horror of it all. In Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict, the photo-journalist Stephen Ferry uses his own photographs and archive images to reveal the daily anguish of the Colombian citizens. Take, for example, the grainy photograph of a doctor who feels compelled to wear a bullet-proof vest in the hospital where he works because he has received death threats for investigating the death of his father.
The penny drops
You will need to keep these images of the brutal reality in the back of your head when you proceed to the second part of the exhibition. The art works at Framer Framed in de Tolhuistuin are more subtle, less cynical, but they hit you hard all the same once you understand the context in which they were made.
Unlike the journalistic photo’s with their shocking subtitles, the art here is less confrontational to look at. Only when the penny drops does the art pack its real punch. Such is the case with Anna Marie Rueda’s photo series. In her studio she photographed riverstones with a red edge on the bottom. They appear to be still lives of stones until you realise that they come from rivers that were fought over and into which bodies disappeared.
These images go well with the series by Narcisos by Oscar Munioz, who made self portraits in charcoal powder that float on water. Should an inattentive visitor bump against the plastic basin, the portrait will disappear. In another work you can see the reflection of his face in a pool of water in his hand. The water slowly leaks through his fingers and the portrait disintegrates. It is a fragile work by an artist from a country where violence is always lurking just around the corner.
By Sophia Zürcher
Het Parool, 15 March 2019
The exhibition Here/Now is divided between two locations in North Amsterdam; on view at Beautiful Distress House until 3/4/2019 and at Framer Framed until 30/6/2019.
Colombia / Caribbean / Photography /