Creating an Arts Collective in Colombia
Artist Andrés Monzón-Aguirre 09 PT/CR is working to realize his dream for an international art center on his family’s former coffee plantation.
In 2010 Colombian painter and ceramic artist Andrés Monzón-Aguirre 09 PT/CR found himself longing to return to his native country after a one-year teaching gig in Korea. With his family eager to sell its defunct 19th-century coffee plantation outside the city of Medellín, he hatched a brilliant idea.
“It hit me that the house would be perfect for artist residencies,” Monzón-Aguirre says. The centuries-old building would of course need some work, but the alum consulted with the Japan-based RISD artists’ collective Et al., Etc. and immediately set to work establishing Campos de Gutiérrez. His goal? Return to Colombia, preserve the history of the place and renovate it to meet his own needs and those of resident artists.
Enter recent Architecture graduate Amara Abdal Figueroa BArch 13, who came on board to refurbish the main studio space and repair the badly damaged floors (which had been dug up by locals in search of gold rumored to be buried on the site). Figueroa had been to Campos for several extended stays and helped plan the addition of a ceramics studio. Named MAATI after the Sanskrit word for clay, it’s being constructed from bricks found on site and is a logical next step for Campos since the plantation harbors a huge deposit of natural clay.
So, is the area safe for international visitors? “The violence and fear associated with Colombia has obscured its history,” says Monzón-Aguirre. “People are surprised when they come here and discover how much it has changed.” The surrounding towns are a boon to visiting artists as well because of the materials and resources available. “Many of the nearby towns specialize in a certain craft, like leather,” he explains.
Since Campos de Gutiérrez started hosting artists in August 2011, most of the residents have been photographers and painters, but the new ceramics studio should contribute to the cross-disciplinary mix Monzón-Aguirre wants. “There are always collaborations going on,” he says, “people from different fields working together.” He learned how important critiques are during his years at RISD and encourages resident artists to critique each other’s work. Guest critics are invited for every session and stay at Campos free of charge.
Monzón-Aguirre can’t say enough about the importance of making connections—with other artists and with the local population. “As an artist, you have to know who your audience is and make work for someone other than yourself,” he says. “It’s so important to get to know people—to get people in the community involved.”
Former resident and photographer Sarojini Lewis took this advice to heart. After approaching a curator at Medellín’s Museum of Modern Art, she organized an international traveling exhibition this summer called Rephrasing Memory. The exhibition, co-curated by Lewis and Oscar Roldan-Alzate, features narrative photographs, drawings and prints by 30 artists from Colombia, Argentina, Peru and the Netherlands focused on the formation of memory and the instability of reality. It opened in Amsterdam in June and moves on to Rotterdam from August 4–25. For Monzón-Aguirre, seeing an international show take shape from ideas first conceived at Campos is precisely the type of interdisciplinary, cross-cultural collaboration he hopes to nurture via a creative community nestled in the mountains of Colombia.