Omar Castañeda has an MA in Fine Arts from Saint Martin’s Art College in London. He has lived in England for over a decade yet still remains close to his Colombian heritage. This is the reason why he keeps exploring subjects and materials related to his native South America. His main inspiration and resource when creating art is food. By using common elements, he dissects the past of towns and regions, tells personal stories and recreates armed conflicts, both current and past.

A basic human necessity, food is loaded with cultural, social and political implications with regard to its value, production, source and consumption. Food effectively dissolves most preconceived distinctions between nature and culture, production and consumption, morals and markets, family and society, the individual and the collective, body and mind.

Panela the New Gold of Colombia

Sugar was the gold of Europe 500 years ago. Royals and Nobles liked to display their rotten teeth due to exaggerated intake of sugar. It was a sign of power and opulence.This parallel between Panela (pure dried sugar cane juice) and Gold is one of Omar’s visual and conceptual explorations.

The protest of Colombian peasants against the government in 2013 did not end in blood or violence. When the armed police arrived to a town near Bogota, they were received with a traditional drink of sugarcane (Aguapanela) to make clear that their statement was political and not violent. Food was a balsam of peace in the middle of a conflict and these prints made of sugarcane ink reproduce those moments. The protest was not about clashing forces or raising turmoil, and it made the tabloids for all the wrong reasons. The whole outlook for the rural population in Colombia is not promising due to Free Trade Agreements with the United States and the EU. The Colombian peasants are left alone to battle corporate giants like Monsanto or to compete against countries with subsidised farming. The peasants raised their voices in protest peacefully through food.

Panela is a staple in the Colombian cuisine, it is used as a drink, spice and source of energy. It is a national treasure and it has been around for centuries. Coming from the first pressing of sugar cane, Panela has been involved in all the developments of the country from the slaves involved in its production at the beginning, to the industrialisation of the agricultural fields.

Nowadays, Panela shows a duality of values very similar in contradiction because inside of it there is clash of two primary needs of survival in this overpopulated society: The one of supplying a source of energy able to sustain our development versus the other, the more primary need of supplying food.

Panela, when valued as a biofuel, increases its value as a drink but it is threatened as such at the same time. It is related to power, inequality and poverty. Gold and Panela are both recipients of two extreme values, interlinked in this collection as two mirrors reflecting each other and creating images full of glimmer, bitterness, pain and sweetness.

The Demonstration

This event aims to show the versatility of Panela. It will be served as a cocktail, and most important, the plasticity will be present in the works produced by the artist on the evening where Panela is the medium and the message alike. The panela ink, developed by the artist, will be imprinted on edible papers so the audience can eat the art works, a very peculiar experience, rarely found in a gallery!

A short video about how Panela is made will also be shown.

The event is Curated by Sandra Higgins, Independent Art Advisor/Curator and will take place on the 26th of August 2015 from 4pm to 9pm.