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Conversation with Oscar Moreno. My House My Body project
by Sylvia Suárez

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My House My Body: Forced Migration, Memory and Collective Creation

Excerpts from an interview of Oscar Moreno by Sylvia Suárez

In Bogotá they call them invasion neighborhoods, a name that leaves no doubt as to the place they hold in imaginaries of the city: marginalized and unwanted. It obviously also characterizes their inhabitants as invaders, symbolically ignorant of their civic rights, parts of another body, spreaders of ill-being. Dangerous or at best crafty people who live in ugly, violent neighborhoods that cover the hills surrounding Bogotá like an impenetrable shell and that, seen from the air, seem to cover much of the city. Paradoxically, these neighborhoods often have pretty names that are familiar to us thanks to the city’s public transport route signs, among them Japan, Pretty Patio, High View, Potosí, Bellavista (Beautiful View).

A year ago I went to the Mi Casa Mi Cuerpo (My House, My Body): Forced Migration, Memory and Collective Creation exhibition organized by Oscar Moreno at Bogotá’s Alianza Francesa, by invitation and in dialogue with Santiago Rueda. The space has a show window that looks out onto the pedestrian walkway of the Carrera Tercera, in downtown Bogotá. On the night of the opening there didn’t seem to be anything there, just a couple of walls painted in colors that are never seen in art shows: almond white, mint green and lilac. Three fragments of testimonies describing three houses, in Buenaventura (Costa Pacífica), Los Caquetá (Llanos Orientales) and Huila (Valle del Magdalena) were visible to passers-by in the show window. Three houses attached to the back wall, miniature models of houses like those in “invasion neighborhoods”, much like those in Bellavista. Inside the exhibition I felt that the (function)-armour with which I learnt to perceive that presence in the city was splitting open and let that city be seen as a latent, fragile body. Sensitive.

Anyone passing by Bogotá’s Centro de Memoria today might see, opposite the “memorial”-type, metaphorical, monumental building, a small, precarious house made of block brick and cement, painted in almond white and autumn yellow. A Bellavista-type house in the very center of the city, which fills the space with the unknown challenges we face as citizens in the quest to embark on the social and cultural rebuilding of our cities. That is, if that longed-for period that follows the conflict in Colombia ever takes place.

The project was launched in 2008. Initially the aim was to work on the idea of a CASA (home) with three families who lost theirs during the war in Colombia. These families are from different ethnic groups and regions (the Apache family is indigenous, the Bermúdez-Sánchez is Afro-Colombian, and the Plaza-Sánchez are subsistence farmers) and found themselves in the same position, in a situation of exile, on the fringes of the country’s capital, in the district known as Bellavista. So far the project has developed various processes, focusing on the links between past, present and future, and embodied in three houses: the home each of these families was forced to abandon, the house they’ve built little by little in Bellavista, and the home they’d like to build in the future. Those processes revolve around shaping the oral narrative of the forced displacement to which they were subjected (Relatos de la Piel), creating a couple of photo albums that simultaneously document these families’ revisiting their places of origin, along with life in their Bellavista homes; making photo-atlases showing the owner-built process of building the families’ houses and the wisdom and traditions manifested in them; and preparing models representing the house they’d like to have in the near future. These processes have evolved in different ways as they have become distributed and circulated and have led to major changes in the lives of some of the families involved as well as in the life of its organizer, the artist Oscar Moreno.

These are some of the ideas on the project that Moreno recently shared with me.

***A Common Place***
[On Oscar Moreno’s function in the project and the role he’s played with the families involved in the project. The life experiences shared by Oscar’s family and the families of Bella Vista Parte Alta were a solid foundation for developing their dialogue.]

Oscar Moreno: I think I’m a kind of mediator between my life experience, the experience I had of my own home, and that of the Bella Vista Parte Alta families. I approached these families on the basis of my own experience: the things my parents lived through, which had to do with the period of violence in Colombia, the stories I heard about that period as a child, and the fact that I spent my childhood living in similar neighborhoods. So when I heard their stories I saw they weren’t so different from mine, and barrio life wasn’t something unknown to me.

[…] That’s why I don’t believe I’ve turned those families into subjects of my investigation or research: I’m simply bringing their stories to life through narratives and photographs. We share the stories that come up… I think the families have reached a new level of awareness through them, and I understand them a little more, we’ve reached out to each other emotionally. I don’t feel I’m a researcher. I haven’t assumed that position.

***The Esthetics of Closeness***
[On Moreno’s poetics, his views on art practices and the structural integration of practices and popular knowledge]

Mmm, I’m never very sure about this… I believe art is not just about the closed world of the visual arts. I feel that the approach that has gradually evolved over time involves reaching out not just to life, but to the local context. I think that many of today’s art processes don’t stem from researching the local context, so there’s a need for them to be influenced by local aesthetics, the relationship to arts and crafts, for example. I think those borders are shifting all the time: the borders between the field of art and the forms of art that come from life itself, from the context, from people, which for me are affective and aesthetic expressions that change one’s view of the world.

Another factor I think is important is the relationship with pedagogy. I try to encompass a broader view of it in the sense that I’m trying to learn to build relationships between people as to what has happened in our context and to generate alternative ways of interacting with that context. That’s what I feel I’ve done with the Bellavista families. I didn’t connect with them though a tragic narrative, through the trauma caused by violence… we’ve worked through that, but we’ve also tried to move beyond those discourses.

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