The Kogi Indians (Arles-2017)

“Who are the Kogi people? Where and how do they live? What type of dialogue can we have with them? To what end, regarding the pressing questions of our age? 40 photographic works by Éric Julien show a profoundly human society in which everything is “sign”. A society whose last heirs, refugees in the upper valleys of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, look with sadness upon their little brothers, “the civilised, as they call themselves,” destroying the web of life.”


This exhibition is not easy to find and I have to make my way through a labyrinth of rooms in a bookshop eventually finding my way, thanks to arrows on the floor. The exhibition is downstairs in a cellar.

This body of work is an in depth investigation of a tribe largely untouched by modern civilisation; it questions whether or not they enjoy a happier life. Are not these people enslaved by fear? Although free of many of the trappings of modern life such as money, these people are not free of the human condition. They are surrounded by wild animals too!

Such people as the Kogi do live in harmony with their surroundings.

The film which shows alongside the exhibition gets a little tiresome after awhile; it is narrated by a French speaking man who is at times seen talking to camera. The tribe themselves are seen in the background going about their way of life as if they are secondary yet my inability to understand what is being said in French is a reason for not liking it!

Will seeing the film from the beginning improve my impression!? The film starts with Gentility Cruz, a man related to the tribe talking; it appears he has Kogi origins. Certainly he knows about the Kogi who live in a very organised society.


The insight into the society although mediated by this one person is nevertheless a valid one; the narcotics they use are for religious use for example. While such insight is helpful it is still this one individual talking. The ability of the tribe to construct elaborate sturdy bridges is another aspect of their lives. These people also know about the movements of the sun and moon. The film does show a little of them going about their daily life without commentary yet mostly it is concerned with interaction with the filmmaker.

The modern tent looks a little out of place with the traditional mud huts the indigenous people have made. Dialogue with these people is not easy. At one point a tribal wants to talk about light but the interviewer is clearly not interested.


Even when the tribal people start dancing, their music is allowed not more than a minute before the guide starts talking again.

There is touching footage showing intimate scenes yet the voice continues without interruption. The message seems to be that these are not savages but people with their own developed civilisation. People who are at peace with nature and themselves. They believe in themselves. They are not lazy though some may consider them so! Can they be free of greed?


The still photographs allow the viewer more freedom; no view is being imposed although there are placards informing one about the people. The way they relate to ancient stones is interesting though we are not told much.

The exhibition includes an installation of a traditional Kogi house, a kind of wigwam.

The support for the Kogi people is to help them get back lands that have been taken from them! There are said to be about 25,000 Kogi (kagaba) people with a civilisation stretching back 4,000 years. The Tchendukua organisation represents their interests.

There does not seem to be a photobook for this exhibition so one is left with an impression generated by the film which gives me an insight but not one I can trust perhaps. The notion of territory is a strong one and probably promotes self righteousness yet for me the Kogi appear to have some kind of spiritual understanding.




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