Los Rebeldes del Sur (in english)

Los Rebeldes del Sur documents two musical performances by a Vallenato band made up of guerilla soldiers that took place while the artist was visiting San Vicente del Caguán, a town located in what used to be called the ‘Zona de Distensión’. This was an area the size of Switzerland in Southern Colombia that was temporarily demilitarized by the Pastrana administration in 1999 in order to carry out a series of peace talks between the government and the FARC. The negotiations came to an abrupt halt in 2002 following the hijacking of a plane by FARC members and the kidnapping of several passengers. Shortly after, Presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt attempted to visit this area and was quickly taken hostage and, to this day, remains missing.

Visual culture today in Colombia is saturated with images of the armed conflict that has dominated the country’s political stage for more than half a century. And although many Colombians speculate about what kind of paradise they might live in if it were not for the FARC, the structures of domination and economic repression have been a constant throughout the country’s history. It is only the protagonists of this conflict that change against a constantly shifting set of ideological positions that makes it difficult to articulate the struggle in moralizing terms.

In the works that resulted from his experience in San Vicente del Caguán, Wilson Díaz portrays an image far removed from media depictions of an opaque and yet absolute enemy. In Bañito en el cañito, young boys who are still children really, quietly bathe in a stream and carefully dress and groom themselves in the military uniforms that seem so at odds with the tranquility of their surroundings. Similarly, Los Rebeldes del Sur captures a few moments of festive time in which soldiers perform to an audience made up of visitors as well as local residents. It is a humane, empathetic image shot with an old video camera so that the poor quality of the video reflects the precariousness of its context and functions more like a simple document than an invasive artistic intervention. And while the image of uniformed, fully armed guerilla rebels appropriating a musical genre typically associated with love and heartbreak appears at first to be so perverse and contradictory, Vallenato has long been a genre that articulated the daily struggles of rural people and thus functioned as a subtle form of popular protest. It is also a genre that is intricately connected to the culture of drug trafficking but, perhaps most importantly, has become an important symbol of national pride and self-definition.

In Colombia the daily spectacle of social and economic conflict and ‘underdevelopment’ that is product of the country’s complex history often proves to be fierce competition for contemporary art: it is difficult to find work that is more compelling or complicated than the context that produces it and to which it attempts to respond critically. Throughout his work, Díaz has successfully negotiated a slippery terrain dominated by tendencies to over-aestheticize cultural formations or to simply represent them in order to make work that passively satisfies global and even local expectations about what Colombian art needs to look like to achieve widespread legibility. The strength and relevance of Díaz’s work derives from an economy of means and a refusal of epic representation in favor of simple documents that modestly and perceptively bring out all of those subtle details that are often relegated to the backdrop of history but are the only means with which we really have to understand it.

Michèle Faguet

© Michèle Faguet