“We want this to be a Mecca of culture and we want people to come to see it.”
- Carlos Giraldo, Mayor of Jericó
Warhol in Coffee Country
The Andy Warhol Museum partners with a rural Colombian town working against the odds to make art a vital part of its community.
By Karen Hoffmann Little
Warhol-themed workshops and related programming became a community-wide event in Jericó.
Photos: Karen Hoffmann Little
Sixteen-year-old Andres, who until recently was addicted to crack and living on the streets of Medellín, Colombia, cuts an intricately decorated cross out of red construction paper with an X-ACTO knife, creating a stencil he’ll use later to silkscreen a t-shirt, an art technique made wildly popular by Andy Warhol.
“These kids have held knives, but not to make art,” says Juan Carlos Moreno Osorio, an educator from FARO Family Foundation, a rehabilitation center in Medellín that works with teens like Andres who are addicted to drugs or are in trouble with the law.
This past June, Andres and about 20 of his peers were in Jericó, a tiny rural town in the Andes about three hours from Medellín, to participate in an art workshop designed by The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and delivered in partnership with Jericó’s Archeological Museum of the Southwest (MASUR). Oddly enough, this tucked-away town of 12,000—with its meticulously painted houses and amiable hospitality—has blossomed into a destination for, of all things, Warhol enthusiasts. Or perhaps more accurately described: the Warhol curious.
This unlikely turn of events surprised everyone but Jericó Mayor Carlos Giraldo, who last winter put into motion the idea of bringing a global exhibition to his out-of-the-way town. Having studied in Germany in the 1990s, Giraldo recalled how treasures of Russia’s Romanov Dynasty were loaned to a museum in a small German town, bringing plenty of tourists with it. And as fate would have it, the biggest Warhol exhibition ever to be staged in Latin America, Andy Warhol: Mr. America, organized by The Museo de Arte del Banco de la República in partnership with The Warhol in Pittsburgh, just happened to be in nearby Bogotá.
Thanks to the generosity of Bogotá gallery owner Alonso Garcés, a Jericó native, MASUR was able to exhibit 13 silkscreens from Andy Warhol: Mr. America for three months. At first, Colombian newspapers thought it was a joke. But, eventually, the El Colombiano’s front page declared: “Believe it! Warhol is in Jericó.”
Even though some locals had to turn to the encyclopedia to find out who Warhol was, word spread quickly. Buses full of students from Medellín, farmers on mules from surrounding rural areas, even people from the capital city of Bogotá—13 hours by bus—traveled to see the small exhibition that included the Pop Artist’s iconic images of Marilyn Monroe and Mao. International news picked up the story and the show was extended an extra month because it was so popular. More than 6,000 people visited.
“They came as families. It was healthy tourism,” says Giraldo, noting that much of rural Colombia is filled with run-down schools and few museums.
Warhol Museum artist-educator Felipe Castelblanco, a Bogotá native, read about the exhibition in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and knew that Jericó would be a perfect place for The Warhol’s Radical Urban Silkscreen Team (RUST) to temporarily set up shop and expand on Jericó’s sudden surge of interest in Warhol and art in general.
“For me, as a Colombian,” Castelblanco explains, “it’s a privilege to be a part of The Warhol’s ongoing work with diverse communities in Pittsburgh. When I read about the Jericó exhibition, it was an amazing coincidence, and I wanted to use the opportunity to follow up on their efforts to break down the cultural isolation that occurs in rural areas of my country.”
Easily portable, low-cost, and, most importantly, empowering, RUST is a project developed by The Warhol in partnership with Artists Image Resource, an artist-run organization in Pittsburgh that specializes in fine-art printmaking. Inspired by Warhol’s artistic practices, the idea is for underserved teens to learn basic printmaking and design skills as a way to positively express themselves while gaining marketable skills.
The first morning in Jericó, something unexpected happened. Anticipation for the RUST workshops was so high that several groups showed up at once, 54 students in all. Castelblanco had to think on his feet. He showed them a slideshow of Warhol prints.
“Who’s this?” he asks. “Marilyn Monroe!” the teens yell. “Mao!”
Next he shows them famous Colombian figures for further inspiration, including images of Shakira, singer Juanes, and late comedian Jaime Garzón. Volunteers illustrate how to make collages of color behind transparencies. Then, decked out in gray smocks and wasting no time, the teens head to tables, busying themselves painting, making stencils, and trying their hands at the silkscreen station.
As artwork is hung to dry, Shakira never looked so colorful. Colombia’s answer to Marilyn Monroe has a big red mouth, blue hair, and rays emanating from her head. A nun has chosen to print Shakira, too. “My first work of art!” she says proudly.
Other teens print typical Colombian images such as the soft drink Pony Malta, Jet chocolate, and Juan Valdez. The mayor, working on his image of a local priest, is the center of a buzz of activity—everyone wants him to see their work.
That evening, in the main plaza of town, elder men sit on benches while kids on bikes pop wheelies. Warhol’s famous Screen Tests—a series of silent black-and-white film portraits—are projected on a makeshift screen in front of the main cathedral. It’s the accompaniment to the sound of church bells, Friday-night ice cream, and hot dogs from vendors.
“The town now has a connection and identity with Warhol,” adds Castelblanco. The following day, the energy level in workshops is even higher than the day before.
“I want to put the most beautiful woman in the world on a t-shirt!” proclaims one of the students from FARO. It’s this group that is among the most artistically creative to pass through the three days of workshops. Their designs include everything from dragons to Rastafarians. Still, many have to ask volunteers how to write their own names.
“The goal of the rehabilitation is to expose them to new things, artistic things,” says FARO educator Moreno Osorio. “We show them a vision of another way of life. Through art and theater, we show them they can break with the past.”
Mayor Giraldo says he hopes the workshops will be part of the continuing effort to put Jericó on the map. “It makes us very happy to have a museum in such a small town,” he says. “We want this to be a Mecca of culture and we want people to come to see it.”