Healing Trauma through Art

In January 2020, my body was breaking and I had no idea why.

It started with drastic weight loss, grinding my teeth at night, constant headaches, and stomachaches. I wasn’t sleeping at night and was drinking too much. I was irritable, picking fights with my loved ones, and felt the need to isolate myself. My only hobby was watching Netflix. When I went to my doctor with my list of concerns, I burst into tears because I couldn’t understand why everything felt so messed up inside. She diagnosed me with depression and listed the recommended treatment options.

Even then I knew; her diagnosis was only a piece of the picture. 

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ArteSumapaz and the Future

I Recently stumbled upon a brief anonymous writing entitled ¨The new human being¨. The title struck me and I read its content.

Generally speaking, it said that the human being of the future will find meaning by aligning himself with nature. They will recognize that they are a part of it, and will navigate in rhythm with its cycles, discovering its secrets and becoming one with earth, water, air and fire. They will honor the sacredness in the mystery of life; and will live out of love because they will understand that they are one with everything there is.

These words of course resonated with me. Even if some do not want to admit it, we are facing great change, the beginning of new times; times for awakened spirits. As expressed by depth psychologist and wilderness-based soul guide, Bill Plotkin in his book Nature and The Human Soul :

¨…we now behold the possibility of a radical and foundational shift in human culture – from a suicidal, life destroying element to a way of life worth of our unique human potential and of Earth´s dream for itself. What lies before us is the opportunity and imperative for a thorough cultural transformation – what ecophilosofer Joanna Macy calls the Great Turning, the transformation from an egocentric ´Industrial Growth Society´ to a soulcentric ´Life-sustaining Society´…¨

-Bill Plotkin

This transformation can be seen most everywhere and with increasing force. There is an important sector of the population that is working for it; writers, philosophers, economists, scientists, film makers, artists, architects and poets who are focusing their efforts towards building a better life for humans and all other living species.

 As time progresses, we are more numerous at promoting this movement toward the encounter with our deeper selves and with the natural world. And when one person becomes awake, their entire surrounding becomes affected and thus, one by one, the process takes place. It may seem slow, but what is most important, is to believe and participate. Each one of us is an instigator of change.

Never before in history have there been so many people and organizations working for a better world, from foundations, schools, intentional communities etc. And our commitment in the ArteSumapaz Foundation goes along these lines.

ArteSumapaz is a space for personal and environmental transformation through its different chapters. The central vision is artistic creation within nature, art inspired by the natural world. Nature, its rhythms, its forms and its wisdom inform creation and art, thought Paul Klee. Klee made Nature the “foundation of his artistic endeavor”. We believe that art has the potential to be a healing force. Likewise, creation and artistic expression are a fundamental part of human nature. And sharing in a community of artists is an important factor for the creative everyday life at ArteSumapaz.

We recognize our wild and poetic human aspects through dance, song and music, ritual, improvisation and al artistic creation as the basis of our mission. Art has the power to transmute and heal wounds and traumas; and it is capable of impacting both the individual and society.

ArteSumapaz is located in a hundred-year-old coffee farm (Hacienda Australia) with an area of ​​116 hectares where we will undertake a project to restore the native forest. Relying on the remnants of primary forest that have survived intact. We will restore areas that were converted to agriculture and livestock, returning them to their natural state. We envision a sculpture park woven inside the forest though ecological trails; a sanctuary for nature and art that will of course be open to the public.

Part of the big picture of this project includes the creation of a small intentional community that will inhabit the land. The members of this community will be the guardians of the forest and the territory, living in rhythm with nature and respect for all life.

Through each of the different chapters of ArteSumapaz we expect to have a healing impact on the local community and the land, in a geography that has historically been hit by violence. We also hope to be a positive influence nationally as a center for arts and culture.

We all contribute our grain of sand. And every contribution is important. And it is the sum of these efforts that will make the difference. When the critical mass surpasses its point of alchemy, the change will be unstoppable and will precipitate under its own weight.


Artesumapaz 26/08/21
(Last night)

The fireflies were out to say goodbye
I’ll always carry them with me
Or at least their memory

I’ve no need for one final look
Because I appreciated everyday with you
My eyes rolled around the mountains
Perched on top of the volcanoes
Everyday I said goodbye
With a melancholic affection
When I closed them to sleep

I dream of hypnotic movement
My feet along sacred mountain paths
The forest clearing high up and a kiss in the rain
Or tongues lolling in the mouths of happy dogs
These are the things I’ll carry with me

The sounds of this place
I love the sound of this place
It feels alive, air that vibrates
Lovely, lively calls, birds bugs beasts
It all falls into place so well, perfectly

So I’ll say good bye with a smile
And see you further down the road

by Harry R. Masson

Return to Home: Three US-Colombian Artists

Since the 1950s, millions of Colombians fled the country primarily motivated by the violence and economic upheaval, in what’s been called the Colombian Diaspora. Today, the US hosts over 650,000 Colombians, along with over 300,000 second generation US-Colombians. Many Colombian-US artists have been making the trek back to Colombia to reconnect with the land of their parents and grandparents. We recently had the opportunity to interview three of those artists who spent time in residence at ArteSumapaz; Nicole Combeau, Camilo Cardenas, and Isabel Balcazár.

Q. What was your biggest joy in reconnecting with Colombia?

Nicole Combeau
I have always known about the diversity in Colombia’s landscape, but getting the chance to use my art processes to document and actively be a witness to its richness added a whole new layer of understanding for me of its unique diversity. One of the things that impressed me the most was how much its ecological diversity paralleled it’s cultural and socio-political diversity. I got the chance to experience Bogota on multiple occasions when I was there, and each time it struck me how poetic and romantic of a city it is. I found immense joy in walking the streets there, finding dusty books shops, listening to students as they marched for el paro, and learning more about all the depths of knowledge on resistance and resilience that exist within the people there. 

Camilo Cardenas
Reconnecting with Colombia showed me very clearly that I never ‘stopped being’ Colombian, that my values and cultural upbringing continue to be the foundation of my identity today. It was a joy to flow into the current cultural, political, social, artistic and endless other contexts; to feel a part of what is going on in the country; become part of the social fabric.

Isabel Balcázar
To be able to connect physically to my childhood landscapes, most importantly the mountains, I remember spending hours upon hours starring at the mountains inspired by their every single color change throughout the day as well as the animals they house. Secondly, the people, going back to our dichos, the way  we speak Spanish, the way we carry our humor and how we connect to one another with food and our cultural customs. To both the body and soul, I felt an immense amount of contentment and joy. 

Q. What was the most unexpected aspect? 

Nicole Combeau
The most unexpected aspect was realizing how many people from foreign countries travel to Colombia. As much as I enjoyed being able to meet people from around the globe, it impressed me that most of the people I met on my travels were not natives. It also made me wonder how much Latin America becomes a playground for tourists, particularly Europeans. I only hope those who get the chance to visit and explore the land, myself included, are able to support the people there in as many ethical ways as possible. 

Camilo Cardenas
I didn’t have many expectations of what returning would or should be like, so in a way everything was unexpected and nothing was unexpected. Originally I did have a return date and now I live here, which was a definite change of plans. But not exactly something that surprised me.

Isabel Balcázar
I knew i was in a creative rut, i wasn’t being 100% passionate in the work i was making back in NY and the conjunction of both mountain’s energy and the people. Nature, artists and neighbors, gave me a different perspective on everything that happened in my surroundings, it made me aware of my existence, it made me grateful and with those notions I discovered different  perspectives/creative energy.

Q. Did you have any major realizations?

Nicole Combeau
Una vida llena de poesia es una vida que vale la pena. 

I also realized that I had spent a lot of my life living for others, and that it was time for me to relearn what it meant to live for myself and for the moment. 

Camilo Cardenas
Yes. The biggest realization was that I was doing exactly the right thing in coming back. There were many moments prior to returning to Colombia when I tried to rationalize my intentions or hopes that ended up raising questions about coming in the first place. It seemed like simply saying ‘I just want to go back’ wasn’t a firm enough argument or a thoroughly planned decision for doing it. Once I was here all of the uncertainty disappeared and the way forward manifested in front of with every step taken; it continues to open up in a very magical way.

Isabel Balcázar
My personal experience has solidified the way I encounter the world; it has humbled me to be more tenacious and risk taker, mostly inspired by other artists. Another major realization has been to come back to live in Colombia once I’m done with my studies in fine art/art history and be a college professor in either Medellin or Bogotá.  

Q. Were there any great disappointments?

Nicole Combeau
Going to Santa Marta really broke my heart. Considering it is one of the richest ports and a central part of trade in Latin America, it hurt to see how much poverty plagued its shores and how much it caused the community to resort to violence to survive. 

Camilo Cardenas
None. Not having particular expectations really helps avoid disappointments. I came open to whatever being back would offer me and I continue to receive very positive things every day.

Isabel Balcázar
I wasn’t expecting how unprepared physically I had been for this adventure. I’m heavily over weight and nothing could have prepared for the looks and slurs I’ve experienced everywhere I go. I’m not a victim of what I look like neither a martyr but damn! In America we’re so used to not care about our appearance. here it’s a double-edged sword because you are stimulated to be kinder to the body, but it also comes with its cultural, social notions on women, beauty and aesthetics .

Q. Do you think that in some way you will bring aspects of Colombia back into your life? How?

Nicole Combeau
My trip to Colombia grounded me in the importance of listening to others, enjoying the simple things, and actively believing in my intuition. I have taken this and ground myself in this daily, 

Camilo Cardenas
My life is in Colombia now; again. All aspects of Colombia are shaping me on a daily basis, every minute and with every breath I take.

Isabel Balcázar

If there’s a will there’s a way. I know it sounds cheesy but I came to ArteSumapaz in a stranger’s motorcycle with an 80lb suitcase in the middle of the Andes mountains by word of mouth. There’s a tiny car that can only fit four people in America, while here a family of seven and their dogs can fit in that same car and travel for hours to get to their destination. There’s so many instances that having faith – reinventing the way you approach a setback – changes the equation. We Colombians are the masters of inventing, rebuscar and adapting to any circumstance. “Donde comen 4 comen 6,” “echele mas agua a la sopa,” “todos en la cama o todos en el suelo.” In the culture of our dichos there’s solidarity and the art of making anything work no matter the circumstance. That’s the Colombian spirit and I carry that with me to any place I’ve ever been.

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The Literature of a People

Every nation on earth has its own language through which it expresses itself, narrates who it is to understand its own reality, tells the stories that make it unique; and transmits its myths and traditions to the following generations.

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Pilgrimages and sacred lands

This is a brief approach to the native peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the metaphors that inspire them. A story based on the chapter Sacred Geographies from the book The Wayfinders by Wade Davis.

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Mochilero – A striking performance about identity, rebirth and ritual

With his intimate performance piece Mochilero, US-Colombian experimental artist Camilo Cárdenas reminds us that identity is fluid, widely auto-constructed and an ongoing process, rather than a completed state. Mochilero took place during the Colombian COVID-19 lockdown at the artist residency ArteSumapaz, (located a three hour drive from Bogotá) and is still available for viewing online in summary (length: 15 minutes).    

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Outside at midnight
I suddenly notice,
not far from the terracotta porch,
a slender ladder.

Its silver quenched with days of harvest,
it waits forgotten under the mandarin tree.
Feet sunken, shallow anchors
in a lake of dark grass.
Its head bathing in moonlight.

Above it,
Mandarin lampions
dimmed by evening’s veil.
Faded orange chronographs
in a country
indifferent to seasons.
But gravity still pulls.
Fructose hourglass.
Oval clocks ripening
to tell us how much
time has passed.

by Christina Rupp, Artist in Residence

Christina Rupp is an artist and poet-in-residence, from Germany and South Africa. You can see more of her work at at www.christinarupp.com and https://www.instagram.com/christina.rupp/