By Amparo Hoffman-Pinilla & Sonia Ospina, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
During the 2020 Spring semester three Colombian academics delivered presentations about their research through a Faculty Working Group Series that is part of the Colombia: Past, Present, and Futures initiative. This is a collaboration between scholars from NYU and Universidad del Rosario (URosario) in Colombia, which brings together NYU’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, in partnership with URosario’s Academic Vice-Provost Office, and the Peace, Conflict and Peace Research Center (Centro de Estudios en Conflictos y Paz).
The goal of this collaboration is to raise awareness, deepen understanding and foster discussion among professors, students and community members interested in current challenges and opportunities affecting the peace process, democratic governance and sustainable development in Colombia. The Initiative capitalized on the presence of a critical mass of professors from URosario in NYC during the Spring semester: Juan Vargas, Professor of Economics and Visiting Professor at NYU’s Political Science Department during the 2019-2020 academic year; Angela Santamaría, Professor of URosario’s Conflict and Peace Research Center (Centro de Estudios en Conflictos y Paz) and Visiting Scholar at NYU/Wagner during the Spring of 2020; and Bastien Bosa, Professor of Anthropology and a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University during the Spring of 2020.
Posted by Natalia Aguilar Vasquez – PhD Student at NYU Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literature
Art gallery and cultural space FLORA ars+natura in Bogota, Colombia. First day of the curatorial workshop by Miguel A. Lopez, July 30th 2018.
My research interests were, initially, the intersections between contemporary art and recent literature in Colombia, specially focused on ways of representing violence, memory, and trauma in the Colombian society and the bodies. That research shifted, and instead of dealing only with bodies and Biopolitics as critical lenses to understand such aesthetics, I noticed a “return” or, as many would say, an always latent concern with “the land”, the politics of creating landscapes and, most importantly, the spatial dimension of the Colombian internal war and conflict.
I started a journey visiting art galleries in Bogotá, new spaces for art and culture in the city. The “return” and reincorporation of landscape was visible in several exhibitions coming from young artists, but also in the creation of new spaces for culture in the city. Hybrid locations, a mix of gallery, research centers, and incubators for artistic projects. The question of physical boundaries, personal and public/political space, as well as the ambivalent relation between the urban and the rural, are crucial to imagine and live, in the so-called “post-conflict” Colombia.
Posted by Isabel Caballero-Samper – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU
A year and a half ago, when two Argentinian backpackers were murdered in the Ecuadorian beach town of Montañita, the hashtag #viajosola (I travel on my own, conjugated in the voice of a woman) became popular throughout Latin America. Maria José Coni, 22, and Marina Menegazzo, 21, had been traveling together, with each other, but commentators wondered why they had been traveling “alone” (making the question code for “without a man or a chaperone”). The two young women were even accused, by a psychiatrist consulted by an Argentinian news outlet, of being “víctimas propiciatorias”, encouraging victims.
At the time, the hashtag made me think about my own experience of travel. I had traveled through Europe by myself, visiting friends in some cities and going to others on my own. But in my own country, Colombia, I had never traveled alone.
Me in Bogota, preparing to leave for my field research on the gender dynamics of the recently demobilized Farc guerilla in the Colobian region of Arauca
Colombia is a country dominated by fear. When I was a kid in the late eighties and early nineties, bomb threats, scares and actual explosions were everyday events because of Pablo Escobar’s terrorist campaign that included bombing malls. And even after the worse years of drug related violence had passed (or more exactly moved on to Mexico, where the drug violence is said to have “Colombianized”) very high crime rates in the cities and a civil war in the countryside kept Colombians fearful of everything and everyone. (Or more exactly, in this stratified colonial society, of those who were not “gente como uno”, people like us: poor people, nouveau riche drug traffickers, and rebellious peasants).
Posted by Juan C S Herrera – PhD Student at Steinhardt / Food Studies and Food management at NYU
After three weeks in Bogotá, Colombia, I took a stroll through one of the city’s main roads, 7th Avenue. There you can find several food options ranging from international food chains to Colombian food corporations, as well as affordable local adaptations of international foods to traditional corn on the cob and fresh fruit vendors. The availability of food options is linked to the preferences of Colombian consumers.
Food preferences have changed over the last decades. The reasons underlying the changes can be found in the relationship between the macro economic, social, and political space and how those macro variables play a role in the individual formation of food preferences. At the macro level, one can find four major changes that affect the availability of food products and therefore influence individual’s food preferences.
Creators and performers from all over Latin America and Spain will converge at the King Juan Carlos Center (KJCC) next week for ‘Proximities/Distances’, a two-day event that will explore ideas and practices of proximity and distance in contemporary Spanish and Latin American theatre, performance and dance.
Drawing on the current interest in relational strategies and investigating the connections between art and audiences, the aesthetic and the socio-political, it will examine a diverse range of dramaturgies that bring these different media into contact.
The event is curated by Cristina Colmena (PhD Candidate, NYU Spanish Department) and Ana Sánchez Acevedo (PhD Candidate, CUNY Graduate Center). Participants will include La Phármaco (Spain), MAPA Teatro (Colombia), Íntegro (Peru), Claudio Tolcachir (Argentina), Daniel Salguero (Colombia), Pablo Remón (Spain), Alejandro Moreno (Chile), Arantxa Araujo (Mexico), David Espinosa (Spain), and more.
Please join us Tuesday, September 27 and Wednesday, September 28 at the KJCC Auditorium for this wonderful gathering of Latin American and Spanish creators and performers!
Posted by Angela Arias Zapata – PhD student. Media, Culture, and Communication NYU
During my visit to the Casa Arana building, I could witness the sadness with which the young men that guided me through this site regarded the failed project of a cabinet-making workshop that I described in my last post. The other sign that I interpreted as a gesture of solemn sadness, was their attitude as we visited the cepo. A cepo is a yoke for humans -that is the exact meaning of the word-, but people in La Chorrera actually use it to speak about a small room next to the stairs of Casa Arana, were indigenous people were tortured and murdered during the rubber boom. It is now a warehouse that the school administration uses to keep musical instruments (trumpets and drums), as well as supplies for the school activities (stationary materials, for instance). The three young men told me that this was the place where the overseers punished those who did not fulfilled the amount of rubber requested from them by the Casa Arana Company. One of the punishments, they added, was to leave the person hanging from the columns for an entire day. They also mentioned that the overseers would bring dogs and make them lick the wounds of those punished. One of them sighed as he mentioned how thousands of people died inside that small room. They explained how, afterwards, all the bodies were put on top of each other in a rectangular space on the ground limited by stone divisions, right between the cepo and the stairs.
They didn’t give me more details about the tortures that took place there and I didn’t want to ask them more about it, since what they told me was part of public reports. However, I kept thinking about the fact that their demeanor in this specific spot only repeated when we were at the “cabinet-making cemetery.” It’s not that one situation is more or less important than the other, or even comparable in terms of what could be more significant for the people of La Chorrera. But they have at least one element in common: a feeling of failure, related to a project of modernization that brought violence and death -in the case of the Casa Arana rubber exploitation- or disappointment for a promise of progress in which the indigenous people would receive all the benefits.
“Cepo” at Casa Arana
“Cepo” at Casa Arana
This kind of mourning towards progress repeated in many instances of my stay at La Chorrera. It was the feeling most similar that I found to pain for the past as it is traditionally portrayed in western contexts, as well as promoted by the Colombian state through its policies of memorialization. To my surprise, in the case of the project of building a museum at the site were the Casa Arana Company built its emporium of slavery and death, what seems to be more relevant to the inhabitants of La Chorrera is not to give the space an atmosphere of solemnity or sacredness; this is not a place where they would go to mourn and remember those who died there. Instead, the project represents the possibility to reclaim and reaffirm a status that was historically denied to them: that of Colombian citizens in full rights. Proof of this that what is most important to them in terms of building the museum is what it would represent in terms of their relationship with the Colombian state. Continue reading →
Posted by Hanna Wallis – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU
Driving through northern Cauca, the view out the window shifts only slightly between different shades of green. Vast expanses of sugar cane extend off into the horizon, a monoculture sea for biofuel export. Today, I am among hundreds of Nasa community members to “recover” a crop field. The indigenous movement here operates from a different paradigm of sustainability; beyond productive capacity, clean energy, or collective profit, they strive to “liberate the mother earth.”
Since the 1970s, the indigenous movement organized through the “Consejo Regional Indigena del Cauca” CRIC has fought for many forms of indigenous structural autonomy. Claim to territory lies at the the heart of this struggle, but unlike other movements seeking land access, their conception of geography transcends the idea of ownership. Upon re-claiming a former hacienda plot as their own, the leadership does not divide the space into small individually operated fincas but converts it into collective territory. This philosophic shift changes land into territory, and territory into mother earth. From this foundation, people are not solitary individuals, but units of the collective and members of the community whole.
Posted by Angela Arias Zapata – PhD student. Media, Culture, and Communication. NYU
A conversation that lingered in the background during most of my fieldwork period in La Chorrera was a traditional dance that was going to take place in one of the malocas located in the nearby communities. The particular characteristic of this event was that it was going to be a “pisada” dance (literally, a “step-over” dance). Uitoto communities celebrate this kind of dance as a way to inaugurate a new maloca (a religious and communal place of gathering). A maloca’s inauguration is always linked to the passing down of the tradition of building and taking care of this kind of construction. In this case, however, the “pisada” dance was planned for a new maloca built by an old abuelo that, instead of passing down the tradition to one of his heirs, decided to start all over with his own quest for knowledge and leadership. The reactions to this unorthodox proposal had varied tones, but amidst all the different critiques or expressions of support, a very important fact stood out to me about the requirements and implications of building a maloca: it is a heavy load for the leader in charge. And, contrary to the common place, that load is linked in a more meaningful way to practical rather than spiritual responsibilities. To be more clear, the religious practices depended in this case on the social ability and the economic capacity of the “maloquero” to actually bring together the community around the construction project and the constant maintenance duties that having a maloca entails.
The practice of building malocas and houses is very similar when it comes to this constant need of maintenance. They both are made of the same materials: wood for the structure (and walls in the case of the houses) and puy leaves (Lepidocaryum tenue) for the roof. This means that, every five or six years, the roof needs to be changed entirely, because leaves start to fall or they break, leading to rainwater leaks. The structure needs to be renovated too in case it rots. Malocas and houses are inevitably built and rebuilt once and again, which means that they are not thought as long-lasting places for generations to come (like it might happen in the case of Western structures such as museums or other places of social interaction). In spite of the great significance of malocas as centers of cultural, political and religious activities, material structure is fleeting and it is not thought in terms of temporal permanence.
traditional house (front) and small size maloca (back)
Posted by Angela Arias Zapata – PhD student. Media, Culture, and Communication. NYU
It was a rainy Friday morning in San José del Guaviare when I boarded the old Douglas DC-3 that would take me to La Chorrera, in the Colombian Amazon region. The DC-3 is an American made cargo airplane, famous for its role during the Second World War. A member of the aircrew inaugurated our flight with the words “let’s go back in time, ladies and gentlemen!”, in a gesture of complicity with nervous passengers like me. He was clearly referring to the old aircraft we were in, but, looking at them in retrospective, his words also spoke about the nature of my fieldwork in La Chorrera.
As a first year doctoral student at the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU, my research interests include state violence, official discourses and counter-discourses of memory in the context of endemic violence and war, as well as community based practices of memorialization and resilience. This Summer, I will be doing fieldwork in Colombia, with the intention of exploring the tensions between local and national discourses and projects of memorialization. Reflecting on collective memory goes beyond the historical reconstruction of violent events. It is, indeed, revisiting the past, but it is also understanding how that past is defined by its social functions in the present. In that sense, the old airplane was taking me in a journey to the past but also to a quest to understand the meaning of said past for the present inhabitants of La Chorrera.
I’m interested in the site known as Casa Arana, the center of the rubber boom expansion that took place between the 1900s and the 1930s in the Amazon. As a place where a genocide was coordinated and carried out —approximately 40,000 Uitoto, Bora and Andoque natives were enslaved and murdered there—, this construction has a particular history and, after the genocide ended, it has played many unexpected social roles. After the rubber boom, the place was used as an orphanage run by Capuchin monks, as the regional headquarters for the National Bank for Agrarian Development [Caja Agraria], and as a High School by the Salesian monks. Today is a public school run by the indigenous local population, known as House of Knowledge [Casa del Conocimiento]. Continue reading →
Posted by Hanna Wallis – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU
A crowd of several dozen huddles against the rain under huge Colombian flags with white flowers in hand, paz written on damp faces. They gaze expectantly toward the huge screen at the front of the plaza broadcasting live news from Havana; the four years of peace negotiations between the government and the country’s largest guerrilla group FARC approach a conclusive ceasefire agreement, a symbolic move to end five decades of armed conflict. We are standing in the exact coordinates of Bogota where 68 years ago, liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated, catalyzing what is known in Colombian history as “La Violencia.” Today, the site where the conflict began is also where we inaugurate its conclusion. Hope radiates among people holding long embraces, statue-sized political handshakes projecting before us.
I arrived to Colombia just a day before this historical moment. While the government and FARC have flirted with the possibility of final signed peace accord for several months (the original deadline was March 23), this latest agreement was not pre-announced. My first full day in Bogota I hear mutterings about celebrating a peace agreement the next morning. All of my adopted Colombian family adorns themselves in peace regalia and we proceed to the Séptima con Avenida Jimenez.
Although more steps remain before the country reaches a final peace accord, this latest message from Havana marks several important changes: the FARC have agreed to disarm in a binding ceasefire wherein their weapons will be transferred to the United Nations. The government has also to create a special unit in its general attorney office to fight paramilitary and other criminal organizations.
The potential implications of these changes for the population at large has inspired broad speculation and concern. I’m here to research how the peace process will impact an indigenous resistance movement in Cauca, Colombia, which has fought for political representation and autonomy since the 1970s. While quelling the tensions between the different armed groups is critical in the transition toward “post-conflict”, their movement represents the existence of plural interests excluded from the bilateral negotiations. I am excited to depart from the urban hullabaloo and immerse where I can hear a counter-point to the elation of the crowd in front of me.
My academic research will loosely center around their alternative forms of development and pursuit of sovereignty. As a joint masters student in Journalism and Latin American Studies, I will also seek out a character-driven reportage. I’ve been networking with organizations and government representatives to broaden my contextual understanding. With this backdrop, the voices from Nasa community members in Cauca will ring distinctly.