«Art is everything, it is the skin of culture. Every human action, all the markers of an age, including tastes and violence, are the driving forces in art.» (Miguel Ángel Rojas)
Very personal & very political
«I have not wanted to build a personal artistic identity based on stylistic models. The means for me are tools, not ends». This reads like the maxim of an inveterate conceptual artist who adapts his technical-methodological approach to the necessities dictated by the subject at hand. Miguel Ángel Rojas’s art, however, only rarely comes across as conceptual in the classic sense. In fact, it is quite the opposite: It is full of metaphor, imagery, and narrative power, always filtered through his very personal horizon of experience and thus extremely subjective. Nonetheless, it is entirely in line with the pulse of the times, as Rojas aptly interweaves his art with current social issues. As if by compulsion, he directs his gaze to social ills and expresses his artistic j’accuse—always, to be sure, in a highly elegant manner, at times elegiac and melancholic. By no means is he given to harshness.
The contents and materials of Rojas’s works are taken from life—from his life, to be precise—and from all those situations and circumstances that he intensely engages in. These include his homosexuality, and also the cultivation, trafficking, and consumption of coca, i.e., the issues of drugs and war. In recent years, he has been concerned with the exploitation of our planet and the perils to our ecosystem. In other words, personal and social threats merge and intermingle in the artist’s themes.
Miguel Ángel Rojas is also not afraid to broach taboos. This is already true for his early photographs from the 1970s, when he used a hidden camera to shoot gay cruising scenes at movie theaters in Bogotá: not only were the subjects themselves and the seedy locations of their actions—run-down movie theaters and the toilets there—absolute no-goes in the visual arts in those years; even photography itself was a long time from being considered a legitimate means of artistic expression.
Grace counters blatancy
I find Rojas’s deeply rooted humanism best expressed in his works dealing with the issue of physical injuries caused by the Colombian civil war. In the video «Caquetá» (2007), for example, a young soldier washes the camouflage paint from his innocent face—while we gradually become aware that he has lost both his hands in the war. Rojas’s photo series «El David» (2004) portrays a young soldier, naked like Michelangelo’s David in contrapposto pose—except that one leg below the knee is missing… Rarely has the cruelty of war been condensed in such a touching way as in these silent images showing the guileless pristine nature of the soldiers, all but mere boys, in their untouched, graceful maleness against the foil of death and annihilation.
Beauty against all odds
Rojas’s works appear so fresh because they are unpredictable and incalculable—simply everything is conceivable from him some day. He explores and discovers, allowing himself to be surprised by the results. In today’s art business, this is an approach that certainly has its risks—which he gladly accepts, like true artists always do. Miguel Ángel Rojas is constantly pushing frontiers, entering uncharted land, riding the crest of the times—that is what makes his art so special and lends it a youthfulness intrinsically paired with a certain imbalance.
After all, reality, whether social or personal, is not straightforward either. When I first met Miguel Ángel Rojas in 2000, Colombia was in a much wilder state than it is today. The adverse conditions in his country at that time had noticeably taken a toll on him, but throughout his life in his walk on the wild side, he knew how to extract poetry, even beauty, from adversity—not without hiding his dark sides: «An artist does not think in a straight line.» (M. A. Rojas)