Images of Colombia

Alec Fernandes

The Luxe Gallery at San Diego City College was originally built to show the work of artists invited from outside the school. This goal has finally been achieved thanks to Pablo Serrano, the Latin American photojournalist who is the first outsider to exhibit his work here in a collection titled “La Otra Cara: Rebellion in Colombia.”

The gallery reception on March 11 welcomed those interested in the stories of people affected by political violence in Colombia. It was the second exhibit hosted by the Luxe Gallery since its opening in September 2010.

Serrano, who lectured at the college’s Saville Theatre earlier this semester on human rights violations in Colombia, seeks to spread awareness through photography. He said he hopes to promote activism in younger audiences by showcasing his work at various schools.

“This collection will be touring at different learning institutions over the next six months,” Serrano said.

There is an incredible sadness present in Serrano’s photographs, especially in one section titled “Massacre in San Jose de Apartado,” in which a community mourns those lost to the chaos that afflicted their town just days earlier.

Paula Meyer, a former City College professor, found the photographs of crosses inscribed with the names of death squad victims to be the most moving images in this section.

“(I was most moved by) the crosses,” said Meyer. “They symbolize finality. When there’s a cross, it means there’s somebody under it.”

An interesting aspect of Serrano’s photography is the tilted angle that gives many of his pieces a sense that life in Colombia is literally turning upside down. This quality is mostly seen in the first section of the exhibit, titled “Rebellion in the Streets of Colombia.”

In Serrano’s self-proclaimed favorite piece, a young revolutionary stands upright with a chain around his neck and scars across his back as he observes the turbulent background. His fellow revolutionaries in the background are standing on a street slanted at a peculiar angle.

The contrast between the upright figure and his tilted companions convey the young man’s concern that life is sliding out of control. Parisa Jaffari, a photography major at City College, said this was her favorite piece as well.

“You almost feel like you’re there fighting along with them,” said Jaffari. “(The feeling is) raw, right there, like you’re in the moment.”

The scenes Serrano photographed were so powerful that they needed little to no modification in order to portray the human rights violations in Latin America.

“(I only used Photoshop for) contrast and cropping, standard things that are done in a darkroom,” Serrano said.

Even in a seemingly static picture of a revolutionary grasping a rock, one can feel a defensive sense of anticipation as tanks loom in the unfocused background. Serrano claimed that this photo tends to evoke the strongest response in viewers, who can sense the imminent struggle against the government and death squads.

These death squads attempt to disorganize resistance by killing community leaders, yet those left behind refuse to be ruled by fear. Serrano stated that people within these villages are willing to fill the roles of head figures who have been killed for being outspoken. They realize the necessity of being the light of hope in an area consumed by darkness.

“These communities are filled with leaders,” Serrano said. “Their biggest weapon is memory.”

A documentary on Colombian violence plays at the end of the exhibit, and one widow in the film echoes Serrano’s sentiment, stating, “Our tools were words, reason, and justice.”

San Diego City College is located at 1313 Park Boulevard between Balboa Park and downtown San Diego.

The exhibit runs through April 16 in the Luxe Gallery on the fifth floor of the school’s V Building. The gallery is open on Fridays from 3 to 9 p.m. and on Saturdays from 12 to 3 p.m.

For more information, call 619-388-3281. More of Pablo Serrano’s work can be seen online at