Colombia

War drawn by those who wage it

At first sight they seem to be children's drawings of jungles, mountains and rivers. But on closer inspection the details come into focus: people pleading for mercy before being executed, women being raped, hostages tied up, giant cemeteries...

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At first sight they seem to be children's drawings of jungles, mountains and rivers. But on closer inspection the details come into focus: people pleading for mercy before being executed, women being raped, hostages tied up, giant cemeteries...

 

Former Colombian combatants have painted some 90 canvasses as part of an exhibition called "The war we have not seen", currently on display in Bogota's Modern Art Museum. The large-format paintings were made by former members of the guerrilla, the paramilitary and the national army. The 35 men and women - who have deserted, demobilized or been wounded in combat - took up artist Juan Manuel Echavarría's invitation to capture their wartime experiences with paint and brushes.

Photo: Ernesto Monsalve Pino / Bogota Museum of Modern Art

 

 

“They could have depicted combat, drug trafficking or life in the jungle. But the main characters of these paintings are the victims, not the victimizers”

Juan Manuel Echavarría is a renowned Colombian artist. For two years he has directed the art workshops for ex-combatants that produced the paintings in the exhibition.

 

My work has always focused on the victims of our conflict and their stories. But one day, when a woman who had been kidnapped told me her custodians were 12 or 14 years old, I started thinking about those who wage the war. What would their stories be like? In Colombia we never hear the voice of the perpetrators.

 

So far, 450 men and women have taken part in the workshops. My only rule was that there would be no commanders, only low-ranking fighters. The goal is not to produce artists. We don't teach them how to draw; we only give them wooden tablets, acrylic paint and brushes. We weren't interested in providing them with therapy either, but you can see how it helps them to come to terms with their past.

 

What surprised me most was the topics they chose. They could have depicted combat, drug trafficking or life in the jungle. But the main characters of these paintings are the victims, not the victimizers. It's the ghost towns, the people forced to flee their homes, the farmers being stripped of their land, the families in mourning...

 

Their childlike style reflects their basic schooling, as most of them come from rural areas and never managed to finish even primary school. This, along with the brutality of what they're drawing, is very moving. So as not to spoil this effect, we decided not to mention the artists' names, the group they were affiliated to or specific events they were involved in.

For sure, Picasso's Guernica hasn't stopped any war. Art cannot halt war, but it does open a space for reflection."

Photo: Ernesto Monsalve Pino / Bogota Museum of Modern Art

Photo (detail): Ernesto Monsalve Pino / Bogota Museum of Modern Art

 

Photo: Ernesto Monsalve Pino / Bogota Museum of Modern Art

Photo (detail): Ernesto Monsalve Pino / Bogota Museum of Modern Art