BOGOTA – They were killed by police or for defending a cause they believed in, and now their faces, painted in vivid colors on the columns of a bridge in Bogota, occupy a place in Colombia’s first open-air memory museum.
Cars whiz on by on Boyaca Avenue as several street artists, perched on platforms, put the finishing touches on almost fifty portraits that pay tribute to social leaders that were killed in the country as well as victims of police violence.
“We want to remind Colombia that the death penalty does not exist and that all lives are important; whether it is a police official, a soldier, a former guerrilla or a civilian, no one has the right to die and we have to protect all lives,” the director of Tripido foundation, the organization behind the initiative, Gustavo Trejos, told EFE.
The portraits show the beaming eyes of Maria Alejandra Torres, a lesbian who had just turned 28 when she died, under strange circumstances, in a police cell, and the radiant smile of young Dylan Cruz, who was killed after being struck by a police projectile at a protest in November 2019.
Now, those traveling in the cars passing by will know who they were and that they were killed, Trejos explains.
Marino Lopez Mena looks straight ahead seriously, sporting a sharp mustache and short hair.
This peasant from Choco, in the Colombian Pacific, was one of the first social leaders to be killed in the country – Trejos recalls – in 1997 by the paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, and now his image adorns one of the columns of the bridge.
Many of the portraits are of Afro-Colombian men and women, such as feminist leader Carlota Salinas, who was murdered in Bolivar last year, and Adriana Yanneth Lopez Abella, a 25-year-old graphic designer, who died in 2013 when a police official fired at the vehicle in which she was traveling.
Harold Pouchard puts the finishing touches on the cheekbones of Carlota Salinas, who “was killed by illegal armed groups disputing the territory,” he tells EFE.
His strokes now reflect the scant protection the state gave to the leader, who helped promote women’s groups in her area.
“Art is a very powerful and strong medium that generates visibility,” according to the urban artist.
The tribute, in the form of a museum, seeks to impart a “message of encouragement and strength to families, so they feel that they are not alone in their struggle to seek justice and truth,” Trejos says.
He himself belongs to one of those families and his son’s face is also on one of the walls of this bridge over Boyaca Avenue and 80th Street.
His son, Diego Felipe Becerra or “Tripido” as he signed on his murals, was killed when he was 17-years-old from a shot in the back by a member of the Bogota Metropolitan Police, who was sentenced to 37 years in prison but escaped.
The well-known urban artist was painting around the city when he was intercepted by the police official who allegedly shot him because he believed the young man was armed.
The idea of the museum emerged as part of the tribute paid every year by the Tripido foundation, which this year wanted to include many victims after a dozen protesters died during demonstrations against police violence in September.
As a result, the portrait of Diego Felipe Becerra was joined by that of Dylan Cruz, Adriana Yanneth Lopez and Maria Alejandra Torres.
With the collaboration of the High Council for Victims’ Rights, Peace and Reconciliation, the foundation also added other victims of the conflict including social leaders. Now they hope to paint many more bridges.
“In Colombia, we get used to living with deaths,” Diego Felipe’s father laments. “Here in Colombia, people are murdered every day, whether by crime, by the security forces, and citizens began to classify the deaths as good or bad, and this is something that cannot be allowed.”