La muerte sonriendo en paz sobre los caimanes

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Artwork title translation

Death Smiling Peacefully over the Caimans

Artwork material

screen print

Artwork dimensions

height: 50cm
width: 60cm

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Accession method

Commissioned by ESCALA 2008

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This print, created for ESCALA as a limited edition of 50, appears to be one of Rodríguez’s most sombre works of art. A large black sphere inhabits the centre of the composition, set against a background painted in muted turquoise, applied in generous brushstrokes allowing the paper to show through in places. The sphere is divided vertically by three identical, photographic images of a skull that is imposed upon the almost abstracted ridge of a caiman’s back. The disproportionally large skull inhabits the ridge or peak, while pointing upwards to the sky.

Rodríguez was born in Barranquilla, a Colombian city on the Caribbean coast where caimans are native. These reptiles play a significant role in indigenous cultures and are a recurring image in Rodríguez’s body of work. In an essay written by Dawn Ades, the author asks: “Does [the caiman] stand for the Caribbean with all its teeming, lively, colourful and dangerous creatures?” (1) She further mentions the popular cumbia song “Se va el caimán/ There Goes the Caiman” whose lyrics tell the story of a man from the village of Abolato, who became a caiman and went to Barranquilla. (2) This story with its anthropomorphic theme, and the recurring presence of the caiman in Caribbean popular culture, as well as the colours predominant in the nature of the Caribbean, inspire Rodríguez’s artistic practice.

While the caiman is a recurrent symbol of the Caribbean in Rodríguez’s work, the sombre palette and seemingly solemn theme were, at that time, unusual. The completion of this commission coincided with the moment at which her elderly and much-loved elderly mother-in-law’s life was fading in Denmark. In this work, then, Rodríguez avoids a stereotypical perception of the Caribbean and its luscious colours, addressing instead, the inevitability of Death and its triumph over one of the Caribbean’s most powerful creatures. The image and the title nonetheless suggest a serene state between them.

1. Ades, Dawn. ‘Ofelia Rodríguez’. In: Ofelia Rodríguez Anthology Exposition. Bogotá: Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, 2008: 49-50.
2. Cumbia is a popular music genre that originated on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

(Text commissioned by ESCALA for the exhibition Connecting through Collecting: 20 Years of Art from Latin America at the University of Essex, 2014)

Stefanie Kogler

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