Colombian government exploited Doris Salcedo’s art to denounce national protests





Artist Doris Salcedo has always thought of her sprawling installation Fragments (2018) as an “anti-monument”. To mark the end of 52 years of guerrilla warfare in his native Colombia, which left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, Salcedo melted 37 tons of weapons handed over by the rebels of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). ) within the framework of a peace an understanding. She summoned some of the countless women who were sexually assaulted during the conflict and together they shaped the metal into 1,300 tiles. They then placed them on the floor of a gallery amid the ruins of a colonial-style house in Bogotá. Part exhibition space, part conceptual work, Fragments remembers the nation’s massive loss while rejecting and reshaping the narratives that glorify war and guns.

Now, amid a violent state crackdown on protests across the country and an alarming death toll at the hands of police, the government is accused of exploiting the Salcedo facility in its campaign for distort recent civil unrest. This Sunday, populist conservative President Iván Duque organized a series of meetings with religious leaders and alleged victims of the conflict in the Fragments space to oppose what his administration has described as “incitement to violence, hatred, discord and destruction of society”.

In 2018, Salcedo melted 37 tons of weapons handed over by guerrilla rebels as part of a peace deal and used the metal to create tiles for the Fragments space out. (image courtesy of Doris Salcedo Studio)

The government occupation of the facility, which is operated by the Colombian Ministry of Culture, was quickly sentenced by local and foreign artists and cultural figures, including Salcedo herself, who told Hyperallergic that Fragments had been “abused, violating all international conservation and copyright standards”.

“This unwanted event took place amid a terrible civil unrest that left more than 30 citizens killed, dozens missing, hundreds injured and cases of sexual abuse,” she said. .

Salcedo noted that a series of works created by artist Francis Alÿs in Iraq, which reflect war, mourning and resilience, are currently on display in the galleries of Fragments. Neither Alÿs, the museum’s board, nor Salcedo were consulted prior to the meetings, she said. In the photographs of the presidential event, Alÿs paintings appear to be covered in white cloth.

“It is a space that was created to reflect on the bloody memory of Colombia, not for control tactics” tweeted The Mexican curator Cuauhtémoc Medina yesterday.

Over the past two weeks, thousands of Colombians have taken to the streets to protest the deepening poverty, corruption and inequality exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The state retaliated by mobilizing its highly militarized riot police force in a brutal crackdown on civilians that has been severely condemned internationally. In a candlelight ceremony last week, families of the victims mourned dozens of dead, including a 13-year-old girl; at least 87 people were reported missing.

A protester in Colombia holds a sign reading “Nos están matando”, a hashtag used on social media that translates to “they are killing us”. (photo by Philippe Agnifili via Flickr)

In the aftermath of the massacre, the usurpation by the government of Fragments the space was also considered the latest example of “artwashing” by the country’s Ministry of Culture. On May 5, the National Museum of Colombia, managed by the ministry, appealed so that the country’s museums serve as places of “social transformation based on dialogue”. The statement rejected “acts of violence” across the country, but did not mention the role of state-backed law enforcement. On his personal Instagram, Colombian Culture Minister Felipe Buitrago posted a photo of a policeman ostensibly helping a protester with the hashtag # NosEstánCuidando (“they take care of us”) – a pro-government twist on the slogan much more dark trend. among the demonstrators: # NosEstánMatando (“they are killing us”).

“The Ministry of Culture is facilitating its infrastructure to organize state repression,” said a Colombian cultural worker who spoke to Hyperallergic on condition of anonymity. “This is a clear symptom of the current political climate and also of how culture is appropriated under a fascist agenda.”

The Colombian Ministry of Culture did not respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

Critics of Duque’s decision to use the Salcedo space are dismayed at what they see as the government’s facade of peace and dialogue in the face of cruel and relentless brutality.

“What I envisioned could take place in Fragments is a difficult dialogue, which must take place during civil wars, ”she continued. “But what happened was not a real dialogue. It was theater.

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