Latinamerican Art

Fernando Arias and José Alejandro Restrepo 

Fernando Arias (born in 1963 in Armenia, Colombia, lives and works in Colombia)

The many different themes that Fernando Arias turned to over his artistic lifetime read like a roster of today’s most topical hashtags: gender, race, class, religion, LGBTQ+, nature, environment, minorities, equality, society, politics—with the only difference being that Fernando Arias dealt with all these issues long before they were en vogue.

Arts and viruses

For a long time, it was a no go to mention art and socio-political activism in the same breath. Ever since the beginning of his career as an artist, Fernando Arias has always sought to intermingle these two areas, as it has meanwhile become so common. Among the many topics for his enormously diverse range of installations and performances, he also drew from his personal life experience as a natural source. It was thus only logical that he also involved and aesthetically interwove his own body as an artistic medium in his art production. Accordingly, HIV became one of his most important themes—long before Covid and absolutely lethal at that time. But then again HIV affected «merely» fringe groups such as gays and drug addicts who were not exactly at the top of the popularity scale, so their downsizing process was not really considered a significant loss…

Lego Coffin (Homage to the Children of the Drug War), 2000, Lego and plywood, 28,5 x 190,5 x 70 cm, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich, Photography: Sérgio Araújo, Rio de Janeiro

Death is by no means an unknown quantity in Colombia, with its never-ending state of quasi civil war, and Fernando Arias has repeatedly addressed this theme in his artworks, such as in his iconographic «Lego Coffin (Homage to the Children of the Drug War)» from 2000. A coffin built with Lego bricks in the Colombian national colors transforms the childhood dream of Lego into a symbol of death: the top of the coffin is adorned not with a cross but with a white line of cocaine…

War and market

Again and again, Fernando Arias reflected his role as a Colombian in the global art market. Take for instance his delightfully sarcastic «Quien da mas? (Do We Have Another Bidder?),» from 1997. Arias puts his naked loin on display, complete with a tattoo of his artist’s signature—literally putting himself up for sale to the highest bidder!

Quien da más?, 1997, Photography, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

Intensely impressive and scarcely surpassable are his representationally simple yet contentually highly complex works, such as his 2008 video «Humanos Derechos». The work shows four protagonists who have participated in the armed conflicts in Colombia for many years: a paramilitarist, a soldier, a guerrilla, and a campesino. They slowly take off their clothes and uniforms until they are stark naked and stripped of their former functions, finally standing before us as purely human and utterly vulnerable beings.

«Más Arte Más Acción» is a platform for interdisciplinary artistic projects created by Fernando Arias and Jonathan Colin in Colombia in 2008. A space to think that has enabled artists, scientists, activists and writers to reflect on the construction of a better world:

José Alejandro Restrepo (born in 1959 in Bogotá, Colombia, lives and works in Bogotá)

«I’m fascinated by research from an artistic perspective for its creative possibilities of encounters between disciplines, such as anthropology, history, economy, and politics. I want to break the historical continuum and explore an eternal present, where everything’s here and now and totally interconnected.»

The scientist in the artist

José Alejandro Restrepo conducted thorough research in the manner of an anthropologist of the history of Colombia over many years, and he also did so far earlier than it became an established artistic approach. Thus, many of his works (mostly of an installation-based nature) can be read as interpretations or critical commentaries on Colombian cultural history that have percolated through the scrupulous and precise filter of an intelligent scientist prior to their transposition into the world of art. In his works, Restrepo carefully and with great sensitivity and seriousness approaches the infinite inventory of Colombian religious and social history, as well as the countless myths and mights that have permeated this land of magical realism.

Delusive paradise

One of his masterpieces is certainly «Musa paradisiaca» from 1996, a complex work that addresses the everlasting exploitation of Colombia in a both sublimely poetical and palpable manner: 

Musa paradisiaca, 1996, Installation, Variable dimensions, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich, Photography: Sérgio Araújo, Rio de Janeiro

José Alejandro Restrepo has a large number of lusciously swelling banana plants bursting with fertility suspended from the ceiling. But the expectations of finding the paradisiacal state («Musa paradisiaca» is Latin for banana) of a garden of Eden in the natural splendor and diversity of Colombia come up hard against social reality. The supposedly pure and pristine nature enters into a grotesque synthesis with our technology in this installation: cables snake around the bananas and end in gutted little monitors just above the ground; TV reports of recurring massacres of banana plantation workers flicker over the screens proclaiming exploitation, oppression, violence, and human suffering, thereby contesting the plump vegetal luxury of the bananas. But over time, the bananas noticeably ripen, begin to rot and ferment, slowly creating an olfactory sensory gesamtkunstwerk that passes through the processes of rot to complete dehydration and dryness, until the bananas seem just as dead and cannibalized as the small television monitors that mercilessly reel off their gruesome narrative.

Musa paradisiaca, 1996, Installation, Variable dimensions, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich, Photography: Sérgio Araújo, Rio de Janeiro

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