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The San Juan River looks like the roots of a tree. Its channel is full of tributaries of the Chocó and Risaralda, which travel 380 kilometers to see the sea. This stream, which begins on the hill of Caramanta, returned dozens of corpses for years and witnessed the Colombian armed conflict and the state abandonment so daily in both departments. But Doña Jesusita Moreno, known as Doña Tuta, never abandoned him. Defending the territory from armed groups and child recruitment resulted in threats that eventually became a reality: two hitmen killed her on June 7, 2022. His murder left Chocó orphaned, forced his children into exile and put an entire country in mourning that does not seem to be hurt by the deaths of its defenders. The loss of Tuta not only produced anger and impotence, it also served as inspiration and changed the course of one of the most important works of Marcelo Brodsky and Fernando Bryce.
Territorios is the result of the residency of renowned Argentine and Peruvian artists, respectively, at El Espacio 23, a contemporary art space by tycoon Jorge M. Pérez in Miami. The initial proposal, which started in June 2022, was to work together around the Amazon and with the image of the dismemberment of Tupac Amaru very present. Within days of starting to explore with Rodrigo Abd's photographs of the jungle, they learned of Doña Tuta's murder. "That's where we got it. The territory on which we were building everything was the reason why these activists were killed," Brodsky recalls by phone. "The piece wasn't going to be complete until we put the faces of the defenders of the territory."
Cover of the book 'Territories'. Camila Acosta Alzate
With that idea in mind, came the questions: Where do we start? Who do we portray? Unfortunately, the cases in the region are too many. Latin America has been the continent with the most murdered leaders in the world for years and accumulates nine out of ten of these violent deaths that, since 2012, total 1,910 people. One activist every two days. That is why Brodsky and Bryce went to the Center for Justice and International Law (Cejil), to advise that search. "The book is a wonderful vehicle to expand the language to talk about defenders, the spaces in dispute in the Americas and many of the fundamental issues for the guarantee of rights and democracy," says Viviana Krsticevic, executive director of Cejil. "In Latin America, protection systems fail and the administration of justice fails to close the impunity that encourages violence."
Protectors of the swamps, leaders of invaded indigenous communities, caretakers of the Amazon, defenders of peasants, Afro-descendant spokespersons. Choosing to protect territory, whatever it may be, is a death sentence. "My work has been primarily as a historian," Bryce says. "This research brought me much closer to reality. And understand that the deaths of those who are in the territory are part of the present, of the day to day of our continent. It has been a very important experience and also a new path for me." "This is art in motion because, while we were working on it, they kept killing leaders. While exposed, they continue to be killed," Brodsky laments.
Printing of the book 'Territorios', in the Arte Dos Gráfico workshop, in Bogotá. Camila Acosta Alzate
The Amazon Burning and a portrait of Brazilian Marielle Franco; a logger finishing with a centenary tree and Chico Mendes; the Agua Zarca dam and the gaze of the Honduran Berta Cáceres; lighters lit in the jungle and the smile of Guatemalan Myrna Mack Chang... 'Territories' puts a face and context on ten human rights defenders who were brutally murdered for their social work, women's rights and environmental activism.
This work was presented in Miami and at the Arte Dos Gráfico gallery in Bogotá in two formats: as a mural of 3 meters by 1.60, and as a book, a smaller adaptation that includes a special edition of only 60 copies, each with 13 original pieces signed by both artists for sale for $ 3,000. The funds raised will be used to protect leaders. This second format will be in the legendary Bogota gallery -in whose workshop it was created with care and machinery of the 60s- until November 2.
And, subsequently, it will pass through Washington DC, during the first week of December and, in March 2025, at the Arkhé Archive, Madrid, Spain. It is also expected to reach forums before the OAS and the United Nations, as well as communities where leaders were killed. For María Eugenia Niño, co-founder of the gallery and workshop Arte Dos Gráfico, this work is "very special": "Art does not give the solutions but points out the problems and moves. And that's a big transformative engine."
María Eugenia Niño holds the book 'Territorios'. Camila Acosta Alzate
"As there are no doctors, it is cured with herbs"
"People believed his word. Tuta knew very well the properties of healing plants. In the culture of the Colombian Pacific this knowledge is very important because, as there are no doctors, people are cured with herbs. In addition to his healing skills, he confronted the armed groups operating in the tributaries of the river and forged an agreement with the armed organizations in the area so that they do not attack civilians and stop recruiting children," reads one of the pages of the book.
Brodsky reflects on how art is political without being so: "It's much more believable because neither Fernando nor I have the need to do this, to point out the homicides. We do it because we feel it, because it moves us." And he adds: "This is art to exercise freedom; art that serves a purpose."
Some of the illustrations included in the 'Territories' pages. Camila Acosta Alzate