Bogotá, Colombia – Santiago Escobar Jaramillo has traveled the world showcasing his acclaimed photographs But his heart has always been with his native Colombia.
Jaramillo, who dedicates himself to affecting social change through his works, had this in mind when he created his most recent project, “Colombia, Tierra de Luz.” The idea was born when Jaramillo was stationed in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt as a peace soldier. He thought about the victims of war in Colombia and realized that he wanted to do something meaningful.
“I thought of my country from the prospective of violence,” Jaramillo explains. “I wanted to use photography and architecture to provide an escape for people to leave their problems behind.”
The project tries to show support for Colombians displaced by the conflict and who have experienced its brutality first hand. According to the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, roughly 3.8 to 5.4 million people have been driven out of their homes since 1985 because of the war.
Through the use of photographs and art involving light, Tierra de Luz gives a voice to the voiceless. The project aims to generate interest in people around the nation who have been marginalized by the conflict for more than half a century. This vision is unique to each place that he visits.
The pilot program took place in Santa Rita, Magdalena, an area almost entirely destroyed over 11 years ago by right-wing paramilitaries who ravaged the people and livestock, only to leave the town in complete darkness. As a way to symbolize that the village was now “alight” with hope, Jaramillo hung big candle wicks to be lit outside locals’ homes at night. The way the light illuminated the neighborhood in his photos served as a way to reflect on the whole incident.
After that success in Magdalena, the project has spread to several war-affected areas.
In Ciudad Bolívar, a poor section in the capital of Bogotá, many Colombians have sought refuge there after being kicked out of their original homes in other areas by groups like the FARC rebel group. Working with a nonprofit organization, Jaramillo helped install soda-bottle “light bulbs” inside the locals’ homes that illuminate the living space with a mixture of water and lime paint. To illustrate awareness of their experiences, people were instructed to write personal messages to be displayed inside the bottles to be seen by all visitors who passed through.
In one home, Hilda Giraldo, originally of Manizales, recalled the time years ago when her family was driven out of town by the FARC guerrillas.
“At that time, there were a lot of guerrillas there,” she said. “They said get out. And even though we were the owners of our own land, they told us to leave or they’d kill us.”
Now separated from her children, Giraldo decided to write the phrase ‘light illuminates this household’ inside a bottle that included the names of her kids.
Jaramillo uses heartbreaking stories like these to fuel inspiration, continuing his work and hoping for a better future.
“I’m an artist who thinks that you can make changes through art,” he says. “You can use it to imagine a better world.”
While “Colombia: Tierra de Luz” is meant to bring attention to the ongoing problems in this country, it’s all about the people.
“It’s to celebrate, to show that we’re with them,” Jaramillio said. “It’s like someone is illuminating their lives through the art. But it’s also for policy makers and other artists to call their attention and inspire them to work on similar projects so we can make a difference in this world.”
It’s also a way for the public to see these people’s wounds of war and the way they live in order for others to heal themselves from their own indifference to what is going on in their backyards.
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David Noto is a freelance writer based in Bogotá, Colombia.