The BACHUÉ Project is a management platform focused on Colombian visual and audio-visual arts. It aims to promote contemporary creative, research and curatorial expressions based on the revision of the past and the revaluation of modern manifestations, thus contributing to the construction of a cultural heritage to reflect upon the present and the local.
The project is named after the sculpture Bachué, the mother goddess of the Chibcha Indians, by artist Rómulo Rozo (Chiquinquirá, 1899-1964). This piece, regarded as an icon of modernity in Colombia, stands in contrast to the cultural ambitions of the Hellenic-Roman style that still prevail.
The original objective of the Bachué Project is to collect and preserve works of Colombian art, as well as maps, documents, primary sources and supporting bibliography. For the purpose of referencing, the focus includes Latin American as well as conceptual and photographic expressions and images of the 1960s and 1970s. The heritage worth of this collection lies in its status as a testimony to the ideas and concerns that artists and thinkers have left regarding the definition of an identity of the Americas in terms of the idea of an appropriated new world, while taking also into account the knowledge of its territory and the experiences and conditions of its inhabitants. The Bachué Project is based on the significance of collecting as an individual or institutional practice with a great potential to contribute to the development of a conceptual framework. It thus seeks to stimulate and encourage a purposeful collecting practice rooted in consistent criteria, according to the sensitivity, resources, interests and needs of the collector.
The art collection includes works in various formats and media from the late 19th century to the present. The following groups could be considered to be integrated into the entire collection in accordance with the conventional categories of the history of Colombian art: (i) pieces by landscape artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who travelled through and depicted the natural environment surrounding the main Colombian cities, aiming to make a pictorial record of the appearance of the natural territory and their experience in it; ii) pieces by Americanist artists, who in the first decades of the 20th century overtly wondered about the distinctive features of Colombian identity, according to the root references and the pre-Columbian past, creating images that took visual and narrative elements from the Mexican muralist movement spread throughout the rest of the continent; iii) in addition, there is a complete set of works by the generation of artists who emerged towards the mid-20th century, who, with the support of specialised critics, developed individual plastic languages that broke with the academic tradition and appropriated resources from the European avant-garde applied to local environments and backgrounds; iv) of particular interest is a group of works with an overt political content that, either through expressionist strategies of distortion of the body or mechanisms of propaganda and the use of language, denounce the armed conflict and the conditions of poverty in Colombian territory; v) in addition, the collection features pieces by contemporary artists, produced between 2000 and 2020, who worked along the conceptual lines endorsed by the collection; and, vi) finally, works, ephemeral prints and records of conceptual manifestations from the 1960s and 1970s, not only in Colombia and Latin America, but also from the Eastern United States, New York, Italy and Northern and Eastern Europe, in particular.
Regarding the archive of documents, maps and books, the collection includes manuscripts from the conquest and colonial period and illustrations by European travellers from the 18th and 19th centuries, reflecting political and economic strategies for the appropriation of the territory and its resources. The compilation of old maps thus coincides with this interest by highlighting the scientific tools that explorers, traders and politicians developed with a view to securing control of the territory. The primary and secondary bibliography provides the conceptual support for the collection and offers arguments and theoretical grounds that enable the construction of a contemporary approach to historical processes that reveal an economic, political, or aesthetic interest in defining the Latin American territory and the identity of its inhabitants.
The historical antecedents on which the project focuses its interest for the promotion of academic or creative productions fall within two broad, closely related issues: the appropriation and control of territory as a repository of resources, and the tensions between Eurocentrism and Americanism in the extensive historical process of defining its own identity. In this connection, the main point of interest lies in the historical processes within the Colombian territory that have shaped the specific nature of its intellectual and artistic production. However, the supporting platform of projects is open to proposals that link and connect players, events, and issues in other Latin American countries.
The Bachué Project is based on the historical processes involving the territory as the setting of conflict or as a reference to establish the features and worth of a continental identity. In this sense, its scope of interest goes from the 15th century to the present day. This broad scenario, spanning from the arrival of the "conqueror" to the mid-twentieth century, highlights the tensions between local customs, imaginaries and resources and colonial interests.
The starting point is an analysis of Christopher Columbus's expedition to the Americas, which was based on Marco Polo's explorations. Columbus' fundamental purpose was to establish trade routes to Cipango (Japan) that would facilitate the transport of spices and gold to Europe. This plan was presented as an undertaking that promised to bring wealth to its promoters, the Catholic Monarchs. The chimera of a city of gold - the legend of El Dorado - quickly spread throughout Europe, resulting in constant explorations of the Americas and, consequently, the processes of conquest that devastated the millenary native cultures.
The imposition of Catholicism over local beliefs and customs was a key part of this process. In the New Kingdom of Granada, which included Colombian and Venezuelan territory, the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries were highly influential. While their indoctrination work was mandatory, it was also marked by pedagogical and research interests. Such was the case of the work of Fray Pedro Simón - a Spanish priest who arrived in the New Kingdom of Granada in 1604, worked as a professor for several years and provided a comprehensive chronicle of the colonial history of Colombia and Venezuela. In his Noticias historiales de las conquistas de Tierra Firme en las Indias Occidentales, known as Noticias Historiales (Historical News of the Conquests of Tierra Firme in the West Indies), he presents his personal concept about historical work in four volumes in which he narrates the events associated with the discovery and conquest, delves into anthropological aspects, and gives an account of pre-Columbian social and political life. It is worth noting that his interest in indigenous cosmogony can be clearly seen in the description of the myths of the creation of the world and of humankind through the legend of La Bachué.
Some characteristics of contemporary artistic practice are the result of a process generated throughout the 20th century - with a visible proliferation of new creative possibilities in the 1970s and 1980s -, which brought about changes in the mindset of both creators and the public when defining a work of art. Artists re-assessed the relevance of the purely technical exercise and mastery, and broadened the range of means they could use for visual construction forms to communicate their ideas, in order to engage in creative processes that require the dynamics of thorough research into the themes and phenomena of their interest. Their starting point is what transpires around them, the physical aspect of the surrounding space, the information they receive from the media, the visual codes generated by mass culture, the strengths and weaknesses they perceive in the cultural, political and economic systems that prevail in their contexts, as well as their own emotions. From this repertoire, either individually or in a collective, they develop ideas that they turn into images presented through videos, photographs, paintings, drawings, bodily actions, installations, virtual publications or on paper. These pieces are created through metaphors, allegories and symbols that allow spectators to activate their capacity of interpretation, to go beyond the mere assessment of taste and thus to become involved in a proposal that prompts them to think about the conditions of their own or other people's context. In some cases, they even require the active participation of the public as an essential agent in triggering their meaning. As facilitators of the dynamics of dissemination and explanation of this production, artists, researchers, art historians, critics, and curators -independently, in collectives, or in association with museums or galleries- present exhibitions, texts and reflections at the Espacio El Dorado.
In its inception, the Bachué Project was partly defined by the need to assimilate contemporary artistic proposals and to find conclusive values in their characteristic heterogeneity. The ultimate aim was to go back in time, in order to link the historical processes of the Colombian territory with the permanent need to produce images, each time with a different intention, be it as representation, as a testimony, as a discourse, as an allegory, or as an invention.
José Darío Gutiérrez is a lawyer specialised in commercial law and an entrepreneur. He has been an art collector for 40 years. In 2008, together with his wife María Victoria Turbay, he decided to promote Colombian visual arts through the creation of the Bachué Project, a platform designed to foster contemporary creative, research and curatorial expressions based on the revision of the past and the appreciation of modern manifestations, thus contributing to the creation of a cultural heritage that reflects on the present and the local.