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Ñongo Cultural

Ñongo Cultural was the name of a gallery that we decided to build the day that Onesimo was murdered. That early morning a gang fight took place in “the island” Onesimo was karateka and tried to kick the opposing gang members to defend his friend “bigotes”. But they had guns and fired 8 bullets in his face. His group of friends made an altar with different objects including some portraits that I took of him during 2012 and 2013. We gathered at Perla’s ñongos keeping silence in memory of our friend. During those minutes I thought about showing some images that I’ve captured during the last years at the river. I thought about Onesimo and all the people who asked me to take photographs of them. When we finished the silence, I expressed my idea and they seemed interested and excited.


For months, no one built their ñongo around the crime scene. The altar in memory of Onesimo was still there. One day we started building the cultural space next to it. David brought 6 tubes from the International Av. remodeling project. We used the material to assemble pieces of wood. We covered the interior walls with cardboard and fabric, we tied them using cloth and cables. Part of the walls were made with my late grandmother’s bed sheets. The community who lived around “the island” engaged in different ways: they brought a couch, materials for construction or decoration, magic carpets, installed images, and even cooked for us while working on the installation. One night a hooded man went to the construction, I saw a gun in his pocket. He asked what was going on and we told him, he said: “Oh! you’re the photographer? okay” then left.

That intact part of the “island” was transformed into a space visited by the river's community and workers from around. Perla and David, lived in front of the “island” ; they became the soldiers who watched over the place. When they caught someone using heroin or crystal meth inside the Cultural Ñongo, they asked them to leave. People respected the space; it was for everyone. We had many gatherings that started screening the “true movie” of “El Gato Julio Romero Salas”. Before that day I talked about the installation with the area police chief, he offered support and I decided to accept a generator to project the film.


When the two police patrols got to the river with the generator, the majority of the people hid in their camouflaged ñongos. An officer tried to turn on the machine, some inhabitants supported him, but it never worked. That moment opposite poles had an unexpected peaceful exchange; because police are not used to being horizontal with that community and they are always chasing them, and violating their human rights. When they left, people got out of their shelters, together we filled the gallery and we showed “El Gato Julio Romero Salas” on my laptop. The next few days we projected El Gato and other films because my uncle supported bringing his light generator. In those events we offered coffee and cookies. The fire was always present. 


The ñongo was intact and clean, even the police respected it, they didn’t burn it during their raids. Only one picture disappeared, Don Julio showed it to me; it was Chihuas, the oldest man who died on a cold night of December 2011. This was surreal. The gallery lasted five weeks. It was destroyed when a group of men violently argued with Perla and David. Probably the destroyers were those that I saw resting at a water gate using my late grandmother’s bed sheets to cover them from the sun.

After some days a big raid happened in the river, they had a caterpillar excavator to destroy ñongos. The firmness of the gallery’s skeleton was demolished with the machine’s spoon. It was undone, as everything else in this suburb created with recycled materials.

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