When it comes to Colombian talent, we can certainly state that the “Made in Colombia” label has been proudly worn by outstanding Colombians. These legends have managed to establish themselves as masters of their crafts and have made our country reach new heights. Here are some of those consummate Colombians, who we proudly call fellow citizens.
When asked who we admire the most, it’s very likely that Colombians answer García Márquez without hesitation. And it’s not surprising. He was the first Colombian –and fourth Latin-American– to be awarded a Nobel Prize –in this case, the nobel of literature– and became one of the first main voices to take Latin America to the front line.
His most relevant and famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude, has been deemed by many critics a novel close to perfection. Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, called it the “Don Quixote of our times” and even Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have cited it as one of their favorite books. Gabo wrote nine more novels (all of which have become Latin American classics). As a journalist, he became a world-class chronicler; and as a short-story writer he was so talented, that some say that, had he not written his major novel, he should have also received a Nobel Prize for his short stories.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, as well as most of his other novels and stories, are clearly influenced by García Márquez’s experiences during his childhood in Aracataca, his birthplace. The stories told by his grandparents –who the author described as a dichotomy between realism (his grandfather, a Civil War colonel) and fantasy (his grandmother) are widely regarded as shaping his writing. In the end, his works would become the essence of magical realism and some of the finest examples of the new Latin-American novel –a genre that shook the world in the 60s and 70s, a literary period that is now known as the Latin American Boom.
Born in Medellín in 1932, Fernando Botero is, without question, Colombian greatest visual artist. After attending bullfighting school for many years, Botero decided to embark on an artistic journey. Creating a very particular style –known as boterismo–, Botero plays with dimensions to display exaggerated versions of whatever being or thing there is and even reimagine works by other artists such as Picasso’s Guernica or Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. He is currently Latin America’s most sought-after artist, with some of his most famous works being displayed on Park Avenue in NYC, the Champs-Élysées in Paris or Paseo de La Castellana in Madrid.
In the mid-2000s, Botero took the world by surprise when he presented his version of the Abu Ghraib tortures in Bagdad. Using his inimitable style, the famous “Botero fat figures” went from delighting millions with their quiet poses to showcasing the gruesome reality of war.
Botero has always been committed to society and culture. One of his greatest dreams has been making Bogotá one of Latin America’s major art hubs. In fact, thanks to his donations to local museums, works by Dalí, Picasso or Degas –acquired by Botero over 25 years– can be seen by Colombians. He has said that if there’s a place for those works, that place is Colombia and not a warehouse.
When visiting Colombia, the best way to dive into Botero’s world is by visiting his eponymous square in Medellín, where more than 20 sculptures have been donated by Botero himself and installed.
Thanks to young movie-making geniuses who have shifted the clichés of Latin cinema, we Latin Americans have gotten used to be recognized by our films. One of these prodigies is Ciro Guerra, born in the Cesar department in 1981, who from a very young age has been acclaimed for his talent as a screenwriter and director.
In 2015, his movie Embrace of the Serpent was praised in Cannes and nominated as best foreign language film in the 2016 Academy Awards –the first Colombian movie ever to achieve this. The film tells the journeys of two scientists and a shaman through the Amazonian rainforest, as they look for a sacred plant believed to have healing powers. The film was shown in its original production site to pay tribute to the native community that appeared on it as natural actors. When credits started to roll, the attending crowd requested a second screening, which certainly became Guerra’s greatest reward.
One of Guerra’s latest productions is Green Frontier, created in partnership with Netflix. It will premiere this month on the streaming service. Rumor has it that the series will be an industry groundbreaker, since it’s the first time that special cameras are used to cope with the Amazonian extreme conditions and because it lays the foundations for a new kind of thriller subgenre, Amazon Noir –intrigue and mystery plots set in the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
Chances are that from 2017 through 2018 a catchy, reggaeton-infused tune was stuck in your head. It was not Despacito, by the way. If you haven’t guessed it yet, the song is Mi Gente by J Balvin. The remix of this song, which featured Beyoncé crooning to both English and Spanish lyrics, made history when it became a Billboard Hot 100’s top 10 hit.
J Balvin was born José Álvaro Osorio Balvín, in Medellín in 1985. At 17, he moved to Oklahoma and then to NYC to study English and music. He was heavily influenced by some of New York’s biggest rap legends (i.e. 50 Cent and P. Diddy). Upon returning to Colombia, Balvin decided to pursue a career in music and the rest –with the usual ups and downs that garnish a celebrity’s rise to stardom– is history.
Before the success of Mi Gente, J Balvin had secured a place among Latin America’s biggest stars, with many of his singles peaking the charts and being certified platinum from Mexico to Argentina. Having collaborated with Pharrell Williams, Justin Bieber and Cardi B, J Balvin has made a name for himself as one of the very few Latino artists who have topped English mainstream charts while always doing his lyrics in Spanish –an extremely rare achievement in the industry. His greatest feat, however, has been becoming the first Latino ever to perform on a main stage in Coachella and headline Lollapalooza festival.
If Paisas are known for being hard-working, disciplined and relentless people, there’s no doubt that Caterine Ibargüen fully embodies such values. Born in Apartadó, Antioquia in 1984 and raised by her grandmother after her parents split due to the armed conflict, Ibargüen has been granted a golden ticket to the hall of fame of today’s Colombian greatest sportspeople –alongside cyclists Nairo Quintana, Mariana Pajón and Egan Bernal, soccer players Radamel Falcao and James Rodríguez, tennis players Robert Farah and Juan Sebastián Cabal, among many others.
Nicknamed “the Queen of Triple Jump” and “the Golden Panther”, Caterine was responsible for giving Colombia its fourth Gold Olympic Medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics –which added to the silver medal she had won in the 2012 Olympics. Her sports career started as a volleyball player, but her coach noticed her jumping skills and she began training focusing on high jump. She currently holds the country’s record in that specialty, as well as the South American record in triple jump (15.31 m). She has been ranked No. 5 on the all-time list of best female triple jumpers and was crowned as the best female athlete in the world in 2018, in a ceremony held in Monaco.