Wednesday, 27 August 2014


SAATCHI GALLERY: New Art from Africa and Latin America 

Nothing prepares you for this. 
Catalogue in hand, you skim through wondering where to start. You have 15 galleries to choose from.
Resin, Fibre Glass, Madera, Screen Cotton, Cuerda Arenas, Cerrejón Coal         Body:50 x 20 x 50; Legs 90 x 50 cms

You glance up and catch sight of Casa Tomada far away at the end of  Gallery 1. You walk towards it. There are ants on the wall. You go nearer. Their bodies are made by assembling  two human skull casts,  as if the Columbian-born artist Rafael Gomezbarros were attempting to summon death into life. This image captures the view at the far end of the gallery. One giant ant is bad enough, a few are manageable, but this thick encrusted cluster is not for the faint-hearted.
Photo from the Guardian 26.3.2014
Why ants? Inside our house we rush to destroy them. Flying ants disturb our picnic. But stumbling across a colony of ants on  a woodland walk,we stop to admire their ingenuity, discipline and persistence; their ability to modify habitats, tap resources, and defend themselves.  Mysteriously they appear to organise a division of labour, to communicate with one another and solve complex problems.

In Casa Tomada Rafael Gomezbarros is reminding us of the plight of millions of displaced immigrants who are constantly crossing the planet in search of asylum. In particular the artist has in mind Columbian casualities resulting from the armed conflict which has torn through the country in the last 50 years. But the work resonates with what is happening  elsewhere. Even in peaceful countries there are often daily reminders of the desperation - even death - locked inside when some trans-continent container or overcrowded boat lands on their shores.
Gomezbarros' ants have the capacity to take over national monuments. He has deployed them on or inside historical buildings such as Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino – the haçienda where Simón Bolívar spent his final days – as well as Barranquilla’s customs building. The work has been shown all over the world since 2007.

The image above, together with other striking ones, comes from

Casa Tomada  is the title of a short story by the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar, in which  a large mansion and those in it are invaded by elusive presences, only known by muted sounds. Cortázar wrote:
'unless a country buries the dead, there will always remain ghosts in the attic'. 

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