And So They Are Drawn. And So They Are Lived. The famous Colombian artist Fernando Oramas’s son presented a selection of his father’s paintings in St Petersburg. A colourful exhibition that ended with the revelation of a secret
I see it. I feel it. I live it. The cold and piercing air of Colombian Andes fills my lungs, as the arresting sight of the twilight landscape unfolds before me—for me. I am no longer certain if I stand on the ground or if my body soars above the Colombian mountains wrapped in a shroud of sunset rays. Momentarily, I remember the following line from Gabriel García Márquez’s famous book One Hundred Years of Solitude: “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”
This is how I remember the Colombia I have seen: the land of contrasting colours, vivid emotions and untold stories. It is time to confess, for I have never been to that faraway Latin American country. Physically. But I have definitely seen it and felt it through the eyes of Fernando Oramas and through his artwork exhibited in St Petersburg last weekend. The abovementioned scenery is by no means made up; in fact this is exactly what happens to anyone who sees this famous Colombian artist’s paintings of his country. Particularly, if one knows the secret shared exclusively with Prospekt Magazine unveiled at the end.
While most were preoccupied with the Halloween preparations and the festival itself, there were many who found time to visit Tutti Qvanti—an art space in the city centre of St Petersburg—to see the works of Fernando Oramas brought and introduced to Russia by his son Juan Alejandro Oramas.
The northern capital, also the cultural capital, was the only stop in Russia for the masterpieces of this Colombian artist, who passed away last summer at 91. Fernando Oramas was not only an artist, cartoonist, illustrator and a teacher, but also a devoted representative of the Mexican Muralism (a state-funded form of public art based on politics—specifically, large-scale wall paintings in civic buildings—in the wake of the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century).
“I am confident that the work of my father will stir an emotional response among the Russian audience, and perhaps many will genuinely appreciate these paintings and show some interest in the Colombian art as a whole,” Juan Alejandro told Prospekt Magazine.
D-1 or The Day Before The Secret Unveiled
The so-called art space wasn’t very big. In fact, it reminded of an apartment with several medium-sized rooms. The cozy, home-like atmosphere of the place struck the both of us. People were quickly moving from one room to another carrying paintings, sound speakers, furniture and so on, with the traditional Latino music playing as a background.
“Hello! Please make yourself at home, ladies. Sorry for this mess, we still have so many things to finish by tonight,” Oksana, the director of this artspace said to us.
“We are used to the fact that the works of great artists are usually exhibited in the museums with world famous names, but we are happy to break this tradition and to show that a such small space can also contribute to the unification of cultures, emphasizing the value of art in our lives,” Oksana’s eyes shone with happiness as she spoke.
One person, however, was of particular interest that day. Holding a violin in his hand, he just roamed around, moving from one room to another, sometimes playing the instrument, sometimes just observing the others.
At times, he would put down the violin, take a drum and quietly play it in a corner of the room. “He must be a musician who will perform tomorrow,” I thought. Little did I know, that this humble young man was no one but Fernando Oramas’s son, who brought his father’s legacy to Russia.
Another young man, who turned out to be the art-director of the exhibition, was very busy at his desk, working on his computer or talking on the phone. Anatoly Artov, as I soon got to know his name, came from Moscow earlier that day, but nevertheless joined the rest of the team to set up the exhibition.
To the question “why is St Petersburg the only place to host this exhibition” Anatoly replied with a smile: “It was a series of circumstances.” He went on, “it is through the network of mutual friends and connections that we got to know Juan Alejandro, who was looking for a place to exhibit his father’s works, in his memory. Although there were many galleries and art spaces to choose from, it is the series of coincidences that led him to us and us to him. And it is us, who revealed Fernando Oramas’s secret.”
Portraits of Colombia
The long and interesting life of Fernando Oramas left a profound artistic heritage, including works created in various genres and styles. The artist’s paintings are not limited to one movement, as he also drew in the style of costumbrismo (the literary interpretation of Spanish everyday life); in the genre of portraiture and landscapes, as well as abstractionism.
The political events of the mid-twentieth century, a close relationship with Che Guevara, and the revolutionary nature of his soul, are all reflected in the paintings of Oramas. The artist used innovative materials, primarily pyroxylin paint, which he mastered in Mexico, while working together with David Siqueiros and Diego Rivera.
All these was seen at the exhibition the next day.
While visitors were enjoying the works of Oramas senior, Oramas junior was playing and singing Colombian songs himself.
No Room for Politics
Soon, the crowd started to fade. It was suddenly quiet. Everyone seemed tired, but happy at the same time. It was now a perfect time to talk to Juan Alejandro Oramas the gentleman who offered bubbly before the interview.
“In this exhibition, I want people to forget about politics”, said Juan Alexandro. “I have specifically chosen landscapes, portraits, traditional customs, without focusing on political aspects.”
“In the 20th Century, it was important to show realism, Soviet realism and these topics were popular among artists in South America because they exposed poverty, misery, inequality and all the problems in the countries. Today I don’t want to show such negativity. I want this exposition to be positive.”
Turns out, the famous Colombian artist’s son studies computer music in St Petersburg and he wants to take this exhibition to Ukraine, Belarus, Germany, Switzerland and so on. “But for now, I am only starting. In Colombia I only had five exhibitions, because my father didn’t want to exhibit his works. He only wanted to paint. This is my mission in the world—to spread his art.”
Tutti Qvanti now empty and Anatoly asks, “Are you ready to see the secret unveiled?” Someone turns off the light and complete darkness fills the space. Suddenly purple light radiates from an ultraviolet lamp in Anatoly’s hands.
We walk closer to the wall with the paintings and I stop breathing.
“Oh my God!” we simultaneously exclaim “The paintings! They glow!”
This was a secret that no one knew, not even the artist Fernando Oramas himself, Juan Alejandro revealed. The fluorescence in the paints used, changed the perception of the pieces.
Event: Portraits of Colombia
About: The exhibition will feature the most recent works of the revolutionary Colombian painter Fernando Oramas. The opening ceremony will be accompanied by Latin American music.
When: 29 October- 30 November
Where: Tutti Qvanti art space, 3, Ulitsa Ryleeva, St Petersburg, 191014