This article discusses the work Visitas y Apariciones by Colombian artist Alfonso Suárez Ciodaro (b. 1952), which was awarded first prize at the XXXV Salón Nacional de Artistas. The piece entailed rigorous hands-on research into the life and work of Venezuelan physician and scientist José Gregorio Hernández (1864-1919). After his death in an accident, Hernández acquired the status of a saint, though at the time of the writing of this text (2009) he had yet to be beautified by the Catholic Church. By means of a specific ritual involving prayer and worship of his image, Hernández is believed to have healing powers. Suárez Ciodaro’s work places emphasis on Hernández’s mysticism and importance as a popular symbol. For the performance at the Salón Nacional, he made use of a scented crate in which the artist himself appears portraying the Venezuelan popular saint. The crate also contained elements used in worship rituals, religious images and figures, as well as drawings and photographs of the places Hernández visited before his death. After the opening of the crate, Suárez Ciodaro appeared briefly at various places in the exhibition venue, in a performance that made use of theatrical techniques. Suárez Ciodaro’s action culminated with giving the audience prayercards dedicated to the Venezuelan doctor.
Olga Marín’s text centers of how, in his work, Suárez Ciodaro provides a symbolic reading of Hernández, a popular saint and religious icon. The artist’s inquiry is, ín Marín Arango’s view, of anthropological as well as socio-demographic interest insofar as it approaches Hernández as a figure of both artistic and ritual importance for Latin America. The artist, as quoted in the text, affirms that he conceives of the piece as a great satire where performance and theater are envisioned as analogous practices; he places emphasis on the visual nature of the former and on the importance of the latter by using theatrical techniques that do not formulate “the theatrical” as an act at a distance from the audience. Marín views performance practices as awareness of a body in a specific space and time. On the basis of anecdotes about the artist’s professional and personal background, Marín claims that this is a natural performance where the artist’s vital experience intuitively becomes essential to the composition of the work.
A journalist, Olga Marín Arango has a degree in social communication. She was the editor of the cultural section of Bogotá-based newspaper El Espectador, the director of the Universidad Nacional of Colombia radio station (2005), and editorial coordinator of the Colombian Ministerio de Educación (2008). She is currently (2009) a professor in the Social Communication Department of the Pontifica Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá and a member of the editorial board of Javeriana pesquisa, a journal on science and technology.
For more on Alfonso Suárez, see 1129974, 1131952, and 1130022.