Ana Mercedes Hoyos

To the Rhythm of Palenque

Despite being an exhibition partly complaint, of diatribe, related to the situation of the African ancestry population in Colombia and the American continent in general, Ana Mercedes Hoyos work never generated a sensation of sadness, affliction or angst. On the contrary, it is a showing which radiates joy and vitality as it is expectedly natural when it has to do with such vivid and festive cultures. San Basilio de Palenque, “the first free town of America” constituted the main focus of attention for the artist, but her work really makes reference by extension to all descendants of slavery who were brought in the most humiliating conditions to this hemisphere.

The Paintings, Drawings and Sculptures shown in this occasion in the Duque Arango Gallery, more than a rebuttal regarding irreversible historical facts, constitute a view to slavery as starting point of cultures that began to flourish on their arrival to American soil, cultures which have grown and developed with such pride and strength that have been able to permeate and influence the dominant culture, enriching it in several aspects that go from culinary to dance and from music to costumes.

And it is possible to simultaneously see and analyze Ana Mercedes Hoyos production from many different points of view, for example the socio-labor approach, since many of her pieces make allusion to female labor in Palenque society as shown in those where the fruit sellers appear in the market (while men are dedicated to agriculture or cattle) offering their appetizing and glossy products, or simply by commenting the incidents of the day, pieces from which we have numerous examples in this exhibition, specially drawings.

And since we are mentioning her drawings, wish this to be the moment to point out the evident talent of Ana Mercedes regarding this artistic practice, calling the attention to how, despite her monochromatic quality, evidences a great tonal variety as a result of the distinctive degrees of strength or delicacy, of impulse or care with which the line has been traced. In so far as her lines, as well as her brush strokes are endless, continue but modulated, risky but safe; lines with the ability to create and insufflate volume, to circumscribe or suggest spaces and to express scenes both simple and schematic equally as complex and baroque.

Other than the implications about the labor division of the Palenquera family, these type of pieces reveal one thing in particular, and could be said that it is the ancient system of cutting fruit, reminiscent of the fruits in cubist still lives (also African in origin) for their forcefulness and multiplicity in points of view.

In addition to allow surmising Ana Mercedes knowledge about the history of dead nature, artistic modality in which the most important is not the iconography but the way it is executed as well as its extra artistic implications, the insightful manner in which the artist conducted these representations to leave behind the presumption of autonomy that identifies itself with modernism is especially noticeable, polluting them with a social cause and leading them to deepen in a prevailing and compelling problematic. These palanganas or still lives of Ana Mercedes, some of which are presented in this exhibit both in drawing and Painting, constitute pieces of an extraordinary presence in which, together with its intention as socio cultural document, conscientious aesthetic considerations become evident, for instance in its careful combination of shapes and vibrant coloring as it corresponds to the topic, but also in the own sense of harmony of the Palenque people, given that, as well expressed by the artist:

I was never interested in a still life put together by me, with the objects or the eatables artistically arranged to produce an image which is basically aesthetic. I was interested in the still life of the palenqueras because even though its order has an aesthetic sense, it is a work tool anyway, of a fruit arrangement throughout very important aspects of their lifestyle can be envisaged. Ergo, painting still lives of the palenqueras has always been for me a way to give testimony of a cultural fact more than a way to express an artistic composition.

Something similar happens with her tridimensional work, with her African-American women’s heads, given the fact that they are taken from African sculptures (hence her closeness with the famous sculptures from the ancient African state of Benin) maintaining this way an unswerving authenticity. These heads however, have transformed in afro- colombian heads along their conception and elaboration, in representatives of the Palenque people not only for the mood provided to them by the national context, but also for the bonds they hold with manifested pride and that in occasions, gives them a note of unexpected color. These bonds are also clearly a mix of the palenquera fashion with ancient traditions, forasmuch as, if well, some of the African heads wear headdresses, these are different from the palenqueros bonds. And not only because some of them are a work tool by providing support for the palanganas that Palenqueras hold in their heads, but also for their way of sustaining, of elaborating and wearing them which is clearly peculiar and unique of the inhabitants of this population.

It is also evidenced through other type of bows represented by Ana Mercedes, included in this exhibit, which do not embroider the heads but the waists of the palenqueras. They are bows that are part of the selected garment for the San Basilio festival, the most solemn and significant celebration within the several festivities of the town; gala bows that end up being eloquent regarding palenquera fashion, of palenquero taste, of the palenquera elegance and throughout which the artist clarified that her view to the afro-colombianity was not one of benevolence but on the contrary, of admiration, that for her, San Basilio de Palenque was (and of course still is) above all, a victorious town along the centuries in spite of the constant lunges of the hegemonic culture; an undefeated town in the own undeniable satisfaction words of Ana Mercedes.

But going back to the Head sculptures of Ana Mercedes, it could be said that even polished bronze cooperates with the artist thus to the sense of sight and touch pieces are reminiscent of the color and youthfulness of the palenqueras skins. These are sculptures that transmit all the inherited tragedy but also all the cultural wealth enriched by generations, and that, therefore, incite to reflect

on about the history, about cultural blending and about the relation among societies with different traditions and contexts. Besides, these are pieces evidently made under a strict and thorough supervision of every detail, of every aspect, of every tone on its patina. They are undoubtedly so, the most achieved figurative sculptures together with Fernando Botero and Enrique Grau’s ones in the history of Colombia’s modern Art.

In conclusion, this exhibition of the Duque Arango gallery offers the pleasant opportunity of appreciating again the clean and excited Painting of Ana Mercedes Hoyos, her splendid sculptures filled with dignity and story and her magnificent drawings of graceful and fruitful line. It is as if after her departure, her work had continued deepening to the rhythm of Palenque (thus of percussion and of “marímbula”), in its social approaches, growing in its implications and tuning its attractive increasing the displays of dexterity and inventiveness on the artist as she most certainly will continue doing it for ever an ever.

– Eduardo Serrano