An exhibition at Bogota‘s Museum of Modern Art will showcase the artworks of former Colombian fighters, as they use various media to express their war experiences.
“The war we have not seen: A project of historical memory” is a collection of 90 paintings of 17 male and female ex-soldiers, along with former FARC and paramilitary fighters, candidly recounting grisly horrors of war in Colombia.
The project is the brainchild of artist Juan Manuel Echavarria, who spent two years bringing the former combatants to Bogota to paint their memories, reports arts and culture site Bogota Vive In Arte.
Of a painting of a nude woman in the foreground, Echavarria says, “the woman in this picture is bound and naked because she was a guerrilla infiltrator of the paramilitaries. She spent three weeks like this and every day, this nude man here, who was the commandant, came to rape her. Afterwards he told his subordinates they could do whatever they wanted with her.”
The works are vinyl on chipboard. Several pieces of 35 x 50 cm make up each work.
In the corner of this same artwork are two naked and bloody corpses beside a paramilitary digging a hole. They belong to the woman and her partner who helped her infiltrate the group. The artist claims not to have been involved in the rape, because it wasn’t an obligation. However, it is clear that the image still haunts him.
Echavarria took on the challenge of inviting veterans to paint after working with displaced survivors and exiles.
“I wanted to see the other side, not only that of the victims but also to know what the perpetrators felt, the combatants, the kidnappers,” Echavarria said. “I believe it is important to have a memory of the Colombian war. What do we have of the war in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s? With these works we can depict the war by those who perpetrated it.”
Thus, he made available a workshop for his artists. In reality, it was simply to give them tools and to motivate them to paint. Some came once and never returned. Others kept trying to clean their minds of so much blood.
“This picture was painted by a woman,” says Echavarria. He shows a bloody drawing of a woman on a table: “That’s her. It was at the doctor’s office. She was forced to have an abortion when she was five months pregnant. The nurse protested the order at that stage of gestation, so a guerrilla killed her.The guerrillera’s partner also protested, so the commander also killed him.”
Perhaps what’s most striking is that most of the works are beautiful landscapes: the tragedy in the midst of great beauty. At the end of the day, primitivism has been a popular form of expression. The hands of those who waged war painted what they saw: Colombian villages where instead of herons, buzzards circle, announcing mass graves. Or of buses, whose passengers are removed and killed by the roadside. A child in a playground swings beside a man who lays bleeding from the head.
Almost all the artists had minimal education, some being part of armed groups from twelve years of age; one joined the guerrillas at age eight. Echavarria cautions against children seeing the exhibition but recommends it at least for high school students.
Through the support of a foundation, Echavarria wants to create a museum that chronicles this madness. He is convinced that it’s necessary. So far he numbers 400 works. To examine the 90 at the MAMBO in Bogota requires strength, but surely much less than that of the Colombians who inspired them.
“This exhibition shows what we are tired of hearing and watching in the media, who fails to show those who lived it. It’s a relief. [Not one painting] glamorizes violence. They are moving pictures, which show us truths. To me it is a statement against war,” says Echavarria.
“The war we have not seen: A project of historical memory” is curated by Uruguayan expert Ana Tiscornia, and will be open to the public from Thursday 15 October. Opening night will be at the MAMBO on Wednesday 14 October.
Admission for children is restricted to high school students and up. The exhibition will run until 16 November. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, 12 m. to 5 p.m. Calle 24 No. 6-00. Information: 286-0466, Bogota.