Carlos Zapata


Carlos Zapata is an artist whose sculptures echo the devotional object as a means of addressing challenging contemporary themes. Originally from Colombia, his works are rooted in the complex issues of his native country, in particular the social conflict that is the legacy of colonialism and an identity shaped by a European culture grafted onto a subjugated host. Many of his sculptures are reminiscent of Catholic icons but simmer with a raw, elemental quality as if to emphasize how religious narratives are but one possible articulation for fundamental human experience. A torso echoing an arrow-riddled St Sebastian suggests gunshot wounds in an allusion to the violence that has plagued Colombia for decades. A haunting carved head and shoulders with a coin in its mouth refers to Charon’s Obol, the payment to the ferryman to take the dead across the River Styx. A Mary Magdalen with waist-long hair echoes the Western tradition but with hints of a golden undershirt suggesting the cultural syncretism that is so particular to south and central America. Accompanying busts are rough-hewn, burnt, or scratched, their patina suggestive of a life lived through conflict, but Carlos’s work is distinguished by the gentle empathy with which he addresses his subjects. His use of wood is important: it emphasizes the shared organic nature of both his materials and his subjects, and in so doing lends his work an emotional candour that brings a humane tenderness to his often difficult themes.