- About the ArtistJuan Manuel Echavarría
I was born in Medellín, Colombia, in 1947. Coincidence or not, my personal history runs parallel to the violence in Colombia, for, from the year of my birth, the country has never known long-lasting peace.
Writing was my first step into the field of art.
In 1981 I published La Gran Catarata, an exploration into mythology and metaphor. In love with the oral traditions of the village of Barú, on the Colombian Caribbean, in 1986 I opened La Casa Amarilla, a cultural center promoting village art and music. La Gran Catarata was followed by Moros en la Costa, based in my research in the Archives of the Indies in Seville and of my readings of the great stories of the chroniclers of the New World.
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In 1995 my creativity with the written word entered a crisis. My friends Ana Tiscornia and Liliana Porter encouraged me to replace the pen with a camera. After my first series PORTRAITS, I started using art to research violence in Colombia. Twenty years of research—a short time to explore such a deep-rooted tragedy—pushed me to leave my studio in Bogotá and wander into some of the remote areas devastated by war. These photographic journeys have allowed me to meet and listen to the stories of the campesinos who have experienced firsthand the horrors of war. By opening their homes to me, I have been able to meet their families, feel their hospitality, see their animals, and realize the state of abandonment in which they live. My foundation, "Puntos de Encuentro" (2006), grants scholarships to some survivors of the war who are determined to enter university and change their realities. Through art, the Foundation also rescued memory from oblivion by promoting painting workshops with excombatants (2007–2009). None of my projects, however, would have been possible without the support and enthusiasm of my team. Without them, nothing would exist.
Juan Manuel Echavarría
Echavarría's images in this issue are from two series, Réquiem NN (2006–2013) and Silencios (2010–present). The first is based on the bodies, and pieces of bodies, thrown into the Magdalena River, which were removed and rescued by villagers in Puerto Berrío, Antioquia, despite not knowing who they were, and transferred to a resting place in the villagers' local cemetery, bestowing them with names and flowers, while making supplications to their spirits for their own and their children's welfare. This collective ritual of resistance and adoption insured that some Colombian soul would not be forgotten or have his or her corpse disappear into the river, an act that moved Echavarría to create Réquiem NN.
The Silencios series emanated from an invitation by the community of Montes de María, Bolívar, in [End Page 123] Colombia, on the 10th anniversary of their exile from their community of Mampuján, due to the paramilitaries' encampment in the region. The rural schoolhouse no longer had a roof, the floor was covered by vegetation, but the artist's attention was drawn to eroding blackboards where vowels and calligraphy were still visible, as was one complete sentence: Lo bonito es estar vivo, "The beautiful thing is to be alive." At more than a hundred rural schools that have been abandoned due to the ongoing war, Echavarría (together with Fernando Grisalez) has photographed nearly 200 blackboards as "silent witnesses."
Nací en Medellín en 1947. Coincidencia o no, mi historia personal corre paralela a la de la violencia en Colombia, ya que desde el año de mi nacimiento el país nunca ha conocido una paz duradera.
Mis primeros pasos los doy en el terreno de la escritura.
En 1981 escribo La Gran Catarata en la que exploro la mitología y la metáfora. Apasionado con la riqueza oral del pueblo de Barú, en el Caribe colombiano, abro en 1986 la Casa Amarilla, un centro cultural que promueve el arte barulero, A La Gran Catarata le sigue en 1991 un libro de relatos, Moros en la Costa, el producto...