Not on display
This black and white photograph is one of a group of ten in Tate’s collection from Colombian artist Juan Manuel Echavarría’s larger series of thirty-four images known collectively as Flower Vase Cut (Corte de florero) 1997 (Tate P21021–5 and L04337–41). The photographs show human bones arranged into floral shapes against a plain white background so as to resemble nineteenth-century botanical drawings. The bones were supplied to the artist by medical practitioners and were returned to them after the project. The images’ individual titles, which appear on the lower part of each photograph, and their compositions reference el corte de florero (‘the flower vase cut’), a macabre act of displaying the body parts of assassinated people practiced during Colombia’s civil war (1948–58), known as la violencia (the violence). The artist has ironically underscored the floral analogy by borrowing the visual language of scientific botany, which in Latin America has a foundational place in the history of representation of the landscape and its exploitation. He has combined the Latin names of plants such as aloe and maxillaria (a type of orchid) with Latin words referring to violence and death, such as ‘atrox’ (which gives us our word ‘atrocity’) or ‘lugubris’ (‘mournful’).
Born in Medellín, Echavarría earned acclaim as a novelist, publishing La gran catarata (1981) and Moros en la costa (1991) before turning to a visual art practice in the mid-1990s as a way of addressing the trauma and horror of war and violence in his home country. Through his photographic-based work, he creates visual metaphors for absence as well as narratives of hope and resilience in response to histories of violence and conflict. He has also established a foundation – Fundación Puntos de Encuentro (Points of Encounter) – that directly contributes for the betterment of local communities by developing projects for social development and education, including the construction of primary schools and scholarships.
Flower Vase Cut is one of the artist’s earliest works and represents his attempt to create a visual language for unspeakable horrors. He has explained: ‘My goal was to create something so beautiful that people were attracted. The spectator should approach, observe and, when he realizes that it is not a flower as it seems, but a flower made of human bones, something must click in his head, or in his heart, or so I hope.’ (Manuel Alcántara-Plá, ‘Juan Manuel Echavarría: Corte de florero’, https://inicios.es/2007/juan-manuel-echavarria-corte-de-florero, accessed November 2018). The work has been displayed with the photographs resting on a shallow shelf unframed, but they can also be individually framed.
Hans-Michael Herzog (ed.), Cantos/Cuentos Colombianos. Arte Colombiano Contemporáneo/Contemporary Colombian Art Berlin 2004.
M. V. Uribe, Laurel Reuter, Juan Manuel Echavarria: Mouths of Ash, Milan 2011.
Juan Manuel Echavarría , with texts by Thomas Girst, Yolanda Sierra, Leopoldo Múnera, Fernando Grisalez, Daniel Ernesto Schmeichler, Juan Manuel Echavarría: Works, Paris 2018.
Michael Wellen, Inti Guerrero
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