José Alejandro Restrepo

FLORA ars + natura, Bogotá, Colombia

As he regains consciousness in a train car filled with slowly decaying bodies, José Arcadio Segundo – the protagonist of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) – observes that the soldier-butchers ‘had had time to pile [the corpses] up in the same way in which they transported bunches of bananas’. When he arrives home to the fictional town of Macondo, where no one believes his story, since it contradicts the official government and media narratives of peaceful reconciliation, Segundo’s memories of bodies discarded ‘like rejected bananas’ linger in a fugue state.

_jose_alejandro_restrepo_musa_paradisiaca_2016_exhibition_view_flora_ars_natura_bogota._courtesy_flora_ars_natura_bogota

​José Alejandro Restrepo, ‘Musa paradisíaca’, 2016, exhibition view, FLORA ars + natura, Bogotá. Courtesy: FLORA ars + natura, Bogotá

José Alejandro Restrepo, ‘Musa paradisíaca’, 2016, exhibition view, FLORA ars + natura, Bogotá. Courtesy: FLORA ars + natura, Bogotá

The events in García Márquez’s book were inspired by the actual 1928 massacre of striking United Fruit Company (UFC) workers in the Colombian coastal town of Ciénaga. In 1889, the Boston-based UFC began growing fruit in the rural region of Magdalena, which it marketed abroad with the invented coquette, ‘Chiquita Banana’. When labourers gathered in a public square to peacefully protest the company’s abusive practices, the army – under pressure from the US government – fired upon them; casualty estimates range wildly from 47 to 2,000. The slaughter sent shockwaves through Colombian society, toppling the conservative hegemony, a regime that had dominated national politics since 1886, initiating the career of liberal populist Jorge Eliécer Gaitán and producing an ideological touchstone for both the left-wing guerrilla revolutionaries and the right-wing paramilitaries who fought for power in the latter half of the 20th century.

Drawing from the same real-life tragedy, José Alejandro Restrepo’s ‘Musa paradisíaca’ (Paradisiacal Muse) actualizes García Márquez’s linguistic conflation of rotting human and plantain flesh. An adapted restaging of the artist’s eponymous landmark work, first presented at Bogotá’s Museo de Arte Moderno in 1996, saturates the three-floor exhibition space with the acrid smell of overripe fruit. Cut stalks of banana clusters, their elongated stems culminating in aged flowers, are hung with white rope from the ceiling of the second floor. Three of these phallic blossoms have been severed and replaced with small black monitors whose cords twist up the plants’ spines like cyborg implants; their screens display black and white video footage documenting the 1928 killings, only visible as reflections in small circular mirrors placed on the wooden floorboards.

jose_alejandro_restrepo_musa_paradisiaca_2016_exhibition_view_flora_ars_natura_bogota._courtesy_flora_ars_natura_bogota

José Alejandro Restrepo, ‘Musa paradisíaca’, 2016, exhibition view, FLORA ars + natura, Bogotá. Courtesy: FLORA ars + natura, Bogotá

José Alejandro Restrepo, ‘Musa paradisíaca’, 2016, exhibition view, FLORA ars + natura, Bogotá. Courtesy: FLORA ars + natura, Bogotá

These easily overlooked filmic reflections form what Gaston Bachelard termed an ‘epistemological rupture’, or a critical point of temporal discontinuity, by which Restrepo’s narrative segues between past and present. For example, a series of photographic works from 1996, also titled ‘Musa paradisíaca’, features a 19th-century engraving of a nude woman posing suggestively beneath a banana tree.  Referred to by the artist as an ‘ideological-colonial vision of the New World’, the image is a forerunner of both the Chiquita Banana Walt Disney cartoons and Busby Berkeley’s 1943 Technicolor film The Gang’s All Here, clips of which are featured in an untitled video work also on display. In a later collage from the same series, the engraving is juxtaposed with screenshots from a pornographic website, in which a nude woman eats a banana in a similarly recumbent position. Given temporary reprieve from her labours on a banana plantation, the exploited female is deployed as an object for touristic fantasy, recalling the exploitation and violent treatment of workers that continue to plague Colombian society. It is fitting that Restrepo – whose work exerts an immense influence over a younger generation of Colombian artists – takes as his subject here nothing less than an image-based genealogy of the nation itself. In this visceral exhibition, he collapses these complex histories of race and labour, language and gender, into the deceptively simple presence of a hanging fruit.

Issue 183

First published in Issue 183

Nov - Dec 2016

Most Read

Remembering the pioneering composer, visionary thinker, multimedia artist and techno-utopian, who died in May
Jennifer Piejko's guide to the best current shows in LA
Ei Arakawa work stolen from Skulptur Projekte Münster; Richard Mosse arrested; three men charged over counterfeit...
Joyce Pensato, Landscape Mickey, 2017. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London
Lisson Gallery, London, UK
Coinciding with Refugee Week, and her film Hear Her Singing screening at the Southbank Centre, the artist shares some...
Gilda Williams visits the first edition of the ARoS Triennial in Aarhus, Denmark
The Haitian Revolution as a lesson in corporate leadership and meeting the 'prophet of the Anthropocene': what to read...
Creative Time launches series of protest flags; photographer Khadija Saye reported as a victim of London's Grenfell...
A recent retrospective at the Museo Ettore Fico in Turin establishes the overlooked importance of a ‘total artist’
The third edition of the London performance festival makes the case for collective action in an age of political...
A past winner of the Frieze Writer’s Prize, Zoe Pilger on the books and experiences that have influenced her as a writer
A guide to the best projects included in Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017
For the first in a series of our editors’ initial impressions from documenta 14 Kassel, Pablo Larios on the Neue...
Art sees itself as facing a crisis of legitimation – can this account for claims to 'authenticity' being made in shows...

An interview with the late artist on the unique classification system he devised to organize his books
The independent curator on 25 years in the arts

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2017

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017