The 90 paintings included in this exhibition were created by men and women who participated in Colombia’s war. They belonged to paramilitary and guerrilla organizations, or to the Ejército Nacional. All 35 participants were rank and file soldiers currently demobilized either under the Ley de Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace Law), or because they deserted or were wounded in combat.
They spent two years painting their personal experiences, illustrating the rural tragedy, the plundering of land and the forced displacement; witnessing the involvement of drug traffickers, revealing the cruelty, capturing the painful repertoire of violence in Colombia, which for years has played out alongside daily life, blending in with normality.
Peace in Colombia often seems condemned to a history of defeat. The fact that the events narrated in these paintings coexist with democratic institutionality would seem to ratify the country’s process of capitulation.
In the workshops sponsored by the Fundación Puntos de Encuentro at the request of artist Juan Manuel Echavarría, 80 demobilized combatants created a total of 420 paintings. The paintings exhibited here at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, are an attempt to alter the cultural weave that has accepted the violence in Colombia as something “normal”, through an artistic proposal aimed at destabilizing the social constructs of silence, rhetoric and oblivion.
The former combatants painted voluntarily and with the understanding that their work would be displayed, in order to bring the war we have not seen closer to us and, if possible, amplify the debate surrounding it.
After viewing these paintings, it is easy to understand why these testimonies would not have been possible without the intermediation of art; the characteristics of plastic language and the use of certain tools of representation facilitated much of what is said. The remarkable thing here, in fact, is the contribution made by the absence of professional training. Random use of visual codes made it possible to symbolize what needed to be said and also what was unwillingly said. The ingenuousness of the language, the friction between form and content, far from belittling the tragedy, makes it even more apparent.
But these paintings, which deserve to be viewed from a variety of perspectives, also raise questions as to the limitations of the word when conjugating truth. We therefore built the exhibition around the absence of words, to emphasize this void, question it, and make it the subject of debate.
The book accompanying the exhibition assembles viewpoints from the fields of psychoanalysis, art history, anthropology and social geography, in an attempt to initiate a process of study and understanding of these events.
Without a doubt, the relevancy of these paintings merits their inclusion in Colombia’s historical heritage, in the socio-cultural construction of its memory. We also hope they may play a role in defeating the war.
Fundación Puntos de Encuentro (FPDE) is a non-profit organization founded in May 2006 by the artist Juan Manuel Echavarría. Its purpose is to promote, support, and generate alliances to exhibit art related projects that preserve the historical memory of war in Colombia.