Panama

La Banda de mi Hogar (The Band of My Home).

Humberto Velez was invited to participate in ciudadMULTIPLEcity, the international public art event that took place in Panama City in 2003 curated by Gerardo Mosquera and Adrianne Samos, coinciding with Panama’s centennial as an independent republic. Velez decided to create a performance in collaboration with La Banda del Hogar, a brand and percussion band made up of mostly mestizo and working-class musicians and majorettes of all ages who are affiliated to the Sanchez family-operated vocational school called El Hogar.

Though widely popular, at the time The Banda del Hogar was only permitted to parade publicly during the national independent celebrations. Breaking with traditions, in the course of several days Velez and the band marched at the “wrong” time in the “wrong” places, such as the hugely iconic Bridge of the Americas that crosses the Panama Canal and connect North and South America. Velez’ band parade was denied entrance to the ex USA Canal Zone area, although he had the municipal authorities permission, thereby exposing an invisible order that still remains.

This performance instigated a heated debate in the media, by challenging the strict hierarchical conventions of Panama. It questioned the power structures that have taken over the city’s public spaces, and warned against the marginal participation of the working classes in the ex Canal Zone, which the Unites States finally gave back to Panama in 2000.

Velez and his band paraded intensively during the one month duration of ciudadMULTIPLTcity, and were also broadcast by radio and television. As a result, La Banda del Hogar has become a widely-acclaimed musical ensemble, far beyond the national independence festival.

 

La carrera (The Racehorse)

This project, originally conceived as a radio performance for the 7th Panama Biennale in 2005, is the commentary of an imaginary horse race, developed from a script created by Vélez and performed by the sports broadcaster Arquímedes Fernández, Vélez’s stepfather.

La Carrera parodies the seriousness with which Panamanians regard equestrian races. The horses are ironically named with terms that categorize and polarize social classes in Panama. It’s a close race between the economic, social, and racial conditions/perceptions deeply embedded in society, personified by Miss Panama, Negro de Mierda, Visa Americana, AIDS, Papa Rico, Extranjera, One Dollar, Oligarchy, and I have a Dream.

 

The Last Builder

by Humberto Velez with Dionisio Herrera Gonzalez, Super 8 B&W, Music by Nikola Kodjabashia, Montage by Willian Aldersley, 2008:

We called him Jose, for no reason, although his name was Dionisio Herrera Gonzalez; one of the many unexplained things in a life full of secrets. He was seventy years old when he was captured in this film. He was born in Jamaica, of Cuban-Oriental parents, he always emphasized. And he arrived in Panama when he was still a small child. It was through friends his father had made during the canal construction, that he was hired when he was only fifteen years old, under another name and stating a different age.
Neither Jose, nor Dionisio, was really a Hercules, who boasted that he had split the continents spine with his hands. I opened it with my own hands—he would say, while smiling scornfully. It seemed as if the continent had transferred its strength to him. This was not his only achievement. A pioneer of bodybuilding as a way of life, he had sculpted his body, defying time. Time, on the other hand, had not allowed itself to be completely thwarted, keeping his face for itself.

Giovanna Miralles, writer.