Unity Is Strength

January 21, 2015

Cities on the periphery have become a fertile testing ground for strategies of alternative production and diffusion within the Latin-American map. In contexts with scant artistic offerings, cultural fabric can grow by working collaboratively, and Cali has shown as much. Whether it is young artists who are trying to find a niche for their production through collective strategies, or established artists who develop new formulas to boost the city's art scene, employing a formula that unites forces and ideas has proven to be most effective in Cali.

Lugar A Dudas (which translates as "a place for doubts"), founded by Oscar Muñoz and Sally Mizrachi, has established itself as the artistic and cultural epicenter of the city. From it, a number of other initiatives have emerged. A substantial number of contemporary artists orbit around this space. It is a place for things to happen that nourishes knowledge, supports the development of creative processes, and provokes interactions between the community and artistic practice.

Besides a gallery with a dynamic program, Lugar A Dudas aims to transform the experience of the passersby through an exhibition program, La Vitrina, in the street window, as well as through their documentation center that holds the largest regional collection of books and documents specializing in contemporary art.

In cities like Cali with a limited institutional framework and at a remove from the contemporary circuit, often the only way to access iconic works of art is through the internet or publications, which is precisely the reason behind CALCO (Cali Contemporáneo), their program of ephemeral reproductions.

In addition to this, there are also weekly film series, conversations and get-togethers; a residency for artists and curators; publications; as well as the only grant program for artistic production in Cali, BLOC, which was created by Lugar A Dudas together with other institutions.

La Sucursal, another initiative by Oscar Muñoz, stimulates cultural production and collecting. This private not-for-profit originally bought artwork from La Vitrina, but later changed into a learning center that presents hybrid methods allowing for different artistic expressions to meet.

Based on their lines of research, the group develops an exhibition program, which, in turn, configures and shapes the collection.


La Sucursal. From left to right: Katherine Agredo, Leonardo Herrera and Lorena Diez.

One of the group's members, Leonardo Herrera, was one of the founding members of the collective Helena Producciones. One of its many projects, which include a TV program, has been the organization of Cali's performance festival, which has become the most important one to take place in Latin America.


From left to right top row: Mauricio Vera, Ernesto Ordóñez, Giovanni Vargas, Ana Millan, Leonardo Herrera. From left to right bottom row: Diana Lasso, Wilson Diaz, Andres Sandoval.

This 1998 image  was taken on the occasion of a series of talks in the Chamber of Commerce organized by Helena Producciones; they also included a day of performances in the Coliseum of the Santa Librada high school.

Taking as his point of departure the idea of digression, Breyner Huertas, who is also part of Lugar a Dudas, distributes "Letra pequeña" ("Small Letter"), a micro-journal made under the pseudonym of his alter ego Hermes Acosta. Huertas is also part of the Objeto collective, together with Hermann Yusty.


Objeto. Hermann Yusty and Breyner Huertas.

Objeto focuses on contemporary etching, exploring the medium through direct interaction with the context, or, as they say, with a container whose art is not the content but is itself an artistic event.

From the same working epicenter, Diana C. Torres Avellaneda is part of another collective Descarrilados ("The Derailed")[1]. They started in 2005 with "El tren de los curados" ("The Train of the Cured"), an event that took place inside train cars that had exploded while transporting dynamite in 1956.

Today, there are six members, and they focus on operations of exchange, barter, and mobility, as in this image of Canómadas ("Nomad Canoes").

Iván Tovar, also part of Lugar A Dudas, explains how their eagerness to exhibit has brought artists to organize shows in the houses of friends, as in this picture showing his transformation of his own bed into a sculpture, as part of an exhibition organized by the Circular Contemporánea collective in a house in the San Antonio neighborhood.


A work by Iván Tovar, part of the "Asueto Internacional de Arte de Cali" exhibition organized by Circular Contemporánea, in a house in the San Antonio neighborhood.

Circular Contemporánea, active for ten years, has created over thirty seven exhibitions, and came about from a desire to promote cooperation between artists and to propose an alliance between institutions and peripheral initiatives. It is important to note that there were, prior to this project, a series of collectives of autonomous artists (including Adrián Gaitán, Carolina Ruiz, Sergio Zapata, David León, Jimmy Villegas, Lisseth Balcázar, Daniel Tejada, Marcel Narváez and Diego Tamayo) who have been involved in exhibitions and interventions in non-conventional spaces since 2004. Among them are Artistadas, the “El Camión” project, and the “Asueto internacional de arte contemporáneo.”


Image of Circular Contemporánea's latest project Circular Presents with their four members, Daniel Tejada, Sergio Zapata, David León, and Adrián Gaitán, during the opening of the Obras Apócrifas exhibition.


Circular Contemporánea

Proartes was also created by a group of culture lovers in 1979 as a non-profit institution that supports the arts and literature. Right across the street from them is the Cultural Center of Cali, in a building by Rogelio Salmona. It is a venue for events, exhibitions and talks.

The program in the gallery of the BBAA school is defined by a committee, and the shows are coordinated by artist Mónica Restrepo, who also belongs to another collective, La Nocturna, together with Ericka Flórez, Herlyng Ferla, and Hernán Barón. They started in 2013, and don't have a space but instead prioritize discourse. They look for different venues to host their projects, focusing on four goals: strengthening the discourse in relation to Cali, the relation between fiction and document, experimentation with format, and material thinking.


From left to right: Mónica Restrepo, Ericka Flórez, and Herlyng Ferla. Hernán Barón, the fourth member, took this picture outside the Condoricosas Motel in Cali.

Herlyng Ferla also works with Riccardo Giacconi in Reuniendo Luciérnagas ("Uniting Fireflies"), inspired by the Ciudad Solar initiative, which was developed as a  community of creative people that boosted the development of diverse artistic manifestations between 1971 and 1977. Reuniendo Luciérnagas is a space for dialogue and connection of different cultural practices, such as research into collaborative practices that generate culture in the region.


Logo of the group, which also functions as a poster, by the Bogota artist Ana Montenegro, and which is based on a graphic design that is very popular in the city of Cali.

The most recent collective, La Balsa, works as an office of artistic action to study and experiment with working processes that allow artistic production to open up in the current economic and social sectors. They aim to find alternative ways to expand their practice starting from hybridization exercises.


Matthias Dolder and Diana Moreno of La Bolsa. As its début, the collective presented "Paisajes Alterados", an intervention in the Botanical Garden of Cali.

Last but not least, one of the oldest examples of initiatives stemming from self-organized associations in Cali is the Museo de la Tertulia, which started when a group of friends organized meetings during the dictatorship of Rojas Pinilla to address political, cultural and literary issues.


Museo de la Tertulia

The museum, located in what used to be a natural resort, still maintains this spirit of dialogue and reflection. Its collection specializes in graphic art of the American continent.

Developing a collective way of working is a way of responding to an emerging artistic context, amending an institutional and commercial lack. In Cali, this energy has transcended such practical motivation, positioning the city as an artistic enclave in which group action, the free circulation of ideas, and the collective effort to generate critical thinking are privileged.


[1] This collective started with fourteen students of the Instituto Popular de Cultura. At the moment there are six members, including two who were teachers in 2005 and who stimulated the students with this project: Florencia Mora y Gonzalo González. The others are: Jaes Caicedo, Viviana Guarnizo, Alfonso Correa and Diana Carolina Torres.