Débora Arango

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Débora Arango Pérez
File:Debora Arango and Joaquin Restrepo.jpg
Born November 11, 1907
Medellín, Colombia
Died December 4, 2005
Medellín, Colombia
Nationality Colombian
Movement Figurative Expressionism, Neo-Figuration

Débora Arango Pérez (November 11, 1907 – December 4, 2005) was a Colombian artist, born in Medellín, Colombia as the daughter of Castor María Arango Díaz and Elvira Pérez. Though she was primarily a painter, Arango also worked in other media, such as ceramics and graphic art. Throughout her career, Arango used her artwork to explore many politically charged and controversial issues, her subjects ranging from nude women to the role of the Roman Catholic Church to dictatorships.

Education and training

Arango's first exposure to art education was in Medellín, and came at a fairly young age, thirteen years old.[1] From 1920 to 1950, Arango studied plastic arts and painting at various institutions, including the Instituto de Bellas Artes (Medellín, Colombia), "La Esmeralda" (Mexico City, Mexico), and the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes. Arango returned to the Instituto de Bellas Artes in 1959 as an instructor.[2]


Eladio Velez and Pedro Nel Gomez were Arango's instructors during her time at the Instituto de Bellas Artes, and it was Pedro Nel Gomez's murals that inspired her early watercolors[3] Arango's watercolors are considered very significant, as they illustrated realities of everyday urban life in a way that had not previously been expressed.[2] While many people were still painting pretty, simple images, Arango explored urban life's depths, and the grittier side of life. It was under the influence of nel Gomez that Arango's work shifted from a traditional style to become more suggestive and meaningful.[4]

Jose Orozco's works, which Arango studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, also significantly affected her, influencing her future techniques and style.[5] In El Tren de la Muerte (The Train of Death), the dead bodies of massacred people are depicted inside a train car; the brush strokes and lines are dramatic and the faces, all unidentifiable, have formed horrific expressions. This is similar to Orozco’s The Trench, which depicts unidentifiable figures engaged in battle; the style of the brush strokes and lines are similar, and Orozco is trying to emphasize the anonymity of revolution and the destruction that it causes. Like Orozco, Arango draws attention to the lives being ruined by a corrupt Colombian government.

Description of style

Dramatic, visible brush strokes are consistent throughout of Arango's artworks. Because much of her art has political and/or social implications, Arango's technique is used to evoke emotions and inspire the viewer. It is because of this that Arango is often characterized as a figurative expressionist.[4] Expressionism can be identified by the altering and distorting of reality to convey a subjective meaning, and this is certainly evident in Arango's works. Her style, along with her social and political subject matter, is also a factor for why Arango's work was often overlooked and/or rejected during much of her career. Cubism was the popular movement at this time, and Arango refused to cater to what was considered acceptable.[4]

Social/political context

Throughout a career that spanned almost eight decades, Arango consistently defied tradition and sparked controversy in her works. It was her paintings of female nudes that first instigated debate; labeled obscene by the Catholic Church, they were also rejected by the public and other artists.[5] The role of the female in society is a main subject for many of Arango's works. She depicted images of women that were not normally seen: for example, prostitutes, or a woman in prison. The expressionist style she employs in Justice (1942) draws strong attention to the negative effects prostitution can have on women.[4] In Amanecer (1940), an urban nightlife scene is depicted, exploring the roles of women as secondary to men.[3] No other Colombian artists were exploring these themes of women in the world at this time, making them even more provocative and innovative.

In 1944, Arango joined a group of artists who, similar to the Mexican muralists of the time, were emphasizing the importance of public art, murals that were accessible to all. This group wrote a manifesto of their ideas which they presented as "Manifiesto de los Independientes", emphasizing their desire to use art to enlighten the public.[4] Arango was also one of the first people to use her artwork to challenge the corrupt Colombian government. In the 1950s and 60s, a period called "La Violencia" was going on in Colombia. As the title suggests, violence was prevalent, and the government was directly responsible for much of it, even organizing massacres of their people.[5] There was a civil war occurring between the liberals and the conservatives, and it was being fought, for the most part, through guerilla warfare. El tren de la muerte (Train of Death) and El cementerio de la chusma y/o mi cabeza (The cemetery of the riffraff and/or my head) both illustrate her feelings and strong message against this government's actions during the time.[5]

In Train of Death, Arango paints lifeless bodies being taken away on a train, under the cloak of night. This alludes to an incident in 1913 in which 3000 banana plantation workers went on strike, and the Colombian government massacred them and got rid of their bodies. No one ever knew what happened to these people, so it was important that Arango was drawing attention to such an incident. The anonymity of the people depicted in Train of Death emphasizes the thoughtlessness of the slaughter of thousands of people for no reason, something that the Colombian government was continuing to do. In The cemetery of the riffraff and/or my head, Arango again brings attention to all the violence that is occurring in Colombia. The graveyard depicted can be viewed as the graveyard of people killed throughout "La Violencia", and an interesting part of this painting is how she includes her own head within the graveyard. This is important, as it emphasizes that she, or anyone else, could have been a part of these thoughtless massacres, even though they have done nothing wrong. Vultures are depicted in this painting as well, and, in Spanish, vultures are often called "chulos"; this is also what the people called the police at the time. This is Arango referencing the corruption in the government that was behind all this violence in Colombia, because these "chulos" were greatly feared by the people and were responsible for countless deaths. Though later artists painted images of the violence that was prevalent in Colombia at this time, Arango is significant because she was the first to paint, explore, and draw attention to these issues while "La Violencia" was going on.


Arango donated 233 pieces of her artwork to El Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín (The Museum of Modern Art of Medellín) in 1986. Though she was often shunned during the years when she was producing some of her more provocative works, she is now viewed as one of the most important artists of Colombia, as a feminist and as a political artist.[5] She was awarded the Cruz de Boyaca, the highest homage in Colombia, in 2003.the last picture she painted was for her best friend Mateo Blanco (portrait of a friend) this the painting went on tour to United States. She died on December 14, 2005, at 98 years old, and only stopped working a few years before her death, when her body simply would no longer allow her to paint.[1]

Selected artworks
Selected exhibitions
  • 1940: Salon Nacional de Artistas; Bogota, Colombia
  • 1944: Exposicion Nacional de Medellín; Colombia
  • 1984: Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango; Bogota, Colombia
  • 1984: Museo de Arte Moderno; Medellín, Colombia


  1. 1.0 1.1 Debora Arango, 98, Painter of Politically Charged Themes, Dies. The New York Times, December 13, 2005.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Shipp, Steve. Latin American and Caribbean Artists of the Modern Era: A Biographical Dictionary of More than 12,700 Persons. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2003.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Londono Velez, Santiago. "Colombian Art, 3500 Years of History". Bogota, D.C., Colombia, 2001
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Grove Dictionary of Art
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Ramírez, Mari Carmen and Héctor Olea. Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

External links