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In a text entitled “El Arte y la violencia en la era del narcotráfico” that deals with art and violence, Álvaro Medina describes and analyzes the radical transformation that the armed conflict in Colombia underwent in the early eighties. In it, Medina, a historian and curator, discusses the significance of violence’s impact on Colombian art. He opens his discussion with an overview of international political events from a leftist perspective, focusing on the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China as major points of reference in Latin America. Crucial to his argument is the rise of drug trafficking in Colombia and its impact on the increase in violence there. In the framework of these observations, Medina addresses works by artists who have represented and interpreted the Colombian conflict. The artists that Medina examines as figures at the intersection of art and drug trafficking include Alejandro Obregón, Óscar Muñoz, Sonia Gutiérrez, Clemencia Echeverri, Beatriz González, Doris Salcedo, Jim Amaral, Delcy Morelos, and José Alejandro Restrepo, among others.


Because it is illegal, drug trafficking is tightly bound to violence. Much artwork produced in the eighties addressed social issues related to the drug trade and violence, giving rise to a multifaceted perspective as artists’ approach to major issues and events differed. Significantly, non-conventional artistic languages gained ground in Colombia from 1980 to 1990, ushering in a period of experimentation that would prove essential to how art was made and exhibited. Plagued by drug trafficking, this period was one of the bloodiest and most extreme in the country’s history and, as such, it is discussed constantly. Indeed, the influence of those years made itself felt on later artwork as well, including art from the nineties. Significantly, the eighties witnessed not only a rise in drug trafficking but other major problems like guerrilla movements, paramilitary forces, and hired assassins.


In May 1999, the Museo de Arte Moderno of Bogotá presented Arte y violencia en Colombia desde 1948, an anthological exhibition that brought together 148 works by sixty-four Colombian artists. The event also included a retrospective film series and two colloquia. A book on the literature, film, and theater of the period featuring a historical essay that analyzed the relationship between art and violence in the previous fifty years was published in conjunction with the exhibition. The book-catalogue to the exhibition curated by Álvaro Medina (b. 1942) provides an overview of the context. The publication also includes essays by artist Andrés Gaitán Tobar (b. 1966), who has written widely on art; writer and poet Juan Manuel Roca (b. 1946); film critic Enrique Pulecio; and professor Cecilia Henríquez, among others. 


Outstanding books by Medina—a well known writer, researcher, historian, and curator—include Procesos del arte en Colombia (1978) and El arte Colombiano de los años veinte y treinta (1984). The text reviewed here was written for an exhibition that Medina himself curated.

Jhon Arias Bonilla
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
© Álvaro Medina, Bogotá, Colombia
Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, Colombia