At first glance, the childlike strokes and bright colors of the paintings of the Bogota Museum of Modern Art's latest exhibit suggest bucolic scenes of Colombia's countryside: Small, colorful figures fill town squares and farms lie in the shadow of towering mountains or by fast-running rivers.
But a closer look reveals landscapes covered in blood, with camouflage-clad men wielding chain saws against their victims, limbless bodies floating in rivers tinged red with blood, women being raped and entire towns under siege.
The exhibit, called "The War We Haven't Seen," brings together 90 paintings by about 80 former combatants of Colombia's 4-decade-old conflict. "It's a mix of innocence and horror," says Juan Manuel Echavarria, a Colombian artist organized the workshops where the ex-fighters learned to paint.
But Echavarria stresses that the workshops were not about turning the fighters into artists or about saving people.
"This was about creating historic memory in a country where memory has been lost," Echavarria said.
Colombia has lurched from one war to another during its 200-year history, leaving hundreds of thousands of victims. Drug violence in the 1980s and '90s traumatized the nation. The latest conflict has seen the rise of powerful right-wing militias and leftist guerrilla armies.
Most of the paramilitary fighters demobilized under a deal with the government in 2005, but rogue factions continue to terrorize some areas of the country. And while rebel groups have been beaten back from the urban centers, they still have an estimated 10,000 fighters in arms.
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