WHAT
Colombia faces growing political violence and a possible return to civil war despite a peace treaty in 2016 between the government and the country’s largest guerrilla group. This project aims to reduce the violence and promote reconciliation. Metamorphosis focuses on the demobilization of the FARC rebels as they made the hazardous transition from living under arms in hidden jungle camps to rejoining civil society. The project consists of exhibitions, talks, slideshows and a photo book, with images from before the final to ceasefire in June, 2016 to May, 2018. The book, Metamorphosis: Guerrillas In Search Of Peace, was published in 2019 by Villegas Editores. In Colombia it is available in shops and at Villegas Editores’s website. Elsewhere in the world it is available through this site. Without defending the FARC’s past actions or ideology, this project opens the door to empathy for the former rebels. They emerge as people with recognizable emotions, hopes and fears – very different from the sub-human monsters depicted for more than 50 years by the country’s mainstream media. I believe that by challenging the hostility of many Colombians towards the former fighters, the project will reduce public tolerance of violence against them and against supporters of the peace process. The project also aims to help forge long term reconciliation by providing an accurate record of this critical phase of Colombian history – showing who the rank-and-file guerrillas were when they agreed to the treaty, how they felt about it, and what happened to them as a result. In the future, political interests opposed to peace in Colombia may present a distorted version of events. Peace processes worldwide show that authentic national reconciliation requires recognition of how things really were. This project provides it. Because the project relies on images instead of words, it avoids the verbal stereotypes that dominate political debate and contribute to polarization both in Colombia and worldwide. Its visual language also bridges the country’s deep educational differences. Reviewing an exhibition of the photos for Colombia’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo, art critic Nelly Peñaranda said it was “an opportunity to promote solidarity, appreciation and respect, to dismantle derogatory falsehoods, and to work for tolerance and inclusion in a highly polarized panorama” (March 5, 2018).

WHY
Hundreds of former FARC rebels have returned to the jungle since the signing of the peace treaty, disillusioned with the government’s inability to fulfill many of its promises. Others currently sticking with the peace process say they will abandon it if their friends continue to be killed – a scenario that may be more likely after Colombia elected a new president in August, 2018, who has pledged to undo key parts of the treaty. History shows that it is not only former guerrillas who will suffer if the civil war is reignited. The heaviest toll will be on ordinary civilians. They accounted for more than four out of every five people killed in conflict between 1958 and 2013, according to a report by the state-funded Center of Historical Memory. Colombia’s peace process also has an international dimension that makes its success critical for other parts the world. Governments and transnational organizations pledged their support as its guarantors, President Juan Manuel Santos was honored with a Nobel Prize for his role, and the Pope made a special visit to put the weight of the Catholic Church behind the agreement. To allow the process to fail in spite of such massive pressure in its favor would set a negative precedent for the resolution of conflicts worldwide.