Gina Echeverry: Afro-Columbian Artist Transforming Pain into Freedom
By: Donte Kirby
Art can be a window into the soul and a pressure valve, releasing life’s traumas. As an artist, Gina Echeverry uses painting as gateway to self-love and healing from traumatic violence.
Echeverry grew up in the Chocó region of Columbia. In this area of the country, 82% of the population according to a 2005 census, is of African descent. The Chocó region borders both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and is a place filled with beautiful beaches, including the the black sand beach of Playa Guachalito and the two weeklong festival of San Pacho in Chocó’s capital, Quibdó. Chocó is also home to the Bojayá Massacre, where 119 people (including 45 children) died in a clash between guerrilla and illegal paramilitary groups at the town’s church in 2002. The more than five decade long internal war in Columbia claimed the lives of at least 220,000 people since 1958.
“My mission is to show what’s happening in the world and in my places” said Echeverry. This could mean violent paintings that draw on her experiences in Columbia or vibrant portraits that capture the beauty of her Afro-Columbian heritage. “I paint Afrolatina women and children, their reality and time, right now. We were surrounded by music and paradox.”
Echeverry has been in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for 17 years. She uses her experience with trauma and art to help children deal with their traumatic experiences through art therapy.
“I was not in violence but I was affected by the environment of violence,” said Echeverry.
She recognizes that Columbia may no longer be the violent place she grew up in but the fear stayed with her. Painting was her path to healing, and time in the United States fostered belief in hope. Echeverry’s mission in life is to get brown and black children who grew up in an environment seeped in violence to transition from fear to hope through art.
“I lead them to express themselves, open up and express their trauma,” said Echeverry. “To liberate their souls and transform their pain into freedom.” According to Echeverry, the method is irrelevant. Some express themselves through painting others through poetry.
Echeverry has worked in summer programs and with youth on an individual basis at Northeast Community Mental Health center in the Fairhill section of Philadelphia, an area known as a center of the Hispanic community. She now works at Cognitive Behavioral Services which services the same area of the city.
In Echeverry’s experience learning a new skill heals trauma. “You learn that life is not a repeated pattern.” That things can change.
“My purpose is to continue painting hope, peace and people struggling” said Echeverry. “Because we struggle again and again. We must continue showing that life is something else. Life is also love. Life is also peace.”