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Colombia: soundscapes of violence for peace

On the Verge of Silence, an immersive soundscape and reading of testimonies from the Truth Commission



On 1 December 2023, a ritualized reading of Colombia’s Truth Commission Final Report was held in the Chapel at King’s College London, hosted by the Visual Embodied Methodologies (VEM) network at KCL with former commissioner Alejandro Castillejo.

The candlelit event, titled ‘On the Verge of Silence: Sonic and Poetic Fragments’, blended soundscapes and testimonies to create an immersive atmosphere and disposition to listening in the beautiful Chapel at King’s Strand campus. Subtle lighting and illumination in the space along with surround-sound, immersed the audience in the sounds of nature, communities, and machinery recorded in areas of Colombia affected by the conflict.

‘On the Verge of Silence explored memories of violence through the rhythms of sounds, voices, and languages that accompany testimonies of Colombia’s Truth Commission,’ explains Professor Jelke Boesten, Professor of Gender and Development and Principal Investigator on the VEM Network.

The softly lit Chapel, Strand Campus

Readers presented ritualized readings in Spanish and English, taken from the section ‘Conversations with Nature’ of the Truth Commission report, which looked at nature as a subject of suffering. The event premiered former Colombian Truth commissioner Alejandro Castillejo’s coproduced sound work.

‘I see the mangrove as a landscape that started to acquire something that didn’t quite fit in with it. Loads of young people were cut up and dismembered there, their clothes ripped up. In lots of cities you can see shoes hanging on electricity cables. That means something, right? Here, it was the symbol of death… the location of the clothing also told you who perpetrated the killing. It was like a trophy. You know, that area belonged to this faction… so they displayed it there, on the branches of the mangrove. […] This had never been part of the landscape.’

El mangle que camina. Félix Corredor B./ Comision de La Verdad

About the Commission

The Colombian Truth Commission is the official body established to investigate human rights violations, war crimes, or other serious abuses that took place during the armed conflict from 1958 to 2016. The Commission was established in 2017, after the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed the ‘Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace’. The final report was released in June 2022, presenting examinations into the causes of the armed conflict, recognising what happened to the victims and hearing about their experiences during this period. 

Alongside, the Commission aimed to promote coexistence in Colombia’s territories. Their findings and the report contribute towards important dialogue in society and offer opportunities for participation across different communities and organisations, facilitate the understanding of people’s experiences which make up Colombia’s history, and lay a foundation to prevent such armed conflict from being repeated.

‘Huellas’ (Traces), read by Carlos

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New ways of connecting

The soundscapes in the Chapel invited a London audience to reflect on their own interest in or connections to Colombia, the Commission’s findings, and the stories that are entangled within people’s experiences of the conflict and within nature – the forests, mountains, and trees. Where the Final Report itself is a dense and difficult document to take in, the use of sounds allowed audience members to listen to its findings in new ways.

‘We have learned so much from Alejandro’s use of the sonic landscape – voices, languages, rhythms, the sounds of nature and machines – to share resonances of memories that are so difficult to speak and absorb in text only.

‘The event drew members of the Colombian diaspora in London, scholars and practitioners interested in visual and embodied methodologies, and scholars of memory and violence. We are tremendously grateful to Global Visiting Fellow and former truth commissioner Alejandro Castillejo for sharing this sonic work with us in King’s Chapel,’ says Boesten.

The recording below is from the Chapel event on 1 December. This piece begins with the sound ‘Caminar’ (Walk), followed by readings of the first talk: ‘Raíces vestidas de muerte’ (Roots dressed up as death) – read firstly in Spanish by Alejandro and in then English by Camila.

Ashwin Patel is Project Coordinator at the Visual Embodied Methodologies (VEM) Network.

Find out more about the Colombian Truth Commission and read their findings and activities.

Find out more about the Visual Embodied Methodologies (VEM) Network, and their current project examining Intersectional Gendered Violence.