In Bogota, Camilo Restrepo presents a visceral exhibition at Bancolombia hall in Atrio building


20 of February 2024

The project Alias: the Other Names was born in 2020, the year of the pandemic. With meticulousness and a methodology akin to that of a social researcher, Camilo Restrepo compiled and clipped from the newspaper El Tiempo all the aliases published on its pages, subsequently classifying them by date, number of appearances, and the criminal groups to which they belonged. Then, the artist searched Google Images for the 503 names that emerged from this obsessive classificatory process and transformed them into drawings, based on the juxtaposition of different images that each of these aliases yielded as a result of their search, in addition to a narrative articulation made with information about their anecdotes and criminal records, extracted from the press, the internet, literature, and word of mouth. This latter process, which is rigorous, compulsive, and subjective at the same time, operates as a sort of analogue artificial intelligence, establishing its own contradictory rules of operation for the generation of images.


The strategies outlined by Restrepo for this project not only questions our visual literacy mediated by culture and individual and collective histories, but also about the effect that images and news from contemporary media have on diverse audiences. In this sense, the appearance calendars of the aliases shown on the back of each of the drawings serve as a thermometer of the flows of news information that feed the collective retrospective perception of wars, political, social conflicts, and in general, the imagery of conflict in Colombia.


We live in a present suspended in violence. Restrepo presents us with a sort of memorial of barbarism that permeates the disputed memories of the viewer in conjunction with their knowledge, preconceptions, and emotions; furthermore, it enunciates the press and the media as the space par excellence where these memories are contested. The journalist Simón Posada, a longtime collaborator of the artist, is invited by the curation of this exhibition to unveil these keys in a set of infographics and interviews with fellow journalists, providing support as a museographic device.


The 503 drawings of Alias: the Other Names are divided between apparent political neutrality and the temptation to create a good joke from the absurdities of reality. Additionally, with the juxtaposition of images from popular culture and cultural references to our recent history, they produce an aesthetic discharge that combines in this sort of alebrijes or frankensteins, which in the randomness of their representation present the viewer with a tragicomic satire of the world surrounding them. In this same sense, the incorporation of random techniques and operations such as adhesive tape, crayon, saliva, dust, or pressure-washing with water, among others, seem to mock the very idea of drawing and paper as precious delicate pieces that must be preserved as works of art.


Satire and humor destabilize collective amnesia and soften the inability to fully understand the traumatic event: "better to laugh than to cry", as the popular saying goes. Cultural trauma demands distance, mediation, and representation. In the recent culture of the 20th century, satire and humor have been tools to mitigate the experience of trauma: Chaplin and silent film in a society ravaged by conflicts, hunger, and poverty at the beginning of the 20th century; satirical cartoons in popular press magazines in different conflict-ridden societies around the world or post-war German artists like Sigmar Polke.


The aliases embody the figure of the perpetrator, but beyond that, they are a social symptom, a culprit that helps to evade responsibility for more complex networks that have marked the Colombian conflict in recent years. These aliases represent a whirlwind of violence that repeats and self-generates throughout the recent history of the country. Aliases like Sangrenegra, el Cóndor, Caledonio Vargas, and el Chimbilá were sadly famous for their atrocities during the period of partisan violence in the fifties; the nicknames presented by Restrepo in this work of 2020 are just a snapshot of a process that continues in cities and towns in the rural areas of the country. In this other hidden layer of Restrepo's work, the inequalities of a society are concealed that lead thousands of young people without opportunities for education and work to feed the armies of various armed groups, which pass through common crime, drug trafficking, guerrillas, or paramilitarism.


The representation of the aliases is debated in the ambiguity between the monster and the superhero; they are antagonistic characters that embody the symptoms of collective traumas such as war, drug trafficking, terrorism threats, social, gender, and racial inequality, as well as poverty or displacement. In the compulsion and repetition of this world created by Camilo Restrepo, history becomes the writing of symptoms, and symptoms are repetitively repressive structures.


Carlos E. Betancourt.