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Colombian Art: “Useless but Powerful”

“We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.  The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.  All art is quite useless.”
-Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

When people speak about art in general, they usually refer to museums in Paris and England. Most foreigners simply don’t think about Colombian art. Probably, this happens because this country hasn’t had a widely recognized artist, at least not in painting, because Gabriel Garcia Marquez is well-known in literature and Shakira is very popular in music, although people think she’s from another country in South America. Anyway, Colombia is not a reference for visual arts and the most popular artist here, Fernando Botero, is only known in some foreign countries. So, foreigners don’t have any idea what art is like in Colombia. Maybe, they just imagine we are copying works of artists from other countries and, in that way, Colombian art is not really important.

Well, maybe they’re right, because even most Colombians don’t know about their own art. To be an artist in this country is considered a waste of time – no future, no money, no acknowledgments, nothing. When someone decides to become an artist, people tell him “Te vas a morir de hambre” or “You’re going to die of hunger,” which means, even when he hasn’t started, people are predicting that he won’t be successful. Yet, it is ironic that those same people prefer to encourage artists from other countries, such as musicians.

In recent years, most young Colombians have wanted to create art, but we are so over-exposed to information, that the majority of people are going with what is trendy. They don’t know what to choose…what’s valuable and what’s not, what’s exaggerated and what’s not, what transmits something and what’s just superficial. They’re just making art something fleeting without true importance in our lives.

In Bogotá, there are some museums in “La Candelaria” (the historical and cultural heart of the city situated in the middle of Bogotá), galleries in “Chapinero” (a neighborhood situated in the northeast of the city), and art exhibitions in other neighborhoods. Each month, you can see different art shows, and each year you can go to the Book Fair at “Corferias” (an exhibition center) where you can see many different expressions of Bogotá’s cultural life.

Bogotá is known as the “South American Athens” because Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo wrote in his book “Antología de la poesía latinoamericana” (or “Anthology of Latin American poetry”) that the literary culture of Bogotá is so important and rooted in its people that this city is destined to become the Athens of South America. Also, this city is called that because it’s full of diverse and intense cultural activities. It was declared the World Book Capital in 2007.

Nevertheless, art isn’t just the exhibitions that are in museums. On the streets, you can see many people knitting bead animals in many colors. Graffiti artists do really good murals and paintings, and my mom sews and embroiders beautiful things, such as bags and clothes. Yet, these examples of art are so commonplace that we Colombians often overlook their importance.

Maybe Colombians are afraid of understanding art, afraid of seeing a painting or other work, and maybe we don’t know what to think or feel.  Art is not like learning to add because, each time you try, you learn something new and, if you stop making art, you run the risk of forgetting everything you have learned. Ultimately, I think painting is seeing the world from another point of view. It consists of communicating something that matters to us. It doesn’t have to be pretty to everyone, but it definitely has to connect us, to make us meet at some point in our minds.

I’ve always liked drawing and painting, but I started formally in 2009, twice a week with a group of people my own age. We sometimes go to galleries and different exhibitions and, step by step, we start to see art in a different way. I left the group for a while because I started college and I didn’t have time to continue, but I’m back and working on a drawing of my uncle.

To me art is like God. It is on everyone’s mind and it can be interpreted in many different ways. It’s important to know about art even when you think you don’t like it because it is something that’s happening in the world and connecting us, as if we were a bunch of neurons that synapse to create something magical, something that changes our lives. We need to feed that cultural awareness that, no matter where you are, where you are from, what your name is or the language you speak, art makes us feel closer, proud of what we are, and powerful.

Colombians need a place in that cultural movement, and I think InterCultured is a space to let the world know that, though we are divided, we are linked and we are strengthening our global connections…as Colombians, we’re not perfect and that’s why we’re working hard to improve.