Photos by Michael Ben and Leidy Chavez
Throughout its modern history the multi-ethnic diversity of Colombia has routinely been used as a justification to divide its people. This is especially true in the Department of Cauca, a rural epicenter of conflict where ethnicity is habitually employed to isolate Afro, Indigenous, and Mestizo communities from wider shared identities and interests. Such was the case during five decades of civil war and endures following the troubled 2016 Colombian Peace Accords. But those on the frontlines of ongoing violence in Cauca choose to reframe their diversity as their greatest strength. They choose to celebrate the ongoing fusion of their multi-ethnic communities as a unifying force for understanding, growth, and collective power.
As our team describes it, “We are all a mixture of Afro, Indigenous, and Spanish ethnicities sharing a community and its practices and are not limited to being ‘only from here or there’.” “Today, we are all Cauca, and we wish to share this cultural fusion with the world. Because our resilience and strength flow not from isolation, but from our embrace and respect of all cultures, heritage, memories, and traditions found throughout our multicultural community. Cauca is now proudly a land of hybrid identity. Today, we celebrate and share this transformation and identity as our greatest strength.”
Complementing the 200 large format posters covering the walls of Popayan earlier in the year under the banner of under “Celebremos Cauca,” this smaller online gallery of 50 portraits comprises an ongoing representation of the community art project and the wonderful diversity of people calling Cauca home it aims to honor.