A “Road to the Sea” in Cali and Buenaventura

Memory and Amnesia in the Colombian Pacific

The Goethe-Institut and Museo La Tertulia organized the event “Carretera al mar” (Road to the sea) in August 2018, bringing together artistic experiences and practices in Buenaventura and Cali (Colombia). The project fostered dialogues between art, memory, political action and the defense of the territory of Afro-Colombian peoples. Felipe Sánchez Villareal attended the event for Contemporary And (C&) América Latina.

From the image of the road, along which the intricate relationship between the port and the interior is spun, artistic experiences and practices were articulated with the aim – in the words of project director Úrsula Mendoza – to “question the hegemonic ways of narrating a common experience”. In addition, through the question of how artistic practices can animate political and territorial processes, during Carretera al Mar a “symbolic journey” took place, where artists, social leaders and researchers participated to reflect on the elaboration of the past and the ways of acting in the present hand of the black communities of the Pacific.

The conversations and artistic events were articulated as a vehicle for questioning the dreams of progress and industrialization processes in the region, as well as racial and territorial violence. The route began in the sector of Zaragoza (jurisdiction of Buenaventura), with Tram/Trace. 500 meters of abundance and resistance, by artist Fabio Melecio Palacios. Working together with residents from the area, Melecio Palacios recovered a secluded section of the railways that formerly served as a commercial artery between Cali and the port of Buenaventura. With the re-appropriation of the “brujitas”, artisanal wooden containers in which the inhabitants of the area are mobilized, the artist assembled a space for mobile reflection on the ways in which the inhabitants of the area subversively reinterpret institutional abandonment.

The Bogotá artist Liliana Angulo presented some results of her work. For two years, she worked with data recovery with groups from La Cima and Isla de la Paz in Buenaventura, departing from the memory of community leader Temístocles Machado (Don Temis) and his struggle to defend the territory. He was murdered in January 2018. From that process of documentary recovery, the artist questioned how territories have been stripped of the original settlers in the name of industrial progress. “Our work revolves around the voice of Don Temis: his intention that the archive be a tool for the defense of the community against the usurpers of the land,” says Angulo. Her research was articulated along with artist Óscar Moreno and his project “Radio Conversa”, for which he had recorded an interview with Machado before his assassination. “After the murder, the recording of that interview became an essential source; with his voice and his archive, we wanted to vindicate his work to justify the attachment to the territory community’s ownership of the land”.

For five days, the Carretera fostered dialogues between art, memory, political action and, the defense of the territory of Afro-Colombian communities. The collective CaldodeCultivo transformed an important coliseum in Cali into “a stage to train the struggles of the people”. The training crossed samples from disciplines such as taekwondo, parkour, hip- hop and boxing as well as encounters with the Cimarrona Guard of the North of Cauca, the Indigenous Guard of the Delfina (Buenaventura), and, finally, thinkers from the Afro diaspora and human rights defenders. The Argentinian collective Etcetera brought people to the streets for a carnival march “against neo-extractivism” which concluded in a meeting with indigenous and Afro activists protesting in the center of Cali. “Our black bodies have had to live the violence and looting that have come with from the idea of the so-called ​​progress,” said the Cauca environmental leader Francia Márquez during her conversation with the radio collective Noís Radio, as part of the closing ceremony of Carretera and continued: “But the river taught us to speak hard, to fight for what we believe in.”

Other Afro-Colombian leaders accompanied the project, among them singer Nidia Góngora, the poet Mary Grueso, teacher and rapper Rhonal “El Teacher” Valencia and, researcher Aurora Vergara. The group of international guests included Argentine film director Lucrecia Martel and her master class on cinema and memory; Mexican writer Mario Bellatin with a performance reinterpretation of his novel Salon de belleza (Beauty Parlour), and Berlin intellectual and playwright Hannah Hurtzig, who led a panel on death and remembrance together with Karin Harrasser, Claudia Mosquera and María Victoria Uribe. Together, the participants articulated a powerful mosaic of art and struggles to reimagine forms of life and memory in a profoundly paradoxical territory: Inside and outside the national project, and, at once, a round trip from the nation’s center to its periphery, between the dreams of progress and radical exclusion.  As everyone cried in unison at the closing: “The people will not surrender, carajo!”

Carretera al Mar, Goethe-Institut Colombia.

Felipe Sánchez Villarreal is a Colombian journalist and online editor at Revista Arcadia.

This article was produced in partnership with the Colombian magazine for contemporary culture Revista Arcadia.

Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen.