Arqueología del Color: Volver de la Guerra
(Archaeology of Colour: Returning from War)
Arqueología del Color: Volver de la Guerra is the first showing of a new body of work – paintings, drawings, sculptures and videos – by Colombian artist Mario Vélez, curated by Adriana Valderrama López, PhD Researcher at Ulster University.
The exhibition raises concerns about place, geography, natural materials and their relationship to the human experience of the armed conflict in Colombia, in the wake of the 2016 peace agreement. The canvases, which resemble military camouflage fabrics, suggest garments which, through use and contact with the skin, acquire a strong personal bond. Through this process a generic garment becomes unique. The camouflaged canvases mediated by Mario, are full of presence, evoking the marks of their wearer.
Colombia is a huge country which has suffered from protracted conflict that has affected the country for the last 60 years. Mario Vélez and Adriana Valderrama López’s home city of Medellin is one of the regions most disturbed by the conflict. In 1991 Medellín was the most violent city in the world with 6,809 deaths.
The violence in Medellín goes far beyond drug violence. The population has been affected by the violence of organised crime, petty crime, the actions of private justice groups and urban guerrillas and the violation of human rights by members of the state. This long and violent Colombian conflict left more than 8 million victims, fragmenting relations between individuals, communities and institutions.
Since the 1980s, a number of negotiated solutions to the conflict have been sought, the most recent being in 2016 when the Colombian government and the FARC-EP signed the Havana Peace Agreement. Despite the progress represented by the agreement, its implementation has been hampered by a polarised socio-political scene.
During 2017/2018, when Adriana was the director of Casa de la Memoria Museum, Medellín, a museum dedicated to working with personal, historical memory of the conflict in Colombia, she carried out research into the events that led Medellin to become one of the most violent
cities in the world. It was in the process of this research that she visited Mario Vélez. She was visiting the studios of various artists who were working in Medellin during these violent years. In the course of that visit she found Mario’s student sketchbooks from the 1980s. The sketchbooks, made as a collage, with no pretence at being a work of art, gave an account of life in a very volatile environment.
In these first sketchbooks Mario revised contemporary icons, reworking them with the superimposition of different processes and materials such as grids, paper, painting, erasing and cutting to create the illusion of enclosure, entrapment and mutilation. There were also symbolic geometric forms, manipulated through his creative process. The sketchbooks were basically a reflection of the violence the people lived through at that time, expressed through the sensitivity of an emerging artist.
Arqueología del Color: Volver de la Guerra, Mario Vélez’s most current art project continues to be strongly influenced by these early reflections as a student. The work appropriate the textures, colours and forms of camouflaged canvases, modified in the same way and with the same materials that the artist used in his early work, when he was working on the problem of representing violence. Using the materials that nature gives us, such as plants, bark, oil, graphite, gold, rock, water… the camouflaged canvases are transformed. The intervention and superimposition of these elements on the canvas fabric generates contact surfaces, traces and marks; marks like those left by war on the land, on the combatants and on all of Colombia as a society.
In 1993 Mario visited San Agustin, a large archaeological site located in the department of Huila in Colombia. The park contains the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in Latin America. It is believed that these sculptures were carved between AD 5 and 400. From this encounter the human body began to take centre stage in his work. Death was its nucleus; gagged heads, phallic objects, sewn mouths, body parts, spines and bones accompanied by stones, rocks and their simulations. The contact with this culture led him to creatively experiment using red and black soil obtained in these places. Pigment and painting became a central concern of his work. Mario’s art has sometimes been described as abstract, but this is an incomplete reading of the work, because behind it there is an investigation into colour. Mario focuses formally and conceptually on the soil as the raw material and representation of the land.
Speaking of the appropriateness of Fort Dunree as a location for the exhibition Adriana says “In 2020 I went one afternoon to visit Fort Dunree. I am from Colombia but currently live in Derry, I am doing my PhD in Arts and Humanities at Ulster University, and I was amazed by
the beautiful landscape, the history it surrounds and the interesting conjunction between cultural heritage, a museum, a gallery, and a memorial in the same location. Furthermore, the location of the Fort itself, on the edge of the ocean, on the periphery of Ireland and at the same time so close to the border with Northern Ireland, gives a special uniqueness to the place. It was precisely all this historical, patrimonial, and geographical significant of Fort Dunree, that I thought could be interesting in dialogue with the work of Mario Vélez”.
About the artist and the curator
Adriana Valderrama López is a Psychologist (Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana) with a Masters in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution who has worked as a full-time professor in the School of Law and Political Science at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (2011-2015) where she lectured on topics related to Conflict, Transitional Justice and Conflict and Negotiation Theory. She was a member of the Critical Studies Research Group, leading the research projects: Justice and memory: contributions from the critical theory of Walter Benjamin and Let’s Prepare for Peace. She was also a member of the Psychoanalysis, Subject and Society Research Group at University of Antioquia (2018 – 2020). Adriana is the former director (2016-2018) of Casa de la Memoria Museum in Medellín, Colombia and she is currently doing a PhD in the School of Arts and Humanities in the Heritage and Museum Studies Programme at the University of Ulster.
Mario Vélez is a visual artist with more than 25 years of experience in the professional art scene, with great international and national reputation. Solo exhibitions in New York, Miami, California, Tokyo, Rome, London, Switzerland, Panama City, Mexico City, Austria, Bogotá, among others, and participations in exhibitions and special projects in Valencia, PietraSanta, Berlin, Perugia, Los Angeles. His work is part of the public collections of the Contemporary Art Museum DAUM. Missouri, U.S.A., MoLAA Museum of Latin American Art, Los Angeles, CA. U.S.A. MAMBO Museum of Modern Art, Bogotá, Colombia. MAMM Museum of Modern Art, Medellin, Colombia. Museum of Antioquia, Medellin, Colombia. University Museum, University of Antioquia, Medellin, Colombia. Armory-Art Gallery, Elena Leech Gallery, Oregon, U.S.A. Contemporary, Perugia. Italy. U.S.A. UBS Investment Bank, Zurich, Switzerland. USA, Inter-American Development Bank. Washington D.C. U.S.A., Inter-American Development Bank. Bogotá, Colombia. Hypo Bank, Munich, Germany. U.S.A. Suramericana de Seguros, Medellín, Colombia. The Related Group, Miami, U.S.A. Bel Star S.A. Bogotá, Colombia. Bloomingdales, New York, U.S.A. Ritz Carlton, Bangalore, India. Argos Investments, Medellin, Colombia. Celsia S. A E.S.P. Medellín, Colombia. St.George’s Bank. Panama City, Panama. Odinsa, Bogotá, Colombia