Book Review: Zurumbático by Luis Cobelo
By Scarlett Davis
Luis Cobelo’s Zurumbático is more than a word; it is an entire mind-set. Zurumbático is an exhibit, a book, a film and even a gif. This project was inspired by the photographer’s ardent admiration of the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. The collection is a sublime delve into magical realism and Latin American culture. Masterfully, the photography transcends fiction, while interweaving the sense of dream, memory, and fantasy. Profoundly elusive yet present in every still, are thoughts of love and death.
Zurumbático is a kind of carnivalesque-grotesque where everything in the world is turned upside down. Cobelo guides his book with the phrase, “Todo es real hasta que se demuestre lo contrario” which means “Everything is real until proven otherwise.” In the cannon of Magical Realism, what is outlandish or improbable is presented as matter of fact. A new world is presented without the need for a referential reality, free from the constraints of convention.
As the Venezuelan photographer Cobelo has expressed, it is common for people in Latin America to share this mind set. He once said, “Some things people find strange are very normal to me. If someone told me that he met his mother’s ghost on his way home, I would believe him.” In Zurumbático, things are exactly how they are. His words have additive meaning, given that while shooting this project his mother passed. The death provided new meaning to his work, as the photographer has expressed.
The word “Zurumbático” was crafted from One Hundred Years of Solitude and encapsulates many meanings: silly, melancholic, somber, dull, enigmatic, and drunk. Much of the shooting took place in Colombia. The town of Aracataca , the birth place of Márquez, proved to be reminiscent of the novelist's fictional town, Macondo. Cobelo pays homage to the work with some of his pictures. At one point, the exhibit was featured in an old hospital in Cortona, Italy as a part of the festival Cortona in the Move (2017). The exhibition began its tour in Rome during the book fair, Più libri, Più Liberi (2017) , making its way to México City in Hydra+Fotografía in November of 2017, and following that is scheduled to appear in Bogotá, Miami; Puebla , México; and Venezuela with more destinations to come.
The word “love” was handwritten above a portrait of a yellow butterfly trapped under a translucent glass, symbolic of the love between Mauricio Babilonia and Fernanda del Carpio. While a picture of a woman’s nipples visible beneath a wet white t-shirt featured the words, “When I saw you in the yard”---a statement employing Cobelo’s own interpretation of Márquez’s work. Yet in all of the photos, love is a kind of universal language unto itself and is very much of the moment, beautiful yet also fleeting.
A kind of tragicomedy, the images in Zurumbático exist on their own spatial and temporal level. The sacred and profane are united along with the dark and the light. Cobelo made the artistic decision to tap into the heart of Latin America, shooting with color what is so often depicted through black and white. Life is hard and challenging but it is also unimaginably profound and moving. Luis Cobelo’s images evoke color and vitality and were created to last.
Luis Cobelo holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Zulia, Venezuela. His work has appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone, National Geographic, GQ, Vogue UK and Vice Mexico. He is the chief editor of LAT Photo Magazine, an online publication dedicated to Latin American documentary photography.
Zurumbático is available for purchase.
Be sure to watch the Zurumbático musical video.