Colombian artist Oscar Munoz revamps Narcissus myth

TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - Colombian artist Oscar Munoz reworks the themes of a Greek myth in a new retrospective exhibit that marks the beginning of the first major solo tour of his works in North America.

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In “Imprints for a Fleeting Memorial” at Toronto’s Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Munoz uses the Narcissus myth in works about memory and loss.

Narcissus was a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. He pined away, died and was transformed into a flower. Each work in the exhibition is constructed to disorient the viewer with new perceptions of the fragility of self and other.

Half of the pieces on show until March 1 are from Munoz’s mixed-media Narcissus series created over the past 15 years. The exhibit includes looped video of carbon dust portraits on the surface of water in a sink slowly draining and refilling, “mock” newspapers with images burned into them rather than printed, and dot-matrix portraits made from sugar cubes soaked in coffee or burned into paper with cigarettes.

Munoz, 56, spoke to Reuters about his working process and how war features in his art.

Q: How would you describe the main themes of your art?

A: “My work today arises from an interest in comprehending the mechanism developed by a society that has accepted war as part of the routine of living. Or rather, of a dark and corrupted succession of wars of more than 50 years, with powerful sectors of society interested in their continuation -- a past, a present and surely a future plagued with daily violent events, which are persistently repeated. Almost all of them are identical but never the same and all of them end up included in that ever-expanding denominator called the ‘violence in Colombia’.”

Q: Why do you focus on those themes in particular?

A: “That focus is found through the process of working, some readings and my life experiences. It is through my conceptual interest about photography, questioning its capacity to represent reality, as well as questioning the status of image.

“Using always the photographic fact, its chemical essentiality as a reference and, above all, as a metaphor, the work is focused particularly on the portrait mode. In the photographic action, once the exterior rays of light which constitute the image have been captured ... only when definitively fixed on a surface, do the light rays become a graphic -- that is, an archive and memory.”

Q: Why do you portray people you don’t know in your work?

A: “I am interested in photography to portray a place in which many ideas and interests from different natures converge. As you can see, I am interested in the Narcissus myth as a basic referent of representation.”

Q: Does your work explore issues of human rights?

A: “I explore themes related to life and death.”

Q: What has been your biggest challenge?

A: “Challenges are in every step of the creative process as I attempt to build a transmissible experience in all aspects I am interested in.”

Reporting by Julie Mollins; Editing by Patricia Reaney