Since 2007, sculptor Rafael Gómezbarros has brought his invasive swarm of giant ants to public buildings of his native Columbia. Titled “Casa Tomada”, (Seized House), the ants represent the displacement of peasants due to war and strife. Spreading aggressively over the colonial façades of goverment structures, these unstoppable insects have in turn seized the homes of those in power. Each of the 1300 ants are over 2 feet in length made of fiberglass resin, fabric, and branches.
The ants are not only a sight to behold en masse, but individually they are beautiful sculptures, fiberglass carapaces treated with sand and charcoal that gives them a rich earthy texture.
Although Gómezbarros’ Casa Tomada ants behave like invading army ants, they are in fact modeled on the hormigas culonas (big-bottomed ants), a type of leafcutter ant whose large queens are sold as a delicacy by peasants for income during certain times of the year. During mating season, the young emerging queens are caught in the wild, their wings removed. Then they are soaked in saltwater and roasted. They look absolutely delicious! And of course super-nutritious. Here’s an NPR story about folks who seek out this ancient pre-Columbian snack.
But back to Gómezbarros. Casa Tormada is one of several artworks that deal with the legacy of history, nature, politics and mortality. A poignant example is “Paracos”, a far smaller installation of beautifully constructed wasp nests that hang on a wall. On many are drawn small maps and towns. These are areas where murderous paramilitary groups still operate in Columbia. The implied violence of these tiny abandoned ‘wasp nests’ hidden in the Columbian landscape is sobering- there’s so many of them.
Finally, for those who can speak Spanish (regrettably I do not) , here is a great myspace video where Gómezbarros talks about Paracos, and other artworks, in his studio.
There are lots of mentions of his work traveling internationally, especially Casa Tormada, but I haven’t been able to find out if that has happened, or where they might be. With the disturbing wave of anti-immigrant laws displacing workers in the USA, now would be a great time for Gómezbarros’ visually arresting swarms to pay a visit.