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Transition Zone ”was published in collaboration with Open Space, an interdisciplinary art and culture platform of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art , as part of We the People , the eleventh issue of Open Space magazine . The English version can be found here.

"Transition Zone" was published in collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's interdisciplinary arts and culture platform Open Space , as part of We the People , the eleventh issue of the Open Space magazine. The English-language version can be found here.

Transition zone

Tony Evanko

Translation: Victoria Tobar Roa

February 2019


Seminar: Urgent questions: causes, effects and possibilities of war and peace in Colombia. From left to right, Victoria Tobar Roa, C3P curator; Marta Villa, director of the Corporación Región —an organization that conducts research on violence in urban and rural contexts—; Camilo Laverde, former FARC combatant and legal representative of the ETCR Román Ruíz; Diana Orozco, chef who performs community internships in rural communities in Colombia; Deisy Chavarría, ex-FARC combatant, and Stefanía Rodríguez, C3P project coordinator. Photography: Casa Tres Patios Foundation.


In this jungle there is no state. Here is war. Since ever. Civil war. Internal armed conflict. Terrorist threat. Ideological struggle. The extremes: left, right. The same methods. Cruelty competition. How many are the dead? How many disappeared? There is no consensus on the figures. In this jungle there is no state. There are villages, peasant houses. The peasant. How many liberators have you seen close by? How many atrocities. The far left first. The guerrillas. The far right later. The paramilitaries. In the 1990s, the FARC, the guerrillas, were transformed into war machines, fed by the cocaine trade. Impossible to face them: the police, the armed forces, they do not give enough. And the FARC is gaining ground. Then they appear. Fed off the cocaine trade. The paramilitaries: AUC, in the department of Antioquia. It is there where they develop. There where there were more crimes. How many are the dead? How many disappeared? And where are they? How it happened? Here in Colombia.



The Andes begin in Colombia with three mountain ranges: the Eastern, the Central and the Western or coastal. They rise from the Caribbean to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, near Santa Marta, separating the Pacific from Los Llanos and the land that borders the Amazon River. This is the second most biodiverse country in the world. It is also the second country with the highest number of displaced people, after Syria. This is a country of extremes: extreme natural beauty, extreme wealth of natural resources, extreme economic inequality, extreme violence.


Colombia has been at war for more than half of its history. From the beginning, the fight has been for control of the land and the resources it produces. The geography and dense jungle have helped to hide the tactics of those seeking control.


Medellín is located in the curved Valle de Aburrá, in the department of Antioquia, in the northwestern part of the country. When I first came in 2001, they took me to the top of a church steeple on the east side of town. I could see the cars moving across the valley, and I had the same sense of intimacy and shared experience that you have in the opera: that of being able to see the expressions of the actors and the other spectators. There is something beautiful about that experience, and it is also difficult to ignore the realities of the unfolding drama and the reactions it produces.


There are two hills of dense forests near the center of the city. One is called Cerro Nutibara, home to a dilapidated collection of modern sculptures and the popular Pueblito Paisa, a comical three-quarter scale version of a typical Antioquia town — one of the city's few tourist attractions. The second is the Cerro Volador, the largest park within the metropolitan area and one of the seven surrounding hills that the now-extinct Bora Indians considered as guardians of the Valley since long before the arrival of the Spanish in 1541.


In the center of the city, where the city began, it can be seen from one of the panoramic viewpoints near the top of Cerro Volador. The difference between the size of the blocks in the center and those of the surrounding neighborhoods is remarkable. Gilda Wolf, architect, urban planner and professor at the Medellín National University, uses this perspective to explain the roots of these changes in density, a product of the action of community organizations in the city. From an open meadow at the foot of the mountain, Gilda points to Barranquilla, one of the main streets that flank the center of the city.


Then he points to the north and explains that the density is higher there because it was where the most informal development of the city began, as an effect of the massive displacement caused by violence in the countryside during the 50s and 60s.

Why do they call them “pirate neighborhoods”? Because they didn't have any infrastructure to start with. The owners only planned the location of the streets and the division of the lots. People occupied the lots and built their houses, and then got the services. And how did they get public services? With your own work. They got together to install the electricity, they got together to install the sewer, the water, everything.


Wolf explains how the large landowners took advantage of a law that obliges the city to extend public services to all Catholic church property: the owners of the lands on the north side of Barranquilla Street would donate a part of the part farthest from the center the city to the church, so that public services spread across that property. The people who inhabited that land then devised ways to “hack” the public services, building homemade transformers made of oil tanks, for example, and using them to reduce the power from 220 to 110 volts.


I asked him if the need to come together to work had been the driving force behind the formation of neighborhood groups. To which he replied: "I believe that necessity is the mother of most creations, and the Civic Centers were necessary to organize people." So, I asked if they had been created by the people and she clarified: “The idea for Los Centros Cívicos was proposed by the Sociedad de Mejoras Públicas (a private organization of wealthy individuals with a civic mindset) as a way to organize the work of the community. community.


These organizations became the basis for many of the community-based neighborhood associations that operate today in almost every city. These have been expanded to include groups focused on culture and community development, becoming part of the organizational fabric of the city. In many cases, they still depend on volunteer work, although they can now receive small funds from the municipality.

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Mural painted by community members in the La Honda neighborhood, Medellín. The neighborhood is mainly made up of displaced families from rural areas of the Antioquia department. The inhabitants are forced to resist to avoid being displaced (again) by the State. Photography: James Granada, Master in Political Science, Universidad de Antioquia.

Prado was the first luxurious neighborhood built outside the historic center of Medellín, at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, it is a slightly ravaged and architecturally eclectic area, bordering Barranquilla with large houses, tree-lined streets, and a considerable share of homeless people. With the help of Santiago Vélez, a local artist and university professor, I founded the Casa Tres Patios Foundation (C3P) in Prado, in 2007, as an alternative art space dedicated to promoting experimental artistic practices in Medellín. Since then, our program has evolved into a transdisciplinary community practice that integrates artistic and pedagogical projects.


During the opening of the second exhibition at C3P, Juan Fernando Vélez, a local artist who had painted a life-size bus on the wall of the central courtyard of the house, told me that we had done something that local artists had not been able to: no We had only created a space for experimentation, but more importantly, we had created the opportunity for artists to meet regularly and share their practices and those of others. From that point on, C3P began a program that would grow to include around seventy events annually. We were obsessed with the idea of ​​providing a social space to the local art community and giving visibility to artists, introducing new practices and creating a space for critical dialogue. The program grew to meet these goals, gradually including more workshops and other activities by the resident artists.


A crucial moment for C3P occurred in 2012. An article in El Espectador from that November, “Rappers denounce death threats in Medellín”, reflects the social situation at that time:


More than sixty young artists from Medellín on Wednesday denounced death threats from the same armed group that murdered rapper Elíder Varela, better known as "El Duke" on October 30.


The youths received the threats after the murder of "El Duke" and after holding a protest in the center of the El Salado neighborhood, according to spokesmen, the illegal armed group was taken as an "aggression" and a "challenge."


Varela, leader and creator of the La Kamada Hip Hop School and the Comando Elite de Ataque (CEA) group, was assassinated by hitmen in La Torre, a sector of Comuna 13, a group of popular neighborhoods in that city.


María del Rosario Escobar, Secretary of Culture of Medellín at the time, was concerned about the situation described in the article. He believed that these murders were based on teenage envy, perpetrated by teenagers who saw in guns the only way to resolve their differences. This issue, coupled with the popularity of workshops run by C3P's resident artists, prompted Escobar to invite us to redesign the Red de Artes Visuales, a city arts education project for children and young adults. The new proposal aimed to use artistic techniques and practices to generate reflections on citizenship and the relationship between the boys, the city and its neighborhoods. Escobar offered his office as a platform to help change these dynamics in the city, and we wanted to be part of this effort. So we designed a pilot project and began to develop a flexible pedagogical model that could be applied in various contexts.


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The C3P team during a workshop in the Altavista neighborhood (2012). Photography: Casa Tres Patios Foundation.

Also in 2012, the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC-EP began to negotiate a peace agreement after fifty-two years of armed conflict. The negotiations concluded on August 14, 2016, but in October a public referendum seeking to ratify the agreement failed. Several terms had to be renegotiated, and the agreement was finally signed on November 24, 2016 and ratified just under a week later.


Before signing, the government required all high school students to take a special class to familiarize themselves with the peace process and the agreement. This measure was supposed to help offset the fact that between 1974 and 1984, as a result of a national educational reform that originally aimed to challenge memorization as a dogma of teaching history, the Ministry of Education left at least one generation with very little little factual knowledge about the history of Colombia and the armed conflict. As part of the C3P pedagogical program in 2016, we proposed a subject for students between seventeen and forty years of age linked to the Fe y Alegría School night shift. During class discussions, we found that most - if not all students - opposed the peace agreement, despite the fact that none of them were clear about the differences between the FARC, the paramilitaries or the military or their roles and motivations in the conflict. Essentially, they had based their opinions on the media, popular knowledge, and the opinions of family and friends. Maria Cecilia Cardona, one of the workshop directors, gives an account of this:


After evaluating the history of the conflict in Colombia, many concerns arose from the participants of the laboratory in Moravia, because they were uninformed and had a version of the conflict skewed to what the media in the country have historically said, added to a phenomenon of WhatsApp chains, publications on social networks that instilled fear and versions where it could be said that the guerrillas were to blame for everything bad that has happened in Colombia. Even many of them have always lived in territories with the presence of paramilitary groups, which have delegitimized or completely prohibited critical thinking and left-wing thinking in the country. At that time we were in the context prior to the plebiscite, and we lived very closely with the messages that reached them and the force that social networks had in their thoughts.


Deibi began the process with great resistance and without motivation, he even stated that he was there in that space because he had to fulfill a requirement for his degree, after three meetings he began to communicate with the group his opinions, which normally appear in tone of mockery and without respect to the training artists.


From the moment we touched on the issue of negotiations, Deibi, one of the participants, said that he did not believe in any peace process with the FARC because of the process that he went through in his neighborhood with the disarmament of the paramilitaries, in the that invited young people to register as demobilized in exchange for 200,000 pesos a month and a place in the Seine to study. When we saw what this deception was for him and in general for the entire Moravia neighborhood, we discovered that the work format had to start from knowing, on the one hand, the true history of the armed conflict in the country and, on the other, understanding the role of the media in that story.


This is how we decided to make a timeline of the armed conflict in the country, where each one had to research a year to, together, build the story of the conflict from 1948 to 2016. Likewise, we held a session dedicated only to understanding how we could be misled by the news we see on a daily basis. We collected news from Actualidad Panámericana (a fake news site), we divided it into groups, and each team had to analyze different news, separate the false from the true and share their reflections with the public.


All the news was false. However, most identified them as true and even argued them from their work and experience. Undoubtedly, when the young people learned that they were all false, many of them expressed understanding that they should change their perception of the media and not think that everything was true. Deibi's transformation began the moment he recognized that he could be wrong. In the lab, he was more motivated to research and debate with others. As the encounters progressed, he gradually became a leader to his teammates.


This process galvanized our determination to use C3P programs to help the public understand the dynamics that have shaped the conflict, dynamics that continue to contribute to injustices and inequities in the city and the country at large.


We felt then that it was necessary to explore the colonial origins of Colombia; how the commercial exploitation of the land and its people has been the initial and main motivation for setting up the colonies; the class implications after independence from Spain, and many other conflicts that have been present since the Republic was formed. We decided to work under the curatorial project New Relations with Capital to explore how the political and social dynamics in Medellín and the world in general could be understood in terms of capital in a broad sense.


In August 2017, as part of the peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government, 10,000 ex-combatants were transferred to 26 transitional normalization zones, now called Territorial Training and Reintegration Spaces (ETCR). The following April, Ivo Aichenbaum, a young audiovisual producer, did a residency at C3P to produce the third in a series of documentaries about countries in transition to the post-conflict. His project would take place at the ETCR Román Ruíz, near the remote town of Santa Lucía, about two hours by dirt road from the city of Ituango, which in turn is separated from Medellín by six hours by car. The one hundred and twenty-five ex-combatants currently living in this transition zone are now part of the mass of landless peasants, and carry the stigma of belonging to the FARC.


Former members of the FARC on a chiva or ladder on the way to the Santa Lucía village, where they would hand over their weapons and uniforms before entering the ETCR Román Ruiz. Photography: ETCR Román Ruiz communication team.


Temporary accommodation for ex-combatants in the ETCR Román Ruiz. Photography: ETCR Román Ruiz communication team.

Ivo had made a preliminary visit to Saint Lucia to establish a working relationship with the ex-combatants and learn about their situation and needs. The difficulty of the trip was daunting, and Ivo was unprepared for the pace of life on the ETCR. While the community was interested in telling its story, its members are also busy with a multitude of tasks: cultivating and harvesting, taking care of the children of some, or cooking for the group. However, Ivo had organized a workshop to develop a small museum that would explore their memories through some of the objects that still remain. It would help them learn how to use the cameras and computers that the government had purchased at their request.


The night before the workshop began, Ivo and some of the locals were playing cards in a house in the town of Santa Lucía. In his field journal, he described what happened next:


I joined with the bets of 500 pesos. We were very focused on the second hand of the puzzle when Daniel picks up two aces from some stairs, places his and we heard 5 strong shots no more than 20 meters from where we were with the door open. We immediately ran for shelter behind massive walls. We closed the door, waited 4 minutes, and Sugey came out. I went after her together, but we didn't see anything, the street was completely empty and the music kept playing. We advanced and saw two feet dangling from the edge of the closed pool table. Marleny appeared running, screaming “he is the brother of“ The Rabbit ”and Sugey immediately burst into tears. They tried calling with the pay phone, but it didn't work. Little by little people approached, looking at the body that was lying face down from about 8 meters away. He was still moving, breathing heavily, and making little noises. The pool of blood was huge. The casings of the shots were coming on the floor. It took several minutes for the military police to arrive at the scene. Weeks later I found in my pocket two cards that I had left from the bet.


No one knows who the murderers were or why they killed him, but the experience was understandably discouraging for the ex-combatants. In the same email, Ivo wrote:


Supposedly in a few minutes the day in which they would bring the objects to put together the museum should begin, but just in case - I hope that is not the case - I will let you know the situation, because I do not think that people have much courage for an activity like this. We may have to postpone or suspend it according to how things are planned in the next few hours. At this moment I am writing to you at the only point where I can access Wi-Fi with my computer because my cell phone stopped working and it is not so easy for me to connect now. At night I will have news.


Finally Ivo was unable to finish his project as planned. But he was able to establish a friendship with Jhon Martínez, a young ex-combatant and a skilled photographer who would document the process of disarming his front from the announcement to the delivery of the weapons. Ivo and Jhon created The Last March, a short photographic documentary of this process which was screened at C3P in June. In the documentary, Jhon narrated the sequence of images with his voice over, describing the preparations and expectations for the peace process. The following is a transcript of part of the documentary:


13:17 They took the road at once as they had been directed. I was last in the march, but I was free now, because I had the camera and my work was important.


13:29 That one who goes there with a sack is Franklin.


13:33 There followed him “Cabeza de Gato”, as we called him. Albeiro was the name.


13:39 And that is the "Indiecito Urías", who was very small, by the way and carried a very large rifle.


13:46 There Doris followed him, with her spiked rifle, an AK-47.


13:54 Here is Tabares. That does have a lot of disorder, but there we are already going down.


Exhibition of the photographic documentary by Ivo Aichenbaum and John Martinez at C3P. Photography: Casa Tres Patios Foundation.


Ivo Aichenbaum and Jhon Martínez addressing the public the day the documentary was screened for the first time at C3P. Photography: Casa Tres Patios Foundation.

During the discussion after the screening, Jhon answered the questions the audience had for him. Naturally, someone asked him why he had joined the FARC. He explained that he had been raised in a small town caught in the middle of the conflict. He told how the paramilitaries killed and violated the villagers and how the FARC, upon arrival, would help them with the construction of roads and other community projects. More importantly, he described how they treated the villagers with respect. When he was thirteen years old, Jhon decided to go with the FARC, but his offer was rejected; They explained to him that he should think better of it and, if he was still convinced when they returned, they would take him with them. His friends and family tried to discourage him, but Jhon knew that his options were limited in the village, and the paramilitaries could kill or recruit him by force. When the guerrillas returned, he told them that he was ready to join them.


John's simplicity and humility were inspiring. Many audience members spoke about the importance of a story like this in understanding the complexities of the conflict and helping them accept ex-combatants as members of their community. As historian Mauricio Montoya pointed out during a recent seminar on the peace process organized by C3P, one of the main reasons why the conflict began (and has lasted so long) is the lack of knowledge in urban areas about the conditions in the rural areas of Colombia.

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Urgent Questions Seminar : causes, effects and possibilities of war and peace in Colombia , with historian Mauricio Montoya. Photo: Casa Tres Patios.

It has become increasingly clear to us that knowledge is the capital necessary to make the peace process work and to build a strong and viable community. We must involve ex-combatants, farmers, researchers, artists, politicians, business leaders, and other organizations to build new narratives, so that we can advance reconciliation processes that make real integration possible, not only for the FARC, but for society. usually. It is necessary to work in solidarity with organizations from other parts of the world, make their struggles visible, create a new sense of community that challenges territorial borders, and resist the divisive forces that are increasingly prevalent in our world.


1. From the movie Impunidad, Juan José Lozano and Hollman Morris, directors, 2010; ; translation, Tony Evanko,
AUC is the acronym for the main paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia or the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

2. EFE Agency, "Rappers denounce death threats in Medellín." El Espectador, November 18, 2012; translation, Tony Evanko.

3. As its reforms evolved, the Ministry of Education developed goals that included creating a working class capable of analyzing and evaluating the current situation to form ideas and solutions on how to move the country forward. Paradoxically, an understanding of the past was not considered necessary in this process, and a subject was created with the title Historia de Colombia y Educación Cívica instead of the original subject Historia de Colombia. The number of hours per week that would be devoted to this type of mixed subjects was reduced from nine to six.

4. Deibi is the Spanish phonetic transcription of the English name Davy.

5. The National Learning Service - SENA, is a public institution with legal status, with an independent capital structure and administrative autonomy, attached to the Ministry of Labor of Colombia. Taken from, December 7, 2018.


Transition zone


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