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“Ketty” is the name (or pseudonym) of the journalist who wrote this report about the mural that Hernando Tejada was at the time painting at the Ferrocarril del Pacífico railway station in Cali. Before divulging the particular events in the history of Cali and the Valle del Cauca region that Tejada chose as the subjects for his mural, Ketty provides a brief summary of mural painting in Mexico in order to compare it to the Colombian version. She deplores the fact that Colombian artists do not express the feeling of the times in their work due to a lack of support in their native country. In Ketty’s opinion, a Colombian artist’s only chance of success is to leave the country because Colombians tend to prize the work of foreign artists over locally produced art. She writes that this “first mural depicting the history of Cali and the Valle del Cauca” by Tejada rehabilitates an artistic genre that should be used to explore history and document local customs that involve social groups that have been ignored by conventional works of art, such as indigenous people, mestizos, blacks, and zambos, those of mixed black and Amerindian origin. Since Tejada included such groups in his mural, Ketty calls him “an authentic promoter of Colombian local color.” She ends her report by listing the historical events depicted in the mural.
This article provides an exclusive preview of the historical periods shown in what the journalist who writes under the pseudonym of Ketty calls “the first mural depicting the history of Cali and the Valle del Cauca region” by the Colombian painter Hernando Tejada (1924-1998). Ketty praises the work of this painter who won the 1952 contest—sponsored by the Junta Directiva de los Ferrocarriles Nacionales (seccional del Pacífico) [Board of Directors of the National Railways (Pacific section)]—to paint two murals on the walls of the waiting room at the Cali railway station. The railway linked Cali to the port of Buenaventura on the Pacific coast. The company’s guidelines for the project specified that the mural should summarize the history of Cali and the Valle del Cauca region. Paradoxically enough, in order to educate himself about that history, Tejada had to purchase books (some of which were translated from the German) that described the customs of the indigenous people of that area of southwestern Colombia.
In the 1950s, on the whole, provincial cities such as Cali and Barranquilla were at the forefront of a boom in historical mural painting, overshadowing larger metropolitan areas like Bogotá and Medellín where this kind of painting had thrived in the previous decade. Tejada painted two murals in the modern railway station that was built in Cali in 1953: La historia de Cali [The History of Cali] (1953-1954) and La historia del transporte [The History of Transportation] (1955-56). The latter mural was partly destroyed when seven trucks carrying dynamite exploded on August 7, 1956, an event that was known as the “Cali Explosion.” The work was restored by the painter in 1974.
Hernando Tejada studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes [National School of Fine Arts] (now the Escuela de Artes Plásticas de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia [National University of Colombia’s School of Visual Arts]) from 1945 until 1947. Later, with the help of Alejandro Obregón (1920-1992)—who was the director of the School at the time—he worked there as a professor from 1949 to 1951. By the time he painted the al fresco murals at the Cali railway station he had already had some previous experience: he painted his first mural in the cafeteria at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (1947), applying the lessons he had learned from his teacher Luis Benito Ramos (1899-1955). Later, in 1952, Tejada painted another mural for the San Fernando telephone company in Cali. “Tejadita” [Little Tejada] (as he was known in Cali), was the brother of the painter Lucy Tejada (b. 1920) and Teresa Tejada (b. 1928), who took art history classes from the art critic Marta Traba.