(2020 – …)
Luces Distantes is a participatory project developed with Afro-descendant communities of Urabá, northern Colombia, organised in pacifist zones to resist the forcible dispossession and deforestation of their lands. It explores two intertwined questions: how can the eco-resistance of a minority be made visible where preserving the lives of its actors requires not showing their faces? How can this nurture a research on portrait as a contemporary representation of the person through his or her cultural and environmental bonds?
The project was initiated in early 2020 in three of the fifty or so self- declared “humanitarian zones” and “biodiversity zones” founded by Afro-Colombian communities in order to regain lands from which they had been forcibly displaced in the 1990’s by the army and paramilitaries. Descendants of maroons, they hold an inalienable right to them, granted by the State in compensation for slavery. In practice, through violence and corruption, narco-paramilitaries and large landowners have robbed them of most of theses properties. Organizing themselves into neutral zones, forbidden to weapon bearers, is the solution the communities have found to oppose this dispossession.
The protection of a unique rainforest is also at stake. A remote region at the border of Panama, between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Urabà is one of the most humid and biodiverse areas on the planet. Promoting a sustainable agriculture, these farmers protect this environment against an accelerated deforestation making way to endless ranches, industrial plantations of bananas, oil palms and coca.
For the host communities, the presence of a foreign artist was thought of as part of a global visibility strategy through which they shield themselves. The work was conducted in a participatory manner: daily meetings with the villagers led to the development of four photographic and writing protocols and a series of videos reflecting their resistance while thwarting identification The variety of these proposals echoes the ambition of the project, which is to be as close as possible to a struggle for human and non-human diversity. They outline an identity and a territoriality redefined by globalisation: fragmented, pierced by networks as well as connected to the non-human.
Seven portraits of villagers wearing masks made from plants. Most of them come with texts written with their own hands on pieces of fabric. Signed under aliases, these statements enable them to freely express their relationship with their territorial environment, the necessity and the danger of defending it. On original fabric or in the form of a photographic edition, these texts are associated with the portraits to form diptychs.
CUERPOS Y PLANTAS
Community members are portrayed through photographs of a part of their body and a plant from their biotope which they ask to represent them. Counting from one to three images, these eighteen "environmental portraits" include handwritten texts signed under aliases, in which the villagers express their commitments and fears. Images and statements (the later on original fabric or in the form of a photographic edition) are presented as polyptychs.
Eleven videos (approximately 1 mn 40 each) in which the villagers film the artist reading their texts in the landscapes planted with the species they have chosen to represent them in the Cuerpos Y Plantas and Mascaras series. Most of them are still in post-production:
Voz de Gabo
Video, 1 mn 32, 2020
Voz de Agua,
Video, 1 mn 44, 2020
Voz de Patricia
Video, 1 mn 39, 2020
The forty or so night shots in this series were taken in almost complete darkness with a Minox infrared hunting camera. The series addresses the imagination of the communities - the daily fear, a life never far away from death - trying to transform these experiences into tales close to their traditions, and to the Colombian sense of “magic realism”. Overexposing the eyes and the skin as well as the vegetation, the infrared flash makes the facial features of the villagers unrecognizable, and tends to blend them into their environment. The photographs are meant to be printed on glass sheets, displayed on shelves either individually or in friezes whose composition can vary.
Four composite portraits made by superimposing several photographed faces, thus creating a new fictitious face. The composition is made in digital post-production, by assembling Photoshop layers. To generate these layers, the first step was to photograph a tarpaulin with a pixelated camouflage pattern - the type used by paramilitary groups. Each of the five pixelated colours of the camouflage was then isolated to create a corresponding layer for each person's face. Thus, the part of a woman's portrait corresponding to the khaki pixels is superimposed on the part of another woman's portrait corresponding to the brown pixels, and so on for the other colours. Through this protocol, Depix evokes the collective nature of the villagers’ resistance, as well as a displacement of the struggle onto the territory of digital networks.
“Les recherches d’une éthique indiciaire de la photographie chez Marc Lathuillière”
RFI – Journal des Amériques,
interview about Crecer, Resistir exhibition by Marie Normand (french).
Sorbonne ArtGallery – interview on Crecer, Resistir exhibition by Marie Normand, 16 November 2020
Crecer, Resistir, exhibition catalogue, Sorbonne Editions