Artists and War II
February 15 - April 26, 2009
In February 2008, the Museum unveiled the first installment of this three-part exhibition series in which artists respond to war as it affects ordinary, non-military people. Artists and War I, was a multi-media group exhibition of six artists from around the world creating art about war or conflict. Artists included Daniel Heyman, David Opdyke, Adrienne Noelle Werge, Siah Armajani, Hanna Hannah, and Miguel Angel Rojas.
Artists and War II includes the work of Juan Manuel Echavarría of Bogotá, Colombia. Echavarría was first introduced in North Dakota with The Disappeared exhibition in 2005, and then again in his solo exhibition Bocas de Ceniza/Mouths of Ash in 2006. Both exhibitions were originated by the North Dakota Museum of Art. Echavarría’s newest work, Requiem NN, is comprised of over 100 lenticular photographs of burial vaults, each individually decorated with the letters NN (NO NAME). During the massacres endemic to Colombia’s drug war, the bodies of disappeared and mutilated victims are tossed in the river, food for vultures, untraceable. In the region of Puerto Berrio, however, the decomposed corps is rescued from the Magdalena River and placed in a tomb. It is then that the common people of Puerto Berrio start a unique ritual of appropriation. An N N can be chosen and asked for favors, business like favors such as ”Please help me win the lottery and I will take care of your tomb.” The person, blessed by the favor, enthusiastically adopts the NN and places flowers, a glass of water, or possibly a marble slate inscribed with “thank you NN for the favor received.”
Johanna Calle, also Colombian, came to Grand Forks to install Black Opus (Obra Negra). This body of work sprang from the artist’s numerous tours through the slums that encircle Bogotá. As a consequence of the violence and societal breakdown caused by endless civil war, young girls play seminal role in these marginalized neighborhoods. Mostly absent war widows or single mothers head most households, women forced to work long hours outside their homes. Subsequently, girls as young as eight years old bear the burdens of raising the children and maintaining the families.
The third Colombian in the exhibition is video artist Fernando Grisalez Blanco. His video also deals with the dehumanizing effects of war upon “everyman.” In the rundown center of Bogota, a man who is just a man spends most of his days repeatedly chasing homeless people from his stoop, convinced they are "military rats", "worthless humans", the dregs of war.
Guillermo Guardia (Memo), a Peruvian artist now living in Grand Forks, created new work for the exhibition. He says, “I started sculpting my Baby Devil series about five years ago. I was primarily interested in exploring the good and evil found in everyone, especially at the beginning of the war in Iraq. First, I made baby devils with weapons such rifles, bazookas, pistols, and knives. Often the clay figures were painted wearing camouflage.” “For the show Artists and War, I looked to my home country. As a Peruvian, I lived through our civil war during the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. These Baby Devils depict the consequence of war for its real victims: civilians. A couple are missing arms and legs, sacrificed to explosives. A female Baby Devil looks sadly at her growing belly, the result of rape.
As part of the Artists and War series, the Museum brought back Snow Country Prison: Interned in North Dakota, an exhibition organized by the Museum that has been touring throughout North Dakota since 2004. The exhibition is the story not of prisoners of war but of civilian Germans and Japanese, many of whom were U. S. citizens.
Juan Manuel Echavarria