In the sixties, the great Afro-Colombian painter Heriberto Cogollo, born in the coastal town of Cartagena and residing in Paris, was asked both by the French and by Africans “Who are you? Where are you from?” The questions confronted the artist with a feeling of abandonment towards Colombia and towards his own historical and cultural past. Later, the questions led him to vindicate the great African cultural heritage in his work.
Almost as a response to a feeling like that of Cogollo, historian Luz Adriana Maya Restrepo and artist Raúl Cristancho Álvarez organized the exhibition ¡Mandinga Sea! África en Antioquia in 2013 at the Museum of Antioquia in Medellín. According to the exhibition catalogue, the exhibition was curated as “an aesthetic and chronological journey departing from the coast of West Africa and reaching Antioquia, delineating a territorial and artistic journey from the sixteenth century to the present.”
With a selection of 537 pieces, the exhibition intended to “visualize, dignify, value and disseminate African legacies in Antioquia”, as a cultural policy against the various forms of discrimination, exclusion and segregation towards people of African descent in Colombia. Among the pieces were, for example, an installation by Fabio Melecio, drawings by Hernando Tejada, paintings by Enrique Grau, sculptures by Ana Mercedes Hoyos, watercolors by European travelers in the 19th century, textiles by the Women’s Group of the Association for the Dignified Life and Solidarity of Mampuján, engravings by Heriberto Cogollo and masks and ceremonial objects from the Bertrand collection of the National Museum of Colombia.
Within the framework of African-American studies, the focus of the curatorial research was a critical examination of the perpetuations, appropriations, mutations and exchanges of cultural heritage that Africans, enslaved by Europeans, brought over during the transatlantic trade in the region between the current republics of Senegal and Angola to New Granada (Colombia), from 1540 to 1810.