Luis Cobelo: “Latin America is quite ‘zurumbatica’ and we will keep on being ‘zurumbaticos’”

Zurumbatico, the photographic exhibition inspired by 100 años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), arrives to the Miami Institute of Photography, after having been in Italy and Mexico. At this stop, its creator, Venezuelan photographer Luis Cobelo, promises a frenzy format that will include surprise performances, a ‘zurumbatico’ dress-code, as well as music, as has been its tradition. This project’s format is “an invitation to fly” through alluring images taken in Gabriel García Marquez’s native city, and inspired by the story after which the label “magic realism” was created. Cobelo will also offer a workshop called No B.S: Finding Ideas for Editorial Projects, Expository Work and Photo Books, in which he will talk about how to carry out a project and how to achieve an idea, based on his successful experience through a journey of 30 years as a documentary photographer that has taken him through America, Asia and Europe.

”Zurumbático is an endless journey to the place where One hundred years of solitude, the literary work of the writer Gabriel García Márquez was born. A story full of extraordinary essence, contained in thousands of Latin American villages, roots of a gigantic empirical hemisphere, passionate, forgotten, fickle, violent, improvised and above all, happy”. Excerpts from Zurumbatico’s statement. 

How did Zurumbatico become real, from the travel towards the book, the exhibition, the song, the journey…

Zurumbático formally begins in January, 2016, when I pick up One Hundred Years of Solitude for the ninth time, and break it down trying to draw images out of it to set them up as stages, in a process that took four months. I underlined the book, took the information and made the lists of photos I wanted to make. Then I definitely decided that I had to do the work in Aracataca, where Gabriel García Marquez was born, and where, definitely, magic would show up. Because Aracataca is like Macondo, just like any place in Venezuela. Looking back in time, in 2007 I had been doing an article in Aracataca about the women in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and later I developed it again from a photographic point of view.

– And how was the process in Aracataca?

I did it all in two weeks. I took the photographs that I wanted to make, and later I found many more. I didn’t have a computer so I had to see everything on the screen of my Leica M. At the end there was a flood in the town and we spent almost 4 days without electricity, nor water, and it was very hot and the town was completely flooded. It was later that I discovered what I had done.

– Tell us about the process of making the Zurumbático book

Zurumbático begins to be edited in Madrid, where I lived at the moment, after returning from the trip. When I began editing the material I realized that it was very powerful, I was very surprised with what I had done, with the images, with their verticality… I felt very satisfied of having done this work. One Hundred Years of Solitude served as a guide to develop a work that was still pending, and has to do with a way of being Latin American, a way of being Caribbean, it’s basically that. There are photos that had been kept in my head for a long time. Then I re-created many stories, but I also created something of my own.

The book was designed by Jaime Narváez, a Madrilenian photobook designer; I edited it with a Galician friend who helped me define the story, it is always important for other people to see your work when you are editing it. Arianna Rinaldo, also helped me. This coincided with my mother’s illness, who I was taking care of, until she died in January. After that, I had to go to Venezuela to take her ashes and spent three months there. When I got back, the book went to the printers and was ready in June.

 -What have you planned for the MIP audience?

At the MIP workshop I will talk about how to achieve something during a personal difficult moment and that its gestation takes a while. For example, I have many works that could have been books, but I decided that this one would be my first one. And from now on I think that all my future projects will become books because it is a format that helps me understand myself as a person, artist, creator, photographer. At MIP I will share my learning on how I did it. In my case, everything has been very organic, very spontaneous, without a concrete plan. Everything was inside my head. I’ll talk about how to develop a project and achieve an idea based on my experience, which has been successful since I’ve been able to support myself with photography during almost 30 years. We’ll talk about how to begin with the idea, how to begin to work series, improve the work, the management of truth. It’s going to be a lot of fun. During the exhibition I will do a surprise performance. The exhibitions have been very different and immersible. You’ll go in like through a tunnel, like a dimension, and that changes depending on the exhibition hall. And the book is fundamental because it helps you understand it and you can take it home.

– What do you see in your future plans?

I have returned a little to my beginnings, when almost 30 years ago I started making photography because I thought it was art. And I have again reconciled myself with art because during the last 10 years I worked for myself with my own articles but under what was established by the media that I worked for. Now there are no media to work with. So now I’m going to be more empty-handed because I definitely accept that I’m an artist. And I’m happier than I’ve ever been with what I do. Moreover, I believe that art transforms people, like music. And that’s why, for example, I made a musical video with Zurumbático project. In the future, I want to integrate music to my projects as a vital part of the proposal.

– Can we talk about achievements regarding Zurumbatico?

The connection with people has been incredible, even without having read One Hundred Years of Solitude; there is something that traps and amuses them. There is no specific search. Zurumbático is a serious elaboration, even though I don’t take almost anything seriously, only photography. That’s why I’m doing so well. Photography is a psychological therapy that keeps me alive, alert, and the connection with people has been extraordinary. People are moved with the images. I believe that, finally, art does change persons. I don’t intend to change the world, I don’t have that arrogance anymore – like when I was a photojournalist- I’m only interested in generating a connection with the micro-worlds nearest to me.

– Are we condemned to be Zurumbaticos in Latin America?

I wouldn’t say we are condemned. Latin America is very changeable, and our countries have been led by very macabre people and that hasn’t helped, but the Latin American essence is happy, enterprising, achieving, non-depressive, Europe is more greyer. I think it has to do with the weather. The Caribbean is very Zurambatic. Now we can use that word to define a moment when you don’t know how you feel. But I don’t think that to be zurambatico is a sentence. Sometimes we put our hands on our heads thinking that our native places are worse than others, but this is not so. I love Latin America, I feel much more alive, inspired, in my world, even though it’s a disaster sometimes, I prefer it. Latin America is quite zurumbatico, and we are going to keep on being zurumbatico, it has to do with a bit of craziness, with being changeable, enigmatic.