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 ARTisan colombia  

capsule no. 1

The images and stories compiled in this publication were produced between 2009 and 2015. They are a tribute to the vast community of artisans who live in Colombia. Most of the work was originally commissioned by the Italian fashion house Marni and the Colombian company Manos Latinas. In a combined effort, these organisations have developed a social venture that offers work and promotes the exchange of knowledge between artisans from different regions of Colombia.

Below, I present a selection of the stories included in the e-book (which you can download for free by clicking on the top button on the left). I have also embedded a series of videos, which document part of the life and some of the processes that these artisans have developed during these years. By clicking on the second button on the left, you can get the e-book 'Capsule No. 1', where I have compiled this and other journalistic works produced during the last decade.



Note: this story was originally written in 2009. A few years later, Jorge was forced to leave his workshop by the paramilitary groups that operate in the region.

Jorge Henao’s Workshop is located a few kilometres away from San Bernardo del Viento, a small village in the Caribbean Coast, close to the border with Panama.  When he was 16, Jorge left his home in Medellin and started traveling around Colombia. “When I finished High School, as I had no choice to go to a university, I decided to walk the country. But not as a crazy wanderer; I always identified myself as an artisan.”

Jorge opened his workshop in 2003 after he returned from New York. There, he worked in a pizzeria in order to send money to his family in Colombia. Before that, he lost all his savings in a failed venture, when he got involved in a project to build an artisan museum in Paipa (a town in the central Andean region) together with a group of colleagues.

The state of Cordoba -where San Bernardo del Viento is located- is famous for its fertile lands, which are mainly used to raise cattle. It has also been one of the main strongholds of the paramilitary groups in Colombia for decades. Because of its proximity with the Darien Gap, the region is commonly used to export Cocaine from Colombia through the Caribbean. For this reason, it is somehow common for the region’s inhabitants to run into a barrel full of cocaine. “When they find it, they go to Lorica (the closest city), and sell it for around $100.000 USD. Then they organize a party we call safra, which lasts for a week; and everyone is invited. When is over, they end up with a new stereo or a new bike at the most.”



In 2002, the town of Iza was declared historical and cultural heritage of Colombia. According to the legend, it was in this place where Bochica (protector god of the Chibchas) spent his last days on Earth and, before his departure, left a footprint on a rock. During pre-colonial times, the town was a healing place where  women travelled to pray for protection during their pregnancy.

Anayibe's workshop began to operate in 2007, when a group of Italian fashion designers travelled to Iza to teach a group of 60 women different techniques to work with cloth. They first started lining pieces of wood; then they learnt how to print over cloth and how to work the batik; and finally they were taught how to give colour to the cloth.

The furniture and decorative figures presented below have been a central element of Marni's pavilion at the Salone del Mobile of Milan from 2013 to 2016.




To access Alejandra’s neighbourhood -el Barrio Bella Flor- one must climb 245 steps, which stand around hundreds of small houses made of recycled materials. This neighbourhood is located in the borough of Ciudad Bolivar, located in the southeast of Bogotá: famous for its high rates of poverty and violence. Alejandra came in 2002, as one of the millions of displaced people that has left the internal conflict in Colombia.

Alejandra’s sister Ana Maria had arrived to the neighbourhood, together with her family,  a couple of years earlier. At the time, she remembers, it was like living in the countryside: they didn’t have an aqueduct or sewer system and she had to buy weekly barrels of water and carry them all the way up. They lived in huts, made out of sticks and metal boards. They had to tie the barrels of water to the roofs so the wind wouldn’t blew them away.

When Alejandra came to Bogotá, the Vivas Sisters started working as recyclers: walking around Bogotá, picking up and sorting out the trash. When they couldn’t collect enough to earn their living, they had to look for food amongst the rubbish, “we know what a turkey tastes like because we found one in the trash”, comments Ana Maria.

Today, both Alejandra and Ana Maria have workshops that operate in Bella Flor, where they employ people from the neighbourhood. They have also started to diversify their investments, opening a bakery and store, also within the neighbourhood. Besides being one of the neighbourhood’s main employers, they are positive leaders within their community.

 recycled materials no. 1: plastic  

 recycled materials no. 2:

 compressed cardboard  

 recycled materials no. 3:

  musical instruments  

 southern ANDEAN REGION  

 The workshop of Patricia and Victor  

Note: this story was originally written in 2009. In the present,

Patricia and Victor are no longer together and now Patricia runs

the workshop on her own.

Victor and Patricia met in Neiva, a city located in the south of Colombia, in the year 2000. They were both working as street vendors. Patricia had recently arrived from Popayan (another city in the south) together with her daughter, while Victor had recently come out of jail. He served a five-year sentence for rebellion, because he used to belong to the Farc guerrillas: “we were collecting a tax in a town nearby, when the army’s mobile brigade fell on us. Two of my companions were killed, I was lucky to end up alive”, he remembers.

Victor was born in Neiva. When he finished high school, he travelled to Bogotá, to study in the Autonoma University. This was in the 1970s, when left-wing revolutionary groups recruited numerous university students in Colombia. “I used to hang out with the people who died in the siege of the Palace of Justice. That was my crew in Bogotá. The only girl that couldn’t go inside was an ex-girlfriend of mine. She is now with the Kurds, fighting in Turkey.”

When Patricia and Victor met, they started a cooperative with a group of artisans from Neiva. Today they are the only two remaining members. In the workshop, Patricia is in charge of the production and Victor of the administrative and commercial activities. They hire around 20 young men from their neighbourhood. Some of them arrived to Neiva displaced by Colombia’s internal conflict.

 recycled materials no. 4: old vinyls  

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