Saturday, September 3, 2011

What's in a Nickname?

Visitors with 'Popeye', 'El Barbie' and 'El Cuchillo'
Colombia's decades of domestic armed conflict have produced barbarities ranking with the very worst in history, the most notorious of them chainsaw massacres committed by right-wing paramilitary groups.

However, Colombia's conflict has also become so institutionalized and embedded in the culture
Popeye, an assassin employed by Pablo Escobar,
has recently testified against the convicted
killer of Presidential Candidate Luis Carlos Galan. 
that it's also become a parody on itself. For example, the paramilitaries and narcotraffickers use nicknames, sometimes even comical ones, such as Popeye, Jabon (Soap), Los Mellizos (The Twins) and Gordo Lindo (Pretty Fat Boy). Other nicknames, such as Cuchillo (Knife), were grimmer. At least at first, the nicknames protect identities and perhaps they also enable the criminals to distance themselves from their crimes. Or, maybe it's just cultural: nicknames are common in Latin America, and even unflattering ones like 'fatty' aren't generally considered demeaning.

Artist William Ignacio Martinez put together an 

La Barbi is a Mexican-American drug
cartel leader recently arrested and being extradited
to the U. S. The dollmaker likely does not
appreciate the nickname. 

exhibition, now at the Fundacion Gilberto Alzate (corner of Carrera 3 and Calle 10, in La Candelaria) treating these cultural oddities and associated horrors as mundane everyday things.

Family photos. 

Photos of paramilitary leaders, surrounded by dolls representing their nicknames, form a sort of family album. Some of these guys have the blood of thousands of people on their hands.

Some of these angels have flown away by being extradited to the States. 

Paramilitary leaders wear wings: a guide told me that this is a play on the iconic Latin American angel image. But the images could also refer to the way that many of the paramilitaries have been flown to United States prisons for trial on narcotrafficking charges. (Ironically, their murders, kidnappings and other terrorism are not considered by U.S. courts.)

A chainsaw: Massacre tool. 

Dolls or monsters?
Spinning knives cut all around. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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