In the “Devil’s Nose” you can decipher Colombia

In The Divine Comedy, when Dante was in the ninth and deepest circle of hell, where the traitors to the homeland were. Suddenly, a bold movement of Virgil avoids the devil, and succeeds in sinking towards the center of the earth. The change of axis manages to take them both out and bring them to purgatory. This analogy is not far removed from the proposal that TRansHisTor(ia) proposes through the exhibition The Devil’s Nose, which occupies three floors of the Odeon´s space.

The exhibition delves into the idea of progress that tourism and mining policies have been implementing for more than 40 years, to improve the Gross Domestic Product figures.

The title of the exhibition refers to a place halfway between Bogotá and the towns: Melgar, Girardot and Peñón. Places destined in 1950 to be a focus of tourism and which, today, are full of uninhabited farms and leisure clubs. The collective of curators explains in their research that: “its legend began during the construction of the highway seventy years ago, when in the area of Boquerón the workers dynamited a large rock to project the road near the Sumapaz river bed. After several explosions, the stone resisted and left a giant, nose-shaped protuberance, prompting several witnesses to argue that the devil inhabited this area”.

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San Andres de Antonio Caro_Foto Felipe Suarez
San Andres from Antonio Caro_Foto Felipe Suarez

The exhibition delves into the idea of progress that tourism and mining policies have been implementing for more than 40 years, to improve the Gross Domestic Product figures. In this way, a selection of twelve Colombian artists question the living conditions of its inhabitants regarding the primitive idea of progress, or the affectation of mining exploitation or foreign investment for the care of biodiversity. Next, the proper names mentioned in the works allude to tourist destinations or places of natural reserves in Colombia.

Twelve Colombian artists question the living conditions of its inhabitants regarding the primitive idea of progress, or the impact of mining exploitation or foreign investment for the care of biodiversity.

The visual deception of progress

Thus begins a journey through the tourist imaginary that reviews the idea of “paradise place”, comparable to Dante’s story describing Mephistopheles whose “ugliness equals its beauty when against the Creator raised his eyes”. The artist Andrés Buitrago interprets with keenness the contrasts between the landscape visible to foreigners and people living in an “invisible landscape”. The exhibition is composed of a series of landscapes accompanied by the gaze of the inhabitants of Cartagena or Chocontá. In contrast, next to the them are the maps of San Andrés made with coins that have on one side the layout of the island, which represents the relationship of the territory with investment policies. Carried out by Antonio Caro in the late 1980s when a low-denomination coin circulated with the sketch of the island promoting an image of foreign port and trade between the Caribbean islands.

Juan David Laserna‘s “Afección Turística” (Tourist Affection) features a selection of postcards and posters that were used between the 80’s and 90’s to promote tourism. “The story of so much publicity is perhaps an endless exercise that ends in anonymity,” say the curators in their postulate. This reflection leads to another landscape, one that escapes from the edges of compact digital cameras, which point to progress and wonder.

The work of Laserna and Buitrago is joined on the same floor by the work “Libertalia” by Elkin Calderón. An aerial video of a peninsula crammed with palafitos (overwater bungalows) and bahareque huts, shows the population density of a very poor place in the middle of the maritime zone with overpopulation problems. This process of gentrification affects habitability, since they do not have the resources to maintain their lifestyle, or basic services such as drinking water or electricity.

Soplo de oro de Nadin Ospina_Foto Felipe Suarez
Soplo de oro from Nadin Ospina_Foto Felipe Suarez

It is accompanied on the third floor by the medium-length film “Se llamaría Colombia” (It would be called Colombia) by filmmaker Francisco Norden and the short film “Pa’ Colombia” by Carlos Lersundy, both shots during the 1970s. At that time the government was promoting the Law of Overpricing, which served to promote national cinema, these two projects narrate the transformation of rural life in urban areas due to the growth of commerce and the imaginary of obtaining greater job opportunities in cities. This selection is also a tribute to the history of Filmmaking in Colombia and its way to bring to the public stories about the transformation of the country.

Following the route, along the corridor overlooking the second floor there is a golden statue made by Nadín Ospina with the title “Soplo de Oro” (Golden Blow). Ospina’s work is characterized by mixing ancient techniques with modern and media images and forms. Thus, in this piece he reproduces an image designed by Theodor de Bry (1528-1598), who was never in America but was commissioned to illustrate many books about the newly discovered continent. His ignorance of the cultures that lived there led him to make figures and create situations that are far different from the real images. In this one, in particular, he recreates the preparation of a cacique (a tribal chieftain) who is been bathed in gold for a ritual and who motivated the settlers of the XVI century to invest their capital in the search of the imaginary place known as El Dorado.

A foreign country

Not only there have been deceits based in images, but there is also exhibited works that show the ambivalence of this patriotic sense through the exploitation of the earth. The work “Minería” (mining), by Caro, is composed by a Colombian flag with a strip painted in black and the word that gives it the title. The stained strip is the yellow one, which means the wealth of the country and, in his proposal, the conceptual artist highlights the mining problems that the country has as a result of mineral extraction licenses to foreign companies. Similarly, the artist Jeison Castillo presents his work “Santurbán” from the series Páramos. A challenge for problematizing a similar dilemma that San Andrés has, since Santurbán is a place that must be protected by its water wealth and the government is giving exploitation licenses to the Minesa project.

Columbia de Fernando Arias_Foto Felipe Suarez
Columbia from Fernando Arias_Foto Felipe Suarez

This is accompanied by the work of Fernando Arias, with three works: “Columbia”, an adaptation to the work of Antonio Caro “Colombia Coca-Cola” ; the name of Colombia written with the letters of Coca-Cola, but in the case of Arias replaced the O by an U, imitating the English pronunciation of people who do not know the country and pronounce it badly.

Another Arias project that took the third floor of Odeón was the work “El país de los demás” ( the other´s country): a series of velvet cords used as dividers that simulate the layout of Colombia, preventing the public from passing through a large part of the floor. Arias explains that “this work was conceived because Colombia is the country of all but one, of which we are from here, sold to foreign companies, politicians and landowners who have in their hands the majority of the national territory.

Exposición La Nariz del Diablo_Foto Felipe Suarez
Devil´s nose exhibit_Foto Felipe Suarez

For a genealogy of the visual culture

The exhibition is immersed in a concept that seems to touch sensitive fibers of the wrong policies to improve the country’s living conditions and takes them to another extreme by means of this rupture in artistic works that criticize the image as a means of political propaganda and question the false happiness of advertising. In addition, the curators took the risk of mixing 21st century conceptual art with advertising posters from the eighties and nineties, and highly fashionable storylines from the 1970s, a golden age that sought to become independent of American cinema.

The Devil’s Nose is not the first exhibition performed by the TRansHitor(ia) collective . Starting from a process that has been carried out in other exhibitions such as the one of Rojo y más rojo (Red and Redder) , about the graphic art workshop that brought together some artists to question political problems through art; Multiples y originales (multiples and originals) , a look at the Colombian visual culture of the seventies, or a work of documentation of the Regional Salons of the Central Zone, to later create a curatorial project that reinterpreted that work, this by the artists Felipe Arturo, Leila Cardenas, Nicolás Consuegra, Ximena Díaz y Monica Páez.  All in all, this exhibition is yet another chapter of that genealogy that has been reconstructing the curatorial team through its research.

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David Felipe Suárez

Periodista cultural y museólogo

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