Natural History of Silence

Jorge Panchoaga

2018 - Ongoing


Hundreds of people in Colombia have silenced, fictionalized, or made up their family stories. What is it that they have silenced? Why have they done it? The fight against drugs has built a war regime during the last five decades, protected by a legal, political, economic, and media structure. Perhaps the most subtle of all the scaffolding is the social control that operates from morality and ethics. The narrative of good guys and bad guys has been consolidated. Natural History of Silence investigates the generations born in the 80's and 90's who grew up accompanied by relatives who were part of criminal dynamics. They saw, listened to, and lived through complex and everyday events and quickly learned to keep quiet or change their stories to have an "normal" everyday life. I have worked for the last 5 years on projects that reflect on drug policies in the Latin American region. For the last 4, I have been building an oral archive that contrasts with the story compiled in the newspapers, the narrative from which all the narrators who write the grandiloquence of the drug phenomenon drink.

The project seeks to reconstruct personal stories such as those of Marcela, Natalia or Manuel, whom I have met in recent years, tracing the surviving material culture of those times and contrasting the stories with the news archives of each city and time. I use the metaphor of natural history museums to point out the violence exerted on bodies in a war that takes life hostage and the illusions of survival. Likewise, I understand that silence has been a naturalized exercise, part of our recent history. A silence that says a lot about who we are as a contemporary society.

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  • Christ the King in Cali

  • “I remember the first time I saw a gun. I was in the living room of my dad’s cousin’s house. Black and shiny, with some worn edges, they held it in her hands as they admired it inch by inch as if the rest of the room had disappeared.”

  • Terrremoto I. Dissected Paso Fino

  • Manuel at home in Bogotá. The people who keep these memories do not want to be portrayed. They understand that crimes are not inherited. They also understand that social morality condemns them without their being guilty.

  • Beeper used by a drug dealer. In the archeology of the social objects of the time that I am registering, I seek to trace everything that in people’s memories connects with these memories and scenarios.

  • "Then they buried him as NN because he didn't have the money to bury him"

  • tombs in Popayán, Cauca. One of the most conflicting areas in Colombia.

  • Memories of Socorro.

  • “G.I. Joe my sister’s boyfriend, gave it to me. Since he was young he dedicated himself to strange businesses. Roldanillo has been a crooked town. From here is Jabon, Lollipop, Rasguño, all the drug traffickers of the last decades. Since that time, I have kept that doll because I had no way to buy another one; it was that Man who had a lot of money that gave it to me”

  • Device used by a drug dealer to steal calls by sounding keypad tones hacking into telephone networks.

  • plane landing in Medellin

  • “When I was a child, we used to go a lot to the farms of one of the Ochoa brothers, near Medellin and others that were in the sea. A cousin of my mother had married one of those brothers. Once, they took us out of there because there was a military raid at one of the New Year’s parties.
    This jacket is from one of those parties. My dad was cold and they gave him this jacket that belonged to my cousin’s husband. Since then, the jacket has been in the house. He has already died. We never heard from the cousin again. I haven’t seen my cousin’s children for years.”