Raising Awareness of Colombia’s Forgotten River: The Atrato

Raising Awareness of Colombia’s Forgotten River: The Atrato

30 September 2015 - 10:00 to 22 November 2015 - 18:00
Quibdó, Chocó, Colombia

SINFONÍA TRÓPICO invited visual artist Fernando Arias to develop the art project ATRATO.

ATRATO wishes to explore the relationship between humans and nature by means of focusing on environmental damages caused by our drive for material wealth.

The project focuses on drawing attention on the Atrato River, its geography, its form, its historical and strategic role in Colombian history and the environmental challenges that the river and its communities face.

Background: Why Chocó & Atrato River?

SINFONÍA TRÓPICO has selected the Chocó region given its human, environmental and social characteristics. The effects of unsustainable consumption reaches deep inside the Chocó rainforest and impacts on its fragile biodiversity as well as the Embera and Afro-Colombian communities who live there. Deep inside the forest, fuelled by an increasing demand for natural resources, trees are torn from fragile equatorial soil and shipped to Canada; gold is mined with mercury that poisons rivers and displaces communities; rare earth metals are extracted to produce mobile phones and computers. Meanwhile, teenagers of African descent from Chocó's scattered communities are drawn into the drug trade. Lacking opportunities to earn a living wage some are seduced by the possibility of making quick money. But those who cannot resist this temptation might not survive, whilst others end up in crowded Panamanian or US jails, or simply disappear.

Predominately afro-colombian the Chocó is the poorest region of Colombia. Surrounded by impenetrable rainforest, its rivers constitute the lifeline for local communities along the rivers. The rivers are life.  But the rivers also bring violence. With the Colombian government largely absent, communities have long been controlled by paramilitary and guerrilla groups that smuggle drugs to the Caribbean and the border with Panama. They also bring pollution. Illegal gold and platinum mining and deforestation lead to critical levels of mercury pollution and reduction in fish stocks.

The first expedition of Spanish explorers along the Atrato took place as early as 1511. In the centuries that followed, the Atrato served as transport route into the country, and there were several attempts to build a canal that would link the Caribbean with the Pacific sea via the Atrato. The promise that went along with the river, but never became reality. Far worse, the Atrato becomes increasingly synonymous with violence and degradation.

The Colombian peace process opens an opportunity for bringing peace and development to this battered and largely unknown region of Colombia. However, currently the fate and situation of the poor communities along the Atrato river are largely unknown, internationally but also within Colombia.

A first step towards bringing opportunities to the Chocó is raising awareness about the pollution and poverty in the region. In doing so, it is important to not only describe the desperate situation of the local communities, but also the incredible beauty of the region and its right to a brighter, cleaner and healthier future.

ATRATO explores these themes and their impacts on the natural environment, its effect on some of Colombia's culturally richest, yet economically poorest people.

Project: ATRATO

SINFONÍA TRÓPICO, a Colombian non-governmental organization, has therefore invited visual artist Fernando Arias, the sound artist Robert Lippok, and local artists to develop a set of visual, acoustic and educative materials that draw attention on this largely forgotten region of Colombia. We proposed to develop a film, music and a set of information materials that can be shown in Colombia and abroad, and that will be widely disseminated via the internet and social media.

The objectives of the project are: (i) to offer a complete vision about the problems and challenges of the Chocó; (ii) give voice to the communities along the river; (iii) raise awareness about the ecological relevance of the area and its unique biodiversity.

ATRATO is thought of as a multidisciplinary work that combines video and music to present a multifocal vision of the problems that affect the region, taking the Atrato river as the axis that crosses the Chocó forests. The proposed methodology and results have been created in tune with SINFONÍA TRÓPICO’s essence: multiple voices, - both the people from the region as well as the artists’, - and points of view, - both the camera’s and the people who are interviewed - are brought together to show how society and the bio-diverse richness of Chocó are threatened by human induced activities such as mining or the wood industry, amongst others.

ATRATO will be of broadcast quality and can be shown in a variety of ways. It will be presented in Quibdó, and possibly other communities along the Atrato. The video will also be shown in Bogotá and other major centers of Colombia. Screenings will take place in public halls, theaters or outdoors.

The video and educative materials will also widely distributed via the web and social media.


Fernando Arias is a visual artist that constantly inquires in the human condition which he explores through video, photography and installation and performance. Conflict, sexuality, religion, politics and society are recurring themes in his work. He currently lives in Bogotá and the Pacific Coast, where, through his foundation Más Arte Más Acción (MAMA), he produces interdisciplinary artistic projects in collaboration with artists and writers that raise questions about social and environmental issues.