“I was drowning in words.” With that, Juan Manuel Echavarría walked away from thirty years as a writer of serious fiction. Shortly after, Echavarría’s vision of his own world radically shifted. This often told story is worth repeating for, in a moment of remarkable clarity, the fledgling artist found his way.
One day while driving through Bogotá, Echavarría noticed that sidewalk sellers were displaying their wares on old battered mannequins. Busy rifling through the clothing, shoppers paid no heed. For a brief moment, the mannequins took on a different life for Echavarría. They became the raped and pillaged citizens of Colombia, the rural peasants suffering massacre after massacre, kidnapped for ransom, displaced, turned into refugees by the tens of thousands, or killed, their mutilated bodies tossed into a river or a mass grave. The damaged lives of ordinary people wrought helpless, homeless, and violent by fifty years of civil war normally went unnoticed by privileged citizens of Bogotá, buffered by wealth and security systems.
Director and Curator, North Dakota Museum of Art
Excerpt fromBocas De Ceniza (Mouths of Ash)
Bocas de Ceniza is a traveling show organized by the North Dakota Museum of Art.
JUAN MANUEL ECHAVARRĶA Bocas De Ceniza (Mouths of Ash)
A former writer, Echavarría presents several bodies of work dealing with the fifty years of civil war in Colombia through metaphorical imagery. Through video and still photography, he presents work that is beautiful on the surface and entices one to look beyond this sheen into the violence that the work represents. Each series is drawn from the history of Colombian cultural life and utilizes “the beauty of civilizations to draw the viewer into the evil that has crept in to the soul of Colombia.”
Juan Manuel Echavarría was born in Medellín, Colombia, in 1947. He resides in Bogotá. A writer before becoming an artist, he published La gran catarata in 1981 and Moros en la costa in 1991, both novels. His first solo exhibition came in 1998 at B&B International Gallery in New York City. In 2000 he showed in the Korean Kwangju Biennale. His work has been collected and shown in Cantos cuentos colombianos (two-part exhibition 2004, 2005) Daros-Latin America, Zurich.
His videos have been screened in many festivals and exhibitions throughout Colombia, Europe, and the United States including: Latinoaméamerica: Cine, video y multimedia, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. 2001; Politicas de la diferencia. Arte iberoamericano fin de siglo. Centro de Convenciones de Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil; 2001, which traveled to Malba — (Colección Costantini), Buenos Aires; European Media Art Festival EMAF, Ossnabrück, Germany, 2003); the San Francisco International Film Festival, 2004; the Toronto Latin Media Arts Festival, 2005; The 50th Flaherty Film Seminar at Vassar College; and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He was included in the Latin American Pavilion of the 2005 Venice Biennale and the North Dakota Museum of Art organized his first solo museum exhibition in the United States and included him in an international touring exhibition The Disappeared.
Weatherspoon Art Museum, Bocas de Ceniza, June 25, 2006 – September 10, 2006, Greensboro, North Carolina, http://weatherspoon.uncg.edu/