A Contextual Fictional Space: About Fictional Homelands

Memories of an Artist in Residence at the National University of Colombia.

By: Melissa Cruz García

The view from my studio window at UNAL, Fine Arts Building

The view from my studio window at UNAL, Fine Arts Building

Saturday morning was the day of the “Manuel Ancizar” lectures at the National University of Colombia. The year in course was nineteen ninety nine. Emilio Quevedo Velez with vivid voice was speaking on the history of the disease and medicine through the Arts (mainly literature, theater, painting, sculpture, music, opera and film). Astonish and silent I just thought that one of the greatest things of being a scholar could be to know a subject so much; that even listeners would get inspired by his-her single voice since that voice was an extension of his knowledge. Few years later and far away from the University and from home, I understood that the purpose of those Saturday lectures was to plant a seed of curiosity on the student’s mind, so they could discover a way to contribute to the development of a country, (or any society) from open spaces; in order to find alternative solutions to social, scientific and cultural situations. These lectures were the opportunity to interact in an academic review and to discuss and learn more severe social problems to which Colombian society faced at that time and still faces.

Little I predicted to come back to the National University of Colombia many years later, to develop an art project based on the distant experience I have from my “lost” country of origin. A project I recently decided to call: “A Contextual Fictional Space: about Fictional Homelands”. Not knowing the existence of the book by Salman Rushdie: “Imaginary homelands” (recommended recently by art historian Philip Peters), the writings I´ve found in the form of a pdf were crucial during my residency period in Bogotá Colombia. Not that I used Salman Rushdie as a guideline to shape my thoughts, but rather; I shared his vision and feelings of the place I once left. In Salman Rushdie’s case the city of Bombay and in my case, Bogotá.

Francisco de Paula Santamder square or Plaza Che (Che Square). 

Since my arrival and from the first day of my working period as an Artist in Residence at the University, many things were going on, visually, in its content and context as well. My memory of Bogotá was the one I had from the period of Anthanas Mockus as Major. Those years; you could see the streets roomed by mimes, clowns and acrobats teaching people to be and behave in a civic way. I also wanted to be one of those clowns, so I did. Now I certainly think that countries like Colombia need more clowns than politicians.

Along the time period of research on the context of the National University of Colombia, I realized that the graffiti around the campus where a real portrait of how the society was feeling subjugated and alienated by revolutionary ideas from leaders coming from other countries (Che Guevara, Marx, Lenin, etc). Non Colombian’s will think that there is no sign of National University but a Marxist- Che statement of one culture. Perhaps it was only the tradition to keep the graffiti the way they are for decades (perhaps as a memory), but I found out that every year the campus becomes white at the beginning of the academic year and later on, graffiti reappears.  Sometimes, different ones another times the very same ones painted on top. Those repainted where actually the Che Guevara, Stalin and Lenin murals. When the context reveals something more than simply names, I am a fan of Graffiti Art. And this is the case of the walls at the UNAL.

Collected materials from The Netherlands to get integrated in Colombian context

Analysis of UNAL context-conceptual idea to develop in situ


What will happen if?

  • Using the resources found on spot (recycled materials, history of the location and visual anthropology analysis); I will build an optical machine based on the discoveries?
  • What sort of machine will I construct and which form will it take?
  • How to transform-mutate-hybridize an existing space using the surroundings and resources found.


I decided to work on 24 foldable camera obscuras made out of the Dutch cardboard in combination to the Colombian cardboard I manage to collect. Some students from the 4th year bachelor helped me to construct those. They also were fundamentally helpful to realize interventions around the University, on the public spaces of the University. The discoveries made in situ were: the existence of the itinerant market called “Chaza” (by student´s in order to get some money while their studies), and the so visible graffiti’s. These camera obscuras were meant to photograph or to zoom in situ the circumstances occurring on location, like portraying the National University and the country on recycled boxes. The country in its context contained on the universe of a box. The portrait will be upside down. As if we will be looking things wrongly, as if the entirely world will be upside down or in reverse.

Foldable camera obscura interventions in front of the student’s itinerant markets, called “Chazas” at UNAL


The chosen wall had the Cuban flag and a poster of a “Capucho”

It is fun to work on a context!

We are all one; at least for a few hours

1250 photos will develop an animation, a film of the action integrating the wall. I intent to use a selection of 180 photos printed in the form of cards. And I will build an optical machine, called “Mutoscope”.

I am not a political artist. This phrase is not a statement and I don’t look for that at this point. My interest is to denounce facts and make art out of anything. Everything to me has potential or artistic talent, it is the way to associate or to think about the world around us that makes Art manifest and to gives something to society. I like to work around the context and the situations generated on a specific location, using resources that help me to carry further on my research and artistic method. I make use of the history, the circumstances on a specific location and the analysis of a visual anthropology as a creative tool. Working according to the context challenges the methods, thoughts and all what comes after that. My fictional homeland became very much a political statement. I recall Doris Salcedo’s words during an interview made by the Tate Museum in London in which she states that “every work of art is political”. Now, I think she might be right, considering that politics should satisfy the necessities of a population and not satisfy corrupted politicians. Even if you are not interested in human rights, if you are in a country like Colombia, so rich and yet badly administrated; as an artist  you will start to portrait the uncertainty of everyday calamities in your work. And Art, in my opinion, should portrait-denounce the society, its social culture and conditions. Then we can think what we did wrong or did right, for a better future; I like to believe.

Collage and sketches “A contextual Fictional Space”