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This document was written by the Colombian critic and historian Álvaro Medina by way of an introduction to Gustavo Zalamea’s 1975 exhibition El gran Burundún-Burundá, presented in the gallery Viva México, in the city of Caracas, Venezuela. This text was subsequently included in the book Gustavo Zalamea, published by the Museo de Arte Moderno of Bogotá (2000). To Medina, the publication of the book El otoño del patriarca (1975), by Gabriel García Márquez, established the importance of the poem “El gran Burundún-Burundá ha muerto” (1952) by another Zalamea, the writer Jorge. Medina considers this poem “the most beautiful, hard-hitting satire in Latin America.” The poem evokes the life and death of a dictator, holding him up as a mirror to criticize the situation of Latin America, still ongoing in the 1970s, when Medina wrote this text. He also considers the poem to be inspirational material for artists and writers: the literary work of García Márquez, the illustrations that accompanied the publication of the poem in 1959 by the Colombian artist Fernando Botero, the paintings by the Chilean artist Roberto Matta, and the exhibition of [the work of] Zalamea in 1975 that is discussed in this text. Medina describes Zalamea’s artwork as autonomous, vigorous interpretations and also talks about their difference from Botero’s illustrations, who turned to Jorge Zalamea’s poem to give artistic expression, while Gustavo Zalamea turned to his own personal experience of the military coup d’état on September 11, 1973, in Chile, where he was living at the time (1971 to 1973).
This explanatory text for the exhibition El gran Burundún-Burundá (1975) emphasizes the relevance of the artistic approach of the Colombian artist Gustavo Zalamea (1951–2011), which was critical of the Latin American sociopolitical conditions of the 1970s. One specific focus [of the work] was Chile, where in 1973, General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the government of President Salvador Allende (1908–1973) through a violent coup d’état with logistical and operational support from the CIA. The result was a textbook far-right military dictatorship that took away citizens’ rights, with the support of the international economic system and the government of the United States. Gustavo Zalamea, who was living in that southern country at the time, created work as a direct response to his experience of the coup. This included the unmistakable image of a leader of a military coup d’état like the dictator in the poem “El gran Burundún-Burundá ha muerto” (1952), written by his grandfather, the Colombian writer Jorge Zalamea (1905–69).
The formal characteristics of Gustavo Zalamea’s paintings, such as the use of deep shadows and a line that is “vibrant but sure,” the lack of focus, and the deformation of the figures, are deemed to be elements that highlight the abominable nature of the public figures. In other words, they emphasize sarcasm, black humor, and a density that typify the traitorous image of the “dictator,” an indispensable component for the work of Zalamea to acquire an identity independent of the poem used by the artist as a conceptual backdrop.
Gustavo Zalamea was a Colombian visual artist who studied architecture at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, as well as anthropology and design at the Universidad del Bío-Bío in Concepción (Chile). He won the prize at the XXX Salón Nacional de Artistas (1986) and the Convenio Andrés Bello prize in Bogotá (1992) [The Convenio Andrés Bello is an international organization for the promotion of culture and education]. In recent years, he served as director of the arts program at the School of Arts at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (2004–6), and by 2010 was director of the Instituto Taller de Creación in the same School of Arts.
Álvaro Medina (b. 1942) is a Colombian historian, critic, curator, and writer with a degree from the School of Architecture at Universidad del Atlántico in Barranquilla. During the 1960s, he joined the Colombian philosophical and literary movement Nadaísta [Nothing-ism] under the pseudonym of José Javier Jorge. Among other books, he published Arte colombiano de los años veinte y treinta (1935); Procesos del arte en Colombia (1978); and El arte del caribe colombiano (2000)—resulting from one of his last research projects, and developed with support from the Department of Atlántico government.