Three works by the Colombian artist José Alejandro Restrepo give shape to this multimedio. All are connected by religious iconography, which is the starting point for an investigation that the artist has been conducting for over ten years and which has become part of the history of contemporary art in Colombia. With apparent subtlety and in some cases dark humor, these works make visible the harshness of our reality, confronting spectators with their own beliefs and creating fissures in the morality of the establishment through the desacralization of the religious icons that are foundational to the Colombian national narrative.
According to Christian legend, Verónica, a pious woman, cleaned the sweat and blood from the face of Jesus on his walk to Golgotha with a cloak of linen, leaving an imprint of his face on the cloak, which became a relic and testimony of his martyrdom. In Video Verónica, J. Alejandro Restrepo re-signifies that image, troubling and contextualizing it by showing different women holding photographs of their disappeared or kidnapped children and relatives, turning them into replicas of that cloak which on this occasion shows the face of unknown victims as a means of giving them a place in the memory of a society that evidently needs martyrs once again, but does not want to see them. When projected (in this case the video is both signifier and signified), these images evidence the contradiction between religious belief and what should be visible in a representational landscape that refuses to accept such images as part of the political reality in which the religion-violence amalgam has become a form of acceptance of the unacceptable.
Vidas Ejemplares (Exemplary Lives) is the name usually given to texts about the lives of the saints that teach the path to redemption through the representation of the saints’ stigmata and suffering. This principle has been utilized across cultures as a way to indoctrinate citizens to accept pain and injustice as virtue, preventing any and all reflection that might uncover the artifice concealed by these images. Restrepo’s video performance disrupts this operation by desacralizing these exemplary figures through their association with everyday corporal practices.
In the case of Purgatorio (Purgatory), a video exhibited at the 2009 Encuentro in Bogotá, the artist renders a vision of the form that such a place might take. Trapped in the endless repetition of their movement in a world of cubicles and office furniture, these pitiful souls pay for their sins amidst the flames-turned-neon-lights that prevent them from knowing whether it is day or night, spending their lives rehearsing monotonous, mechanical tasks until retirement or death takes them from the place where they have so obediently atoned for their sins. Paradoxically, each day thousands dream to acquire, or struggle to maintain, a place in these purgatories.
Adriana Mejía was trained in Theater Arts with a specialization in Art Interpretation. She was a professor at the UPN and coordinated art training programs at the Academia Superior de Artes de Bogotá ASAB. She worked at the District Institute of Culture and Tourism as an advisor for Arts and Culture projects. In 2007, she was part of the advisory committee for the Culture Secretariat's cultural rights initiative. She directed the Women without Expiration Date, 2007 Calendar project.