In March of this year, Luz Marina Ortiz revisited perhaps the most traumatic moment of her adult life. Participating in a workshop about human rights, she hung a shirt in an otherwise empty closet and snapped a still photograph.
“It represents the absence of my husband,” she said.
In 1998, Ortiz’s husband, Luis, disappeared. She says she knows he was taken away for his political views. Formerly a lawyer in Colombia, now a Canadian citizen, Ortiz attempts to deal with the loss in her past by using imagery and photography. The recent workshop, part of the Rutas Panamericanas festival was led by Julio Pantoja, who helped fellow Latin-American artists tell their stories.
Ortiz’s short documentary project focused on her husband’s life, rather than his disappearance in Colombia 16 years ago.
“I like art and when I lived in Bogota I was surrounded by bohemian friends,” Ortiz said.
In 2009, Beatriz Pizano, the director of Aluna Theatre, won the John Hirsh Prize from the Canada Council for her innovative way of working with emerging artists. Her experience with Latin-Canadian theatre made Pizano realize the importance of having a multi-disciplined festival full of music, dance and photography from all over Latin- America.
“It is really difficult to put (Aluna Theatre) together with such a small group like this,” Pisano said.
This is the second year that Aluna Theatre has presented Rutas Panamericanas.
“There were more than 80 artists in the festival this year including local artist,” Pizano said.
Pantoja, a journalist from Argentina, was invited by Pizano to exhibit his work and to teach photography at the festival.
“I’m interested in photography as a way of expression.” Pantoja said. “I like the immediacy of photography and the potential it has to work mutually with the reality of everyday life.”
Pantoja taught a workshop for 10 days about the techniques for telling a story through photography in a short documentary format. Each artist had to come with an idea base on the theme “Cuerpos y Territorios” (Body and Territories). Pantoja encouraged Ortiz in his workshop.
“She fulfilled one of the roles that I liked, which consisted in expressing personal experiences that are difficult for the person to explore,” Pantoja said.
When Ortiz came to Canada, she brought a briefcase with all the documents confirming her husband had disappeared.
“Every time that I was close to the briefcase, immediately I wanted to cry…It was too much to bear,” Ortiz explained.
The day she decided her topic for the project was the day she had the courage to open her heart and let the pain go. Learning to cope with her husband’s death wasn’t easy for Ortiz, but Pantoja was there to help Ortiz.
“The way I helped Luz Marina, was to show her to shoot simple objects,” Pantoja said. “I wanted her pictures to have the power to show feeling… sensations, objects that might seem not to be aesthetically appealing.”
“It was a catharsis for me to confront the reality,” Ortiz said. “It was really difficult to confront the reality, because many people who disappeared in Colombia become a number, even worse a file” she said.
This time when she approached her briefcase, she was emotional; yet, she did not cry. The background song for her mini-documentary “Fragile” by Sting. It was three minutes long and featured Buenavista Social Club. She called her project “Juan Pereira,” after her husband.
The first image in her documentary was a cover of a book with the year 1998. That was the year of her husband’s disappearance. The second image was a Colombia map, followed by a Colombian newspaper with the headline: “Lista de la Infamia,” (The List of Disgraced.) The newspaper reported the name of each kidnapped person in Colombia.
The only picture that Ortiz keeps of her husband was the one in her briefcase. Her daughter cut that picture from a family portrait and put it beside a picture of her mother.
Ortiz used the cut-out photo to symbolize the absence, the pain and the violence that touched her family when her husband disappeared.
“All of these elements represent the hope that maybe one day he could come back,” Ortiz said, “you keep that hope alive.”
Luz Marina Ortiz had the opportunity to present her final work at Daniels Spectrum, on March 8. People applauded her work and understood her message.
“Luz Marina’s project was a profound project,” Pantoja said.