In Spring of 2019, I was invited along with a group of other residents at Casa Tres Patios, to facilitate a workshop with a group of Colombian FARC members to address the question: How can we begin to shift an entrenched political narrative?
We first were introduced to a member of leadership within the Antioquia FARC chapter who visited the residency, and then collectively planned a workshop to coincide with a convening of regional leadership (specifically we would work with the members that are responsible for communications for the party) at the very rural location of Carrizal. With uncertain infrastructure, unknown timing, and interest or participation, we knew our work plan needed to stay flexible. We agreed to structure our project to begin with the most complex ideas and move toward simpler text, symbols and concepts.
On our first day we met with the dozen or so people participating in the workshop, all of whom are representatives of communication teams from ETCRs (http://www.reincorporacion.gov.co/es/sala-de-prensa/Paginas/Los-ETCR.aspx) across Antioquia. The larger convening of leadership which was taking place over the 5 days we were there was intended to connect, build solidarity, and seemingly to continue the political storytelling of their history through meetings, films, lectures, and meals.
Our role was as facilitators, and we were tasked with creating a structure to improve political communication, specifically as it reaches beyond the party itself into the general public. It would be too much to go into the background of why this is so necessary and what the current struggles of the political discourse are, but at the highest level many people have been hurt and many people have struggled through the violence, corruption, and conflict that has racked the country for many decades. Because of these histories, we felt that no symbolic artistic gesture would be appropriate or desired by anyone, but rather our work would be best if it was direct, tangible, and responsive to the needs, concerns, and desires named by the workshop participants.
We started off by generating goals and priorities. And then we imagined a forward path together.
Day 1: Complexity
Throughout the first day, a slightly nervous newness to our group settled into a camaraderie and ingenuity that would build over the following two days. We started by hanging paper on the walls and listed the barriers within their roles as communicators. This portion was initially facilitated by Victoria, the Casa Tres Patios curator, who is most familiar with the context and who was only one of two native speakers in our group. The difficulties surfaced easily for the group, and turned out to be heavily related to rural infrastructure problems: unreliable internet, confusing or slow dissemination of instructions concerning central party communication policy, lack of certain resources (although they have access to excellent camera equipment, which they are very knowledgeable about and practiced with), lack of money, and very importantly: threats of violence. Our group expressed an earnest desire toward fulfillment of the peace agreement with the government, however there was a palpable air of disempowerment that made it clear it would be at their own risk.
Day 2: Beginning a new story
Another artist Amélie Cabocel and I who have photo/video backgrounds led the group to pair up and select themes from the generated list of concerns, and then produce short videos on those themes. We discussed personalizing the narrative, and best practices for composition, lighting, background, pacing, and so on. The groups disbursed into the surrounding barracks to shoot and then returned for a discussion and critique.
We sent them out next with the task of conveying the complex idea with a single photograph. And finally we worked through text and phrasing. Generating words together, and then condensing their ideas into the simplest possible form that retained the core idea.
We ended the day with Justseeds artist Roger Peet, who is also my partner, and my travel companion in Colombia, giving a presentation on historical use of prints in political movements around the world. The group discussed upcoming marches and tabling opportunities at which they would like to use prints.
Day 3: Simplifying and activating
The final day of our workshop was focused on translating and text into cohesive political messages, for distribution via screeprinting. Thought the group we were working with was well versed at using online media they had expressed a desire for training in printmaking, and this was clearly the moment they had all been waiting for.
We gathered the group into a mini critique and brainstorming session to assess which images and text people felt best described the ideas they wanted to communicate. We facilitated creation of simple imagery based on their photographing exercises and slogans and showed the process of digitally creating a screenpriting graphic. And then together, we arrived at the three prints shown in the images here.
Roger, whose primary medium is printmaking, had built a mobile light box for exposing the screens with the help of another collaborator, Colombian artist Alvaro Ortiz. We struggled with the infrastructure, (since water was coming from the rooftops the pressure was almost too low to rinse off the screens) but managed to get three screens burned and printing.
We demonstrated the process, and quickly ran off patches, shirts, shared rainbow roll techniques, and even printed a few images onto the walls of one room schoolhouse we were using for the workshop.
The workshop slowed into the afternoon heat and then suddenly we were informed that we were being offered rides home to Medellin by some of the excombatants (rather than our dawn bus ride that we had been planning on). So without ceremony or goodbyes, the ink still drying, we packed up our convoy and departed.
The work continued into the next month as we contributed to a report for the FARC chapter that summarized our process for repeated use and instruction in the future.
Many thanks to the collaborators who made this project possible.
You can also read Roger Peet’s blog post about our time in Carrizal on the Justseeds site: https://justseeds.org/what-to-pick-up-after-you-put-down-the-gun/