Digital artist Santiago Echeverry likens the recent rise of white supremacist groups in the United States to the early days of the Nazi Third Reich.
His latest exhibition, “Cabaret,” opening this weekend in Wilton Manors, draws inspiration from the famous musical and movie of the same name, based on the writings of Charles Isherwood in Berlin, and depicting the underground world of the cabaret in Weimar Germany.
“The rise of the right wing was getting creepy for me and that was exactly what happened in Germany in the 1930s. There were all these crazy parties and yet the Nazis were quietly gaining power. Soon, nobody was left to remember what happened,” he said. “We’re experiencing the same thing here in the U.S., the need for self-expression, partying a lot, going out, compensating for the horrible news, dancing, dressing up, all the ways to say we’re still free.”
Echeverry first discovered the cabaret while still living in his native Colombia.
“I became part of the local Bogotá scene, creating an alterego called Patty E. Patétik. I followed Isherwood’s steps, and became part of the cabaret with the goal of preserving the memory, dynamics and spirit of most of us transient artists, that are traditionally forgotten by not only historians, but also by social narratives and new technologies,” Echeverry explained in the notes about his exhibition.
Because of his country’s violent past, he was keenly aware of the dangers of living in the shadows. He came out at 15 when homosexuality was still illegal. The police regularly raided the gay clubs and, even after the country got a new constitution, the long civil war made every day an exercise in survival. His brother was murdered by guerillas and other members of his family were threatened.
The young artist could have remained quiet, but he saw the opportunity to use his art for good, especially during the AIDS epidemic. He would eventually emigrate to Baltimore and then Tampa, where he now resides and teaches.
Noting that “cabaret had broken its ‘fourth wall’ a long time ago, and that its stage had permeated into the lives of all of us participants, blurring the lines between performance and audience, fiction and reality, marking the ways in which we participate in this world,” Echeverry began documenting the people he encountered.
A self-professed computer geek, he wrote the coding for a unique 3-D sensor that collects data on his subjects and constructs images in real time. The terrabytes of digital information can then be replayed as a video or distilled into a large format composite image. He does not create the images in Photoshop, Echeverry emphasized.
His current exhibit includes portraits of more than 100 people he encountered enjoying the bar scene in Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale. Like the characters in “Cabaret,” he sought out the colorful performers, drag queens, bartenders and patrons who lend so much energy and color to the LGBT scene in the community.
“What you are going to see is the joy, people looking for the extremes of self-expression, incredible drag queens and performers, and just plain people,” he promised. “If I don’t tell the story, who is going to? If [Vice President Mike] Pence is elected president someday and they reinstate a death penalty for gays, who will remember? Of course, I exaggerate, but who knows?”
“Cabaret” by Santiago Echeverry will be on display through June 8 at Claudia Castillo Art Studio, 2215 Wilton Dr. in Wilton Manors. An opening night reception will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 19 during the monthly art walk. For more information, go to Santi.tv/Cab/.