The creaking of the windows represents mourning that does not stop in Colombia. The persistent murder of social leaders throughout the country’s geography is fracturing the social fabric. That is the metaphor that Doris Salcedo chose to denounce the weariness of society through Quebrantos, an artistic intervention in the Plaza de Bolívar, in the historic center of Bogotá. A sort of collective ritual that its promoters define as an action of monumental mourning that seeks to exalt the victims.

Quebrantos gathered over this Monday more than 70 leaders from different regions, called by the Truth Commission. They, with the help of 300 volunteers, wrote on broken glass the names of 165 of the nearly 500 activists and human rights defenders killed after having raised their voices against land dispossession, illicit cultivation or illegal mining in the two and a half years that have elapsed since the signing of the peace agreements between the ex-FARC guerrilla and the Government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018).

An activist writes on broken glass the name of a murdered leader. Camilo Rozo

“Glass, like life, is fragile, and once it is broken, it cannot be restored,” Salcedo explained about an ephemeral work that seeks to reflect on these losses that are occurring with unusual frequency. “These people have already been killed, if we forget them we will kill them twice. This type of act intends that these people stay alive through the continuous invocation of their names ”. The duel, which has traditionally been seen as a private act, must in this case be transformed into a public act, the artist maintains. “By breaking glass we are breaking the silence, if we manage to break the silence around these heartbreaking deaths we will suddenly make them stop.”

Salcedo, deeply committed to the implementation of a peace agreement that is going through a critical moment, has set out to demonstrate that Colombians are not condemned to new cycles of violence, that they are capable of disarming themselves as a society. Last year he presented his work Fragmentos, made with the molten metal of 37 tons of weapons delivered by the ex-guerrillas. The 1,300 metal plates hammered by women who suffered sexual abuse in the context of the armed conflict are now the floor of that space of art and memory.

Seventy leaders from different regions, with the help of 300 volunteers, participated in the work.

Seventy leaders from different regions, with the help of 300 volunteers, participated in the work. Camilo Rozo

The most recognized and valued Latin American artist in the world has turned to the Plaza de Bolívar, the political heart of the country, on more than one occasion. “What I want is to allow the absent to demonstrate there, in that center of power that is exclusive to the living,” explained the Hay Festival in Cartagena at the beginning of the year in a celebrated talk. “I feel like we have an obligation to rebuke that power.”

The plaza was also the scene of Adding Absences, a huge white shroud with 11 kilometers of stitches sewn by 10,000 people that picked up the voice of the victims amid the clamor to rescue the peace agreement, days after the plebiscite in which the original pact was rejected due to a narrow difference. And a few blocks away, in an old house, Fragmentos is located. The common thread of all these interventions is that they are collective works. “Without the presence of these leaders it would only be broken glass. This is what gives meaning to the work, ”says the artist.

Panoramic view of 'Quebrantos', in the Plaza de Bolívar.

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 Panoramic view of ‘Quebrantos’, in the Plaza de Bolívar. Camilo Rozo

Quebrantos also serves as a preamble to the first public dialogue of the Truth Commission on non-repetition, focused on that rosary of crimes against activists. “We have not fully addressed the problem,” says Catholic priest Francisco de Roux, who chairs the commission. “The leaders continue to be assassinated in the most diverse places and for the most diverse reasons: the struggles for land, the problem of drug trafficking, the defense of the environment.” The killing of social leaders and human rights defenders threatens the implementation of a difficult, hard-fought agreement, which is still a matter of debate. In the first four months of 2019 alone, more than fifty murders were reported, according to the UN. A fractured country, like the windows in the Plaza de Bolívar, which claims to turn the page on violence.

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