One of my favorite aspects of travel is finding that surprise around the bend. While wandering through colonial casco histórico, or Old Town of Cartagena de las Indias in January 2013, I was expecting to find Spanish colonial era museums, intriguing art and architecture, and the picturesque plazas which give the area its antiquarian charm. What I found was pleasant departure from my expectations. In search of an oasis from the blistering heat and sweltering humidity, I sought refuge in an air conditioned Palacio de la Inquisición, The Spanish Inquisition Museum.
The museum itself is quite average, like most museums displaying things that no longer serve much of any purpose: devices used for torture, historic documents, and old portraits. However in an annex on the second floor I discovered a very interesting surprise. The museum was hosting a cyclical exposition unlike the rest of its permanent collection. In a rather unfit setting, a contemporary photo exhibit that was both provocative and controversial piqued my interest.
What I had stumbled upon was an exhibit by Medellín native, Mauricio Vélez who used a series of photographic implementations to explore a duality as old as time – the good and bad represented within humans beings. Hence the name of the exhibit Mitad Ángeles Mitad Demonios, Half Angels Half Demons. The controversial exhibit uses the artist’s camera lens and body painting as an expression of the human form, religion, purity and sin.
Vélez worked with some of Colombia’s greatest contemporary artists who used skin as a canvas to explore the concept of good vs. evil.
Through the depiction of devilish creatures on the naked flesh, as well as the choice of biblical proverb, Vélez makes a poignant observation on the Church’s stance toward gays.
Romans 1:27 “In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
The religious nature of the subject juxtaposed with nude body creates an obvious controversial context. This depiction of the Last Supper of Christ is considered of the most polemic of the treatments used by the photographer. The nude female Christ of Nazareth depicted by Alejandra Azcárate, a famed Colombian actress and model, was in fact deemed so controversial that it landed Vélez in litigation for 2 years, however the court eventually did side with the photographer. The artist made interesting choices in the portrayal of the 12 apostles by using a an interesting barrage of society, including a former boxer, a singer, a prominent businessmen, a publicist, an ex-football player and even a gay rights activist.
Many of the photographs made biting commentaries on the seven capital sins, this image highlights gluttony.
“Every paradise has it’s hell, but there is no vice versa. Hell has no paradise”
The use of the chastity belt is a critique about the churches stance on abstinence, strongly contrasted with the religious iconography of a monk holding a child. In the context of sexual abuse scandal faced by the Catholic church the image is quite powerful and troublesome.
Devilish tongue: a commentary on the church’s stance on sodomy.
The image of the nude female and the serpent represents both temptation and the original sin.
Half Angels, Half Demons explores three themes repeated throughout Mauricio Vélez’ career: the human form, art, and religion. “That half angel, half demon inhabits all of us” said Vélez in an interview where he discussed the exhibition. Since the exhibition in Cartagena, Vélez displayed in several other Colombian cities and created a book featuring the 42 different images made available on Vélez’ website.
All photos are originals taken of the artist’s photos that were displayed at the exhibition in Cartagena.