Clemencia Echeverri, Deserere, 2022, thirteen-channel video installation, color, sound, 23 minutes 19 seconds.

Clemencia Echeverri, Deserere, 2022, thirteen-channel video installation, color, sound, 23 minutes 19 seconds.

Clemencia Echeverri

Since the mid-1990s, Clemencia Echeverri has addressed a range of sociopolitical conditions plaguing Colombia in complex video installations. Her most recent effort, Deserere, 2022, the result of two years of work, responds to the 2004 Bahía Portete massacre, in which paramilitaries assassinated twelve people, including four women, and “disappeared” two girls in a deadly effort to gain control over the local port. The victims were social activists from the Indigenous Wayuu population who were attempting to protect the land their people have long inhabited. Roughly four hundred families were also forced to relocate, evicted for their involuntary involvement in a protracted civil war and feuds among various drug lords. Recently, some of these former residents have been able to slowly return to the area, only to find the territory devastated without the Indigenous population’s care for its ecosystem.

Deserere is a thirteen-channel video installation that occupied the gallery’s three levels along an ascending path. At the start of the piece, the sound of percussion (composed by Juan Forero) gives way to the whistling of the wind. It blows from one video to another, stirring the red garments of a group of Wayuu women, blurring their faces, howling amid the ruins, or stoking a vibrantly crackling campfire. The wind is a significant power in Wayuu cosmology, as each of its manifestations is associated with different mythological forces that become perceptible both in the forms it sculpts in the desert sand and in the rhythms and life cycles of the region’s inhabitants. These images of everyday life among the Wayuu stand in marked contrast with footage of a little boy fleeing from off-road vehicles. These infamous “narco Toyotas” ominously burst onto the scene like harbingers of the cultural violence of the massacre and its memory.

Such ambivalence proliferates in Deserere, its title a word that derives from the Latin for “abandon” and shares the same stem as the English word desert. In its insistence that the desert—and what happened there—be remembered, Echeverri’s work is an act of political resistance. As Colombian artist Beatriz González reminds us, “Art says things that history cannot.” Through indirect representation, fragmented and repeated events spread from one screen to another, evoking a threatening atmosphere more than a specific story. They signal a temporality brutally interrupted by the trauma of torture, humiliation, murder, and disappearance of the bodies of the massacred Wayuu women, as well as that of an irreparably altered landscape. The scenes of the daily life of the Wayuu people that Echeverri strings together show the slow work of reestablishing equilibrium after rupture. Regarding the reinterpretation and construction of history implicit in the very act of editing images, Georges Didi-Huberman has observed that editing “is a stance that is simultaneously topical and political, and as a recomposition of forces thus presents us with an image of time that blows up the narrative of history and the arrangement of things.” Echeverri, who has listened to survivors’ tales in order to memorialize the site of this barbarity, asks us how to tune into a memory, both ancestral and future. This remembrance is borne on the desert winds that still carry the Wayuu women’s demands for justice.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.