Pedro Manrique Figueroa: Colombia’s contemporary arts enigma

Pedro Manrique Figueroa is a central figure in Colombian contemporary art, and name that is always accompanied by the introduction: “precursor of collage in Colombia.” From his protected childhood in rural Choachi (b.1939), to witness of the Bogotazo uprising in 1948 after the assassination of the populist Liberal candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Manrique Figueroa’s life was a patchwork of experiences that pushed the limits of what could be real or imagined. Art critic Jerónimo Duarte Riascos describes Manrique Figueroa in a scholarly text as “a common employee of printing companies; the ideologue of the False Project; a fallen angel turned upright anthropoid; a schizophrenic (…) an Artist?”

From former street vendor of religious prints, to tram worker and traveling salesman of a brandy distillery, Manrique’s legacy is layered in contradiction, including his political activism as a member of the communist youth, and someone later who was expelled from the Communist Party. The artist’s great artistic accomplishments are also shrouded in mystery, even though his larger-than-life reputation was peddled in the cultural pages of leading newspapers and magazines. “As an imaginary friend to all,” writes Duarte, Manrique remains an invention of gullibility and social mockery until his bizarre disappearance, and death, in 1980.

Even though his name is indelibly associated with collage as an artistic medium, the protagonist of Luis Ospina’s “mock-umentary” Tigre de Papel (released in 2008), never existed, except for a series of prints created by the film noir director, and accomplice Bernardo Ortiz, when they were art students at the Universidad de los Andes.

The ubiquitous protagonist of who Ospina once dubbed as “the best kept secret in Colombian art,” is now the subject of a exhibition by Banco de la República (Central Bank) that opens Thursday, November 18, at the Casa Republicana. Casa Republicana is a cultural annex of the Miguel Urrutia Museum of Modern Art (MAMU).

The exhibition titled Ires y venires (Comings and Goings) dedicates one of its three sections – Filosofía – to showcase Manrique Figueroa’s visual landscape – a hole in the wall – recreated by Lucas Ospina of the room where Manrique Figueroa allegedly lived at Hotel Dorantes – Bogotá’s equivalent to New York’s Chelsea Hotel. This installation is accompanied by three iconic collages to frame a conceptual exhibition dedicated to an elusive, 20th Century cultural impostor. So, while for art insiders Manrique Figueroa is ever present, for art outsiders he still requires introduction, hence the social media tags  #MyNameIsPedroManriqueFigueroa #SoyPedroManriqueFigueroa

As part of the activities that accompany the exhibition, on November 29 (4:00 p.m), there will be a guided tour with Lucas Ospina (son of the acclaimed Caliwood film director) on the creative influences of the enigma called Pedro Manrique Figueroa, “precursor of the collage in Colombia.”

Casa Republicana – Calle 12 No.4-37. Until December 16.

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