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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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 and

AIR: Edwin Fabian Herrera

Name: Edwin Fabian Herrera
Place of residence: La Plata/ Argentina
Occupation: Cinematographer
Age: 31
Met in: Fondation ArteSumapaz, Colombia / October 2019
Contact: @laherramientadenarancuchi

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AIR: Sol Esperanza

Portrait photo of Sol Esperanza Roja

Name: Sol Esperanza Roja
Place of residence: USA/ Colombia
Occupation: Performance Artist
Met in: Fondation ArteSumapaz, Colombia / October 2019

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AIR: James Michael Maynard

Name: James Michael Maynard
Place of residence: USA/ traveling
Occupation: Aspiring writer and musician
Age: 24
Met in: Fondation ArteSumapaz, Colombia / October 2019

Editor’s note: This interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews by Gabriel Kreuzer, on his travels through South America. Photo by Gabriel Kreuzer.

Gabriel Kreuzer (GK): If you had the free choice, who would you like to have dinner with?

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Announcing volunteer/residency opportunities

As we enter our seventh month here at ArteSumapaz, we are so grateful for the many volunteers who have shared their time and energy with us. Volunteerism wasn’t really a part of our dream to begin with, but a chance meeting with someone who had participated with the volunteer platform Workaway turned us on to the possibilities; and since then, we’ve had over 30 volunteers from all around the world!

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A Chilean Periodibujante in residency

I had been traveling for 10 months when I arrived at ArteSumapaz, accompanied by Damián and carrying heavy backpacks. This house, lost among the mountains, has been one of the hundreds of places that I have inhabited since I started traveling. During this journey I have had very diverse homes, including mobile homes, beach houses, tents, hostels, apartments and pensions. Some I loved, and others not so much; It’s part of the “risk” of this adventure. ArteSumapaz is one of the homes that I loved.

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Kirsty Nicoll AIR

Scottish artist, Kirsty Nicoll, has been our second international AIR. As she had been traveling through South America prior to her arrival, Kirsty had a limited supply of materials with her; she has used the opportunity for a very personal investigation of self-portrait. Many thanks to both Kirsty and Joseph Puglisi for the following interview.

Inerviewer: Joseph Puglisi

Joseph: What is your name and your cultural background?

Kirsty: I’m Kirsty Nicoll, and I’m from Scotland. 

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