Art and the Magdalena River

Rivers are a force for life.

They transform landscapes, carving out new land features, enabling transportation, and nurturing crops and wildlife. Where water flows, life follows.

 But for all the life-giving services rivers provide, they play another important role, as well: They’re the source of inspiration for many artists.

Nowhere is this more true than in Colombia. Colombia’s principal river is the Magdalena, and it connects the Andes to the Caribbean. The Magdalena is the cultural heart of the country, woven into its history and culture. Ranging from sculptures and murals to literature and films, the Magdalena River inspires art, life and culture in Colombia.


Archaeological park of San Augustin
Archaeological park of San Augustin
Copyright: © Sacred sites, Martin Gray

Ancient Art in the Upper Magdalena

The upper Magdalena River is home to the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America, nestled in the valleys of Huila. One archaeological site, the San Agustín Archaeological Park, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The park is home to ancient and creative artworks that belong to a northern Andean culture that existed from the 1st-8th century. Hewn from stone, these massive monuments include gods and mythical animals in abstract and realistic forms. According to UNESCO, the park features “the largest complex of pre-Columbian megalithic funerary monuments and statuary, burial mounds, terraces, funerary structures, stone statuary." At the Fuente de Lavapatas site, a religious monument is actually carved into the stone bed of a stream.


Contemporary Works

Aside from ancient works, many contemporary artists and activists have been inspired by – and inspired to protect – the Magdalena River. For instance, artists Carolina Caycedo and Entre Aguas created the video 'Activists Fight the Privatization of Colombia's Longest River' illustrating the struggle of people living on the Magdalena River who are threatened by multinational development. 

Other grassroots organizations including Polinizaciones and Colombian anti-dam movement Movimiento Ríos Vivos use various art and media strategies to defend land and protect the Magdalena River.


The Magdalena in Literature

Pescador en el Río Magdalena
Pescador en el Río Magdalena

The Magdalena River also features prominently in many Colombian films and literary works. Gabriel García Márquez, one of Colombia’s best-known writers, wrote about the Magdalena in many of his works. Márquez’s The General in His Labyrinth is a fictionalized account of Simón Bolívar’s final journey down the Magdalena River, where he visits many cities and villages along the river. Additionally, some of the screenshots from the film Love in the Time of Cholera  show the Magdalena River and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range.

The Magdalena River has not only inspired many Colombians, it has attracted and fascinated many foreigners. Michael Jacobs, the author of The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Colombia, details a dangerous and adventurous journey through the mysterious, winding Magdalena River.

The immense, gorgeous Magdalena River is the cultural and creative life force of Colombia, feeding and sustaining many communities. The Magdalena River is threatened now, more than ever, and the fight to protect this river continues to grow, as the river beats deeply into the creative imaginations of those who consider the Magdalena their lifeline.

More information: 
Thursday, January 7, 2016