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AMERICAN
ART
INCUBATOR

American Arts Incubator (AAI) is an international creative exchange program developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by ZERO1. The program utilizes community-driven digital and new media art projects to instigate dialogue, build communities, bolster local economies, and further social innovation.

American Arts Incubator — Colombia, entitled “Laboratorio en las Fronteras,” brought together a group of 28 visual artists, filmmakers, creative producers, musicians, educators, and social advocates to explore migration and identity in the context of the Colombia/Venezuela border crisis. 

Just as I was about to begin a journey to Barranquilla to lead the lab in person, the world went on lockdown due to COVID-19, and the program went virtual. Through a series of online workshops exploring personal narrative and documentary, interactive media, emerging technologies, social practice, and public art – we co-created a plan for a web-based virtual museum where the work could be shared and experienced by a global audience. 

Each project is designed specifically for the virtual gallery  we created, and also exists in the world as the creative expression of an independent artist attempting to survive the pandemic. In the Lab, the barriers we faced and the boundaries we crossed became part of work.  The stories embedded in the virtual gallery reflect the powerful lived experiences of the participants at this unique moment in time.  

Four themes emerged from weeks of discussion that the artists chose to organize their work in the galleries: Fragments, Refuge, Reconfiguration of Identity, and Movement/Stillness. The projects included powerful stories of survival using photography, 3D modeling, poetry, single channel video, music, collage, augmented reality, and documentary.

At first, the artists were hesitant to draw on their own lives for inspiration; they had wanted to use the opportunity of American Arts Incubator to work with communities at the border — to amplify their stories and raise awareness of a human rights crisis that was disappearing in the crush of coverage of the pandemic. Through the work of the Lab, the artists bravely centered their own life experiences instead and found their voices in a single phrase: we are all Migrants.

As we reimagine what our global future will look like through this darkness, I am grateful for the time I got to spend with this incredible community of artists who showed up online together for a month, hours at a time, and worked on projects alone in their homes, through quarantine, rolling blackouts, curfews, and extraordinary heat. We are all looking forward to the time when we can move the work from the virtual galleries into the streets, and into the world. Explore the virtual museum here.

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Over the recent years we have seen an environmental, social and cultural degradation, that we face as a result of our actions. The Embera women and men, the mountain dwellers, which is the translation of that word, are at the edge of a patrimonial collapse and have been expelled of their lands by the armed conflict.
The Embera women, symbol of strength and fight in an entirely patriarchal society have been harshly affected, since their often times abandoned by their husbands. Obligated to make a living off their handcrafts, which has led to a younger generation not wanting to learn about their heritage and deciding to live in the cities instead. And in such a way an artistic and patrimonial memory is being lost.

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