São Paulo

Fernando Arias

Galeria Eduardo H. Fernandes

Chocó, one of Colombia’s thirty-two provinces, lies on the country’s northwest border with Panama. Fernando Arias settled in the town of Nuquí in the jungles of Chocó in 2006. There, he helped found Casa Chocolate, a cultural center aimed at doing socially committed work in a region known for its fertile vegetation, grinding poverty, and violent conflict. All of these concerns are reflected in Arias’s recent work, including the installation Humanos Derechos (Humans Standing Upright), 2008, which consists of four video projections showing three members of conflicting Colombian factions (the army, the guerrilla movement, and a paramilitary group) and a peasant removing their clothing before the camera. The peasant seems to embody the victimization produced by the other three. Each was filmed for five minutes, and their actions are synchronized. Whether men or women, members of one ethnic group or another, once these individuals are stripped of their uniforms, they appear equal in the physical reality of their bodies. The work may seem obvious in this regard, but ceases to be so in a place where conflict has raged for years and where the human rights to which the work’s title punningly refers are constantly violated.

In another video, Arias deals with the exaltation of machismo so common in military circles. Just one minute long, Izando Bandera (Raising Flag), 2007, is a resounding satire of phallocentric power and its childishness: To the accompaniment of the Colombian national anthem, a naked man stands tall before the camera, while a close-up shows his penis slowly becoming erect—playing on an expression typical among Colombian teenagers, who use the phrase “raise the flag” to refer to an erection.

Paz Aporte (Giving to Peace), 2005, is another work in which Arias sets out to demystify the patriotic pride so common in these times, and not only in Colombia. The title is a pun: On one hand, it alludes to the document one must have to travel (in Spanish, pasaporte), and on the other, to the difficulty of furthering the peace process. The piece consists of a series of fake Colombian passports printed in white; they each bear a Colombian national seal that has been modified so that it resembles a sort of downward-facing bullet with phallic connotations, crowned by the symbol of the condor. The bottom half of the seal is decorated with flags and spears. Perhaps Arias means to emphasize that, although passports are symbolic markers that make it possible to safely cross borders, they are still issued by an extremely violent country. Or does he wish to speak of the stereotyped perception of Colombians, who are unfairly associated with drugs and the violence that comes in their wake?

The exhibition also included two videos (Enjoy Your Meal, 2007–2008, and Violin, 2007) that, though documentary in style, have a certain poetic quality largely due to their use of rhythm. With these works, which are less mocking in tone yet still clearly steeped in social commitment, Arias deals with the exploitation of the Chocó region, whose population is suffering the ravages of deforestation and attacks on biodiversity. As with his other pieces, Arias seeks to actively intervene in the very situations he chronicles.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.