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Interviews with Cultural Projects: La Huella del Elefante

10 Feb 2020

This time, we bring you another great cultural project from Colombia which we discovered while we visited Medellín, thanks to the team at Innovation Unit from Antioquia University. As you will read in the interview, "La Huella del Elefante" (The Elephant's Paw Print) is a culture project aimed to connect people to graffiti, the history of Medellin's neighbourhoods, and their urban art, using new technologies as a tool (as virtual reality, 360º video, or drones).

Tell us a bit about "La Huella del Elefante". How was the project born?

This project allows to tell the history of the city through urban art, and doing a virtual reality itinerary that unveils the story behind the graffitis we see in Medellín every day.

The project was born in the academia, from the interest of the team members to do research about the urban art at the city. To attain this, we had to learn about the graffiti scene, its culture, its blending in the city of Medellín, who the key actors are, and how this culture develops in the streets of Medellín.

While doing this research we discovered that graffiti art is also a bearer of social memory, and tells stories about the places they are in, about key events or people in the history of the city.

Interviews with Cultural Projects: La Huella del Elefante

Tell us a bit about the team that makes "La Huella del Elefante"

The team is formed by 4 people and a co-producer, and each one of them brings different knowledge to the table:

Alejandro Castaño Arias is Audiovisual and Multimedia Communicator by University of Antioquia. She is in charge of General Direction, and supports user experience design and the visual pieces creation.

Karol Viviana Giraldo Moreno, studies Audiovisual and Multimedia Communicator at University of Antioquia. She designs and implements the user interface and also does technical support for the project.

Maritza Herrera Heredia, Audiovisual and Multimedia Communicator by University of Antioquia, is the Research Director of the Project.

Michael Castro Guerra, studies Audiovisual and Multimedia Communicator at University of Antioquia, does sound design for the project and supports executive production.

Hernán David Muñoz, video and 360 photography director, co-produces the project.

For the people who may be reading this interview, and who might not be familiar with Colombia and Medellín: can you tell us about the context of graffiti in Medellín, and the social history of the spaces you allow people to visit virtually with your project?

Medellín is the capital city of the Antioquia region, and is one of the five most important cities in Colombia. It's got 275 neighbourhoods that make up 16 "comunas" or boroughts.

For years, this city was plagued with narchotraffic and violence by different armed groups. In different buroughs of the city, the youth looked for alternatives to violence, and found urban art as a way to resist. With our project, we explored 2 "Comunas" so far: Comuna 13 and Comuna 4.

On 13, we found a strong community bond together by art, that has portrayed its memory process through graffiti. On 2002, the State of Colombia deployed military operations on the San Javier neighbourhood, and the victims of that operations were mostly civilians. "Mariscal" and "Orion" operations were maybe the bigger ones, no only on civilian casualties, but also in the social resistance against them, that kickstarted a lot of social and art collectives.

There are two mural graffitis in memory of those two military operations, in the Independecias 1 neighbourhood. Those two graffitis were recorded in video during our research and the one about Orion Operation was recorded in 360 video, with a narrator-in-place explaining the meaning and importance of the graffiti piece in the burough.

Interviews with Cultural Projects: La Huella del Elefante

Comuna 4, Aranjuez, lies at northeast of the city, has around 135.167 population, and some of them take part in "4 elementos Skuela". This is a urban artists collective that creates art in the streets of Aranjuez and teaches others to express themselves via graffiti, hip hop, and break dance.

This school has brought around urban art a lot of youngsters, teaching them to leave weapons and violence for painting and art. Our video is about a graffiti placed on "Madre Laura" (Mother Laura) bridge. This graffiti is titled "Nací Moreno" (I was born Black) and is a tribute to the families with african roots that were displaced and came to the city, making it their home, and that were displaced again after the building of the bridge.

Your project brings together art, history, and technology. How do you think technologies like Virtual Reality can help to re-activate important stuff, like social memory or urban art?

Virtual Reality allows the audience to be close to the story we are telling, and we can build way more empathy about a social memory issue and get them eager to know more after that.

In our case, the two VR pieces of the project have been showed and experienced in public with quite a positive result, changing the negative stereotype on the city's peripheric areas and on urban art. People were able to discover graffiti as a way to express and keep a place's memory, and as a way to resist socially that can help the young people growing up in violent neighbourhoods to find an alternative in art.

What did you discover and learn with this project and journey?

With this project we met young people figthing daily to teach others alternatives to violence, using art as a way of expression and resistance. The project tought us to value graffiti and understand it is an art form that tells stories. And most importantly, to know our city better and to keep its social memory for the future.

And last, but not least: What can we expect from La Huella del Elefante on the next months?

We are currently reasearching and doing pre-production for another Comuna in the city. Our aim is to show memories from all 16 boroughs from Medellín, and then expand the project to other cities in Colombia.

Thank you so much, and lots of luck!

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