“Zurumbatico” at Cortona on the Move (Interview with Luis Cobelo)

From August 13th until the 17th I attended the Cortona On the Move Photography Festival in Cortona, Italy. Here are some of the photography exhibits and workshops that interested me the most. I was lucky enough to talk with Luis Cobelo about his exhibition “Zurumbatico.” Here are some excerpts from that interview, as well as a discussion about his show.

Located in the Vecchio Ospital in Cortona, Italy, “Zurumbatico” utilizes and plays with the space in which it is exhibited. Much like it’s neighbour “Foreigners” it uses the old hospital to emphasis it’s themes, rather than fight to look like your standard photography exhibit. And yet, “Zurumbatico” is a wildly different photography exhibit.

The monkey who guessed my thoughts and he didn’t´t like it.

Zurumbatico” is Luis Cobelo’s “personal tribute to ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude,’ which turns 50 years in 2017. [The exhibition] is a journey through all those feelings or moods around the word ‘zurumbático’ with which Cobelo entered north Colombia, the place where Gabriel García Márquez was born and his masterpiece was constructed. The work is full of fantasy, reality and mystery. It is the author’s personal approach to a Latin American way of being, and the Márquez’ book is just the starting point. Cobelo discovered that what is considered magical realism does not really exist, things are as they are.”

As such, the exhibition plays with the sense of history and mystery that the old Vecchio Ospital evokes, at one point layering the walls with faux cash to provide a kind of wallpaper to the images that cover it, and at another point creating a dance between photography and the written word. Near the front of the exhibition is an image of a yellow butterfly encapsulated by a thin, tall shot glass with the word “love” hand-written above it. This is one of my favorite images from the exhibition. This image can be read in a number of ways; originally a reference to Mauricio Babilonia, for whom Fernanda del Carpio falls in love with in “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, the symbolism became reality as a yellow butterfly began following Cobelo throughout his travels one day, effectively symbolizing the love Cobelo was experiencing at the time. Not wanting to injure the butterfly he encased it in a shot glass to make the image we see in the show.

Through the exhibition, Cobelo’s imagery takes on the secondary forms that his audience assigns to it. For myself, I thought, what better way to portray the fundamental conundrum of how we love — the unintentional need to cage that which we love the most in it freest form (an, of course, personal reading of a public photograph)?

Listen to Luis Cobelo’s explanation of the butterfly image here

Another impactful photo-text duo is the image of a woman in a wet white t-shirt that had become translucent with the text “when I saw you in the yard,” evoking the memories of seeing an object of lust in the distance for the first time. The dance between the text and images is at one point an extension of the magical realism that Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” conveys, and at another point it is the entry point the complex word that Cobelo presents in his work; zurumbatico.

And this is where Cobelo’s work takes on its own unique life; this is the point that the work stops being merely a tribute to Marquez’s greatest work and starts emphasizing it’s own unique idea. The deep melancholy of Marquez’s books jump-started a greater idea for Cobelo, the idea that the “magic” of magical realism is simply just reality. But instead of being deterred by such a realization, Cobelo has decided to revel in it and create a world and alter ego that plays with the absurdity and joy of magic (or lack there of) in our world, making it more reality that fiction.

And this is, in part, why “Zurumbatico” is such an interesting project. Of course the project would have been interesting in it’s own right, but Cobelo is not shy about the fact that these ideas and themes will be explored more in his future work. Throughout the entire festival, Cobelo’s public appearances and persona cried out, “Keep watch! There is more to come.” At the conclusion of the festival, Cobelo premiered his music video “Zurumbatico” an absurd, kitsch and utterly fun piece that surprised more than one of the (at times) stuffy festivalgoers.

gif from “Zurumbatico” the music video.

With the video, Cobelo was saying, “chill out and lets dance!” And ultimately that is what Cobelo’s “Zurumbatico” calls on its audience to do. Life is hard, long, and a trial, but life is also kind, short and beautiful. “Zurumbatico” unflinchingly dances in both sides of that spectrum.

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in buying Cobelo’s book, “Zurumbatico,” you can find it here.

The boy with the water, leaving his body.

Interview with Luis Cobelo — edited for grammar and clarity

1.) I know that ‘Zurumbatico’ “is a personal tribute to ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude,’” but how did you first come to be interested in doing a project around the ideas and themes of “One Hundred Years of Solitude?”

I have been a very hug fan of [“One Hundred Years of Solitude”], since I read for the first time when I was 12, so it has been inside of me always. As a photographer, I focus my subjects and themes in Latin America. I was in Aracataca, [Colombia] in 2007 doing an article based on the women of [“One Hundred Years of Solitude”] and capturing images of the [locations] from the book.

Ten years after I came back [to Colombia] and realized that I was “cooking” all those images and situations [from the exhibition in my mind]. Without knowing it, I create images from my subconscious, taking the book as inspiration and a starting point.

Latin America still surprises me. Even if I am [accustomed] to those unreal or real [situations that I come across], it’s the same.

I could say that I started [the project] 10 years ago, but that I never knew for sure [until the moment of making that first trip in 2007], and becoming aware of everything, when I returned. I think in general life [walks a] very thin line between [the] real and [the] unreal.

I discovered essentially that all the photos made were a reflection of all these [thoughts I had had over the] last 15 years of accumulating sensations [from] the Caribbean and of Latin America in general. García Márquez’s book allowed me to enter that dimension that I call “the zurumbático tunnel”, from which [the work] emerges. [It is] a Latin American way of being that has always been in me [and] that I have explored a lot photographically, but that [has also deepened even more throughout my work].

Wrapped in plastic waiting to fly.

2.) How did you incorporate the word ‘zurumbatico’ into the project and why has it become so significant?

I found the word in [One Hundred Years of Solitude]. It’s an old Spanish word that comes from Portuguese and is very musical, even graceful. It doesn’t leave you indifferent, there are people who laugh just hear it for the first time. [The word] looks like a riddle. Almost everyone always asks, “What?” [after hearing the word for the first time].

Zurumbático — a is a person who does nonsense, that acts unequivocally, that is enigmatic and melancholic, a little crazy, that has a changing temper, sometimes bad, sometimes not so bad.

[The word explains] my personality [well]. I intended to [react photographically to the word “zurumbatico.”] A Few months before the trip, I realized that it was the perfect word to define the project [as a whole, as well as define me as a person and photographer]. You can [use] the word [for a variety of feelings, sensations and situations]. It was just perfect — very Latin American.

Finding gold fishes everywhere.

3.) How has this project changed or developed your photography and photographic style? What is next for Luis Cobelo?

Where feelings are opened, I think there will always be a “Zurumbático” effect.

I believe that [we are living in a] global age. Many attitudes that were not [present] before have become [more aggressively pushed socially]. There is an excess of [radicalism]. Yet, it seems that we cannot be [concerned about it]. I can be politically incorrect for sure.

The book will continue to be sold through the online platforms and in bookstores. I’m preparing a Latin American tour that will take “Zurumbático” to Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela; both the book and the exhibition. Zurumbático [will persist] for a long time, and more than that: forever!

My photography absolutely changes and I am very excited to see what will happen with my [upcoming] projects. I know what [I want] to do. I have some images [that could start new projects], [I am developing new subjects] but I will [develop my work] with a new view; more open and fresh. I always work for me, but now [I realize that will be more deep, for me and for the others] maybe I [have] found the [true] essence of many things [as well as within myself, which I can continue to develop throughout my work].

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