Colombia’s visual discourse

July 3, 2013

It is common to hear definitions of Colombia that express the overwhelming cultural and geographic diversity, ranking second in terms of biodiversity in the world. Isolated regions have generated both unaccountable richness and diversified populations: we could say that the El Dorado legend still lives throughout the centuries in terms of natural resources. 

During the last forty years, while Colombia’s cultural diversity was growing, one of the most violent conflicts was developing. In fact many artistic forms during this period have been the result of exercises of symbolic resistance to the devastating violence. This tragic situation contrasts strongly with the rich culture. While Colombia is the country with the highest number of forced internally displaced people, it appears now to be a ‘new window’ of contemporary art in the international context. The internationalization of Colombian contemporary artists is evident in the world’s most important art events (fairs, museums, collections, biennales). At the same time the traditional arts, such as handcrafts and folkloric artistic manifestations, are also becoming more and more relevant. ‘Folklife Festival 2011: Colombia and the Smithsonian’ is a recent example of the great international exposure that the Colombian cultural scene is currently undergoing. 

This development is the result of different factors. Among others: the hope of putting an end to one of the harshest periods of the national conflict, the opening of the market and the participation in new international treaties, the depression of the art market in other contexts, the globalization of certain forms of production and economy, the exploitation of the territory and its resources (given the complexities and questions this arises), the internationalization of the conflict and the current peace dialogs with FARC – the oldest guerrilla in the world. 

Suddenly, our well developed but highly isolated artistic tissue is exposed to the speed of the current globalization and mediatization. Limited economical means have translated into highly creative manifestations that express a singular Colombian cultural poetic aspect, a particularity of our local culture. Exemplary educational development in the realm of the arts has also given Colombia a singular position in the region. 

There is a clear tendency to self-exotization that is currently debated in the local art-curatorships while the mediatization of the country image and the ‘Colombian brand’ tends to oversimplify our national identity. During the past decade it has become a political tool to unify the population, polarizing the civil society and forcing it to take a more active part in the conflict. Simultaneously, sensitive creatives and thinkers have critically revised this tendency and are producing visual observations that pose unexpected views that question our identity and society. 

Among the many recent developed images of our country, which are critically being revised? Which ones still need to be proposed? What are the local identities involved in this process and how could they open new discussions? And finally, how can the ‘Subjective Atlas of Colombia’ become a tool to analyze and give exposure to these visual debates? 

Hugo Herrera Tobón