Los Gestos Muertos by María Isabel Arango
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Interested in silences, pauses, the invisible and in the dissonances that participate in the writing of history, María Isabel Arango (Medellín, 1979) has developed Los gestos muertos [The Dead Gestures], a visual research project that performs a sort of dissection of the testimony by focusing on the portraits of Colombian politicians while they deliver speeches during the recent peace process with Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) –the very same process that now exists as a frustrated and futile attempt after it was rejected by the South American country’s population (even if only by an incredibly small margin).
Making use of newspaper and magazine clippings, web image searches, and exploring different archives and libraries, Arango gathered a vast collection of images that mostly depict politicians discussing the peace process. These were later classified and catalogued according to the intention denoted by the gesturality of the depicted person’s hand(s): persuasion, modesty, temperance, conviction, threat, reiteration, among others. The orator disappears from the image once the artist isolates his or her hands and the frame is strictly focused on these: as the gesture is emphasized, the referent becomes absent. Even if the voice, the testimony, has no space within the photographic register, in here, the image fails to connect the spectator with that which has not been possible to see with his or her own eyes.
Given that the peace process took place behind closed doors, this visual compilation replicates to a certain degree the spectatorial experience lived in said country: the discussion dominated the public sphere yet the only way to gain access to its progress –or the lack thereof– was through the press itself or via the official government reports. Once again, the process was carried out, in its entirety, in an absolute secrecy that was apparently necessary for it to continue. Therefore, the Colombian population lived this process in two separate registers: the first, on a visual level, and the second one, through the written word. Herein lies the conceptual point of departure of Arango’s project, the emphasis on the fact that the writing of history –political or otherwise– happens based on the dissociation of politics itself as a performative act, hence the result is nothing but dead gestures.