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Yumbo | Alicia Barney


María Belén Sáez de Ibarra, 2014

Alicia Barney (Cali, 1952) is a pioneer in Colombia in addressing environmental themes within the arts. Her criticism of environmental management from the last years of the 1970s coincides with the proliferation of industry and the exploitation of natural resources as a basis for national economical development and foreign investment.

Her work, markedly conceptual, overruns the aesthetic concepts predominant in Colombia in the 1980s. Even now, her particular way of communicating challenges us. She uses the minimum amount of resources, with the same material that forms the ideas she pursues (such as waste, pollution, and raw materials), which she molds into physical “sculptures,” which are sometimes fragile or ephemerally located in the space, always working with the notion of passing through time and processes.


"Yumbo", together with its parallel work "Río Cauca", is the result of tests and demonstrations that the artist conducted in the industrial zone of Yumbo, north of Cali, and in the Cauca River to singularize the environmental pollution and deterioration of the air and water caused by the abuse of industry and the “development” of the zones surrounding the river banks in the outskirts of the city of Cali.

"Yumbo" consists of thirty glass cubes, one for each day of the month, placed in the rural area adjacent to the industries, in which the artist collects pollution over time. She seals a cube each day, trapping in them the grime that sticks to the glass walls in a powder that becomes grayer and thicker each time. She exhibits them in a straight line, visually displaying the deterioration of the air as if it were a diary. In the words of Barney, “the deterioration of the environment is a gradual process reflected by the work Yumbo.”


The work makes explicit the ease and transparency with which one can demonstrate the tremendous collateral damage to the environment because of the carelessness of capitalist exploitation, without the need for technology or large sums of money to register the pollution, in contrast with the total blindness within society concerning the damage, and the difficulty of being warned about it. These industrial zones are built in places that are far from view of urban conglomerates. Barney thinks of them as spaces of exception, on the margins, but which directly impact the bodies of people and nature.


The Yumbo industrial zone continues to be a highly polluted region. In the year 2008, twenty-eight years later, the artist returns to create the identical work in the same zone, produced by the Ministry of Culture under the banner of the 41st National Artists’ Salon, which took place in Cali. The pollution continues to progress and, notoriously, to become more aggravated, according to Alicia Barney’s samples.

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