Thursday, September 27, 2012

Colombia vs. Columbia

One of the most common mistakes committed by anglophiles unfamiliar with the nation at the northern end of South America is to spell its name 'Columbia.' But the misspelling might represent something much more profound than bad ortography.

A map indicates regions
designated for mining. 
An art exhibit, named 'A Nation Belonging to Others,' by Fernando Arias, on now in the NC Galeria in the Macarena neighborhood uses the O vs. U difference to portray two nations: A healthy one with burgeoning biodiversity and lots of indigenous culture, and another that is selling out its culture and biodiversity to outsiders.

Like many modern art exhibits, this one could be visually more interesting. Almost its entire first floor consists of a taut red string describing Colombia's borders, perhaps to illustrate the weakness of the country's frontiers, and the word 'Columbia' on the back wall. Oh, and there's a reworked version of the nation's coat of arms, with rapacious hawks landing on it, and nearby the words 'Sale' in English. On the second floor you'll see a video denouncing mega-mining and a sculpture of Colombia's three Andean mountain ranges that's apparently made from gold. (You can't touch it.)

But if the artwork isn't so impressive, the idea of two Colombias, or a Colombia at a crossroads, is interesting.

Colombia and Columbia. 
And, sadly, the artist's point seems to be true. Colombia has opened itself wide to foreign investment, which has helped drive economic growth, but also appears to be destroying much of the country's biodiversity while creating few good jobs.

Should somebody rename the country?

Incidentally, I'd always wondered why Colombia IS spelled as it is and not 'Colonia' (from Cristobal Colon), or 'Columbia' (from Cristopher Columbus). That, probably, showed my own ignorance. The real reason is that the country's name comes from 'Colombo,' the Italian-born explorers original name.

Colombia's Andes Mountain ranges in gold. 

Pres. Santos has declared 17 million hectares as 'mining-energy reserve.'

'...a Colombia which appears to be always disposed to give itself away without hesitation for the most mediocre and pathetic prices.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


mauricio forero l said...

Excellent post Mike, really good. I have to agree with your view when it comes to the art, this kind of work is so boring and not exciting at all at least for what you show in the photos. I have to say that one of my country's problem, is the fact that it was named after such character ( Colom or Colombus ) it brings kind of bad luck, this guy was in many ways an asshole, so I do not know how well you can do when you have such a name, is almost like to name one of your kids Adolf.

M. F.

Elyssa Pachico said...

I enjoy Mike's cranky art reviews : )

mauricio forero l said...

Yes, I agree with you Elyssa, Miguel is kind of harsh as an art critic, but I'm afraid he is always right.

M. F.

Miguel said...

Cranky? But I thot might art analysis was as sublime and profound as the exhibits themselves.

Thanks for your comments, which had me laughing out loud.