written by Daniel Hernández with Mordecai Lyon
The streets of my home are lined with the blood of my ancestors. My neighbors’ tears are hidden by broken smiles. The relative calm, since the storm of violence that invaded our daily lives, has in no way erased the memories. To the people who lived in Commune 13 during the 1990s and early 2000s, at a certain point it didn’t matter who was firing the bullets; government soldiers, radical leftist marxists, paramilitary, drug cartels, people struggling to find their next meal — death was death.
In 2019, in spite of the pain, I launched De La Calle Fest in these same streets to help heal the community. The “Festival of the Street” was an event made to celebrate our home through live artistic manifestations of design, graffiti, music, dance, fashion, tattooists and other expressions from the street as a transversal axis in the construction of our souls. (But more on that later.)
Everyone from the neighborhood knew that it was corruption and greed that had led Commune 13 — where I grew up in San Javier — to become the murder capital of Medellín, Colombia. We also knew that if the government cared enough about us to make sure everyone had what they needed, violence would not have been such an inevitability. As I grew older, I came to hate the streets where I was born. After a tragic week in 2010, we were forced to flee.
VIOLENCE OUTSIDE OUR DOOR
Growing up we lived at my grandparents’ house, in what was known as “La Puerta,” or “the door” to Commune 13 (see image above to the right). My folks did their best to shield us from the violence outside and we were showered with love and delicious sancocho. But somehow I knew that it was there, knocking on the door. In fact, the violence pervaded everything we did (and didn’t do).
For decades, Grandpa Toto (pictured above with my sister and I in 1996) worked as a supervisor at Coltejer, one of the largest textile companies in Colombia. 37 years ago, his daughter, my mother, Judith Estrada aka “La Chacha,” and my father, Silvio Hernández opened Los Chachos, a bakery in Commune 13. It was the same year I was born. To this day, the smell of baking bread wafts through the streets before the sun hits the houses stacked on top of one another. His bakery became an institution and still people congregate there after work for a beer and to buy their daily bread.
The house my grandparents built, now the epicenter of what happens in Commune 13, was always filled with people. Grandma Mima, the glue keeping everyone together, fueled the love permeating our home. In addition to my grandparents and my parents, we also lived with my two brothers, my sister, and my uncle Santi.
WHEN THE WALLS CAME CRUMBLING DOWN
In the nineties, when the violence was at its peak, our block was closed off by a wall built by the government. Despite the noise, it was almost as if nothing existed behind that wall. There were a few houses on the short block with a large patch of green grass to play on with my friends. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, the government knocked down that wall to build a street that would connect Commune 13 with the metro. It was then that the world took on a new meaning and I was quickly introduced to a different reality.
To me, it was Santi who represented this new world. He set off my imagination and was my window into design. Santi was a publicist, dedicated to printing his messages on clothing and advertisements all over the city. Santi was also a self-described sign painter. I learned the power of words and images from Santi, but most importantly, my deep love for art. It was Santi who first brought me to see the enormous mural of Che — beloved by some and hated by others. It was then that I saw grown men pushed to tears over paint.
INTO THE LIGHT
In 1996, I started high school at the neighborhood public school that they called “La Palomera.” It was at the height of the “Commanders Armed of the Pueblo” or CAP, an armed militia’s reign over Commune 13. Many of my classmates were in CAP and almost everyone in Commune 13 had a family member with CAP ties. War and violence were in the air, but there we were, continuing to live. We walked without fear and instead were forced to dream of something better.
In 1997, I made my first design and my uncle Santi helped me print it on some hoodies for my friends from Roller UK, our own collective that was more interested in graffiti and hip-hop than guns and drugs. It was in that moment that I knew I would dedicate the rest of my life to design. I began sitting in on printing workshops and conferences. I did not have the money to attend, so I would sneak in the back and listen. We did not have a computer, so I had to pay by the hour. Slowly I learned.
My first jobs were rough, I had to start from the bottom, washing stamping frames in production plants, picking up products for the shop, lunch for my coworkers, whatever was needed. My only rule: I’d only work halftime, so the other half of the day I could design. And when I did, it was pure love. I spent years at shit jobs, giving them my all, putting up with the abuse of authority and the stench of elitism found nearly everywhere in the fashion industry.
As my skill increased, however, I began to receive better job offers. I decided to have two identities, one artistic and the other for work, and so it was that in 2009, “El Daniel UK” was born, the same Daniel Hernández but with hunger and dreams to fulfill. Our gang didn’t fuck with the United Kingdom, it wasn’t in homage; we used UK because we were united in our determination to build our own kingdom. A kingdom of love and peace, not one of hate and war.
THE WEEK I CAN’T FORGET
It was 2010, a normal Thursday. I was getting ready for work: drinking black coffee, sketching a new design, inhaling an arepa. When I finally left the house, I saw some policemen on the bridge across the way. There was a dead man in the river, drowned, lynched. I remember seeing his blood on the street and, somehow, in the fucking trees. I listened to the police, apparently it was many men that beat him. I listened more and heard his name. I walked over in a trance, the victim was my uncle Santi. I dreamed of opening a studio with him one day, showing him how to create digitally. Santi always talked about changing the world and now he was gone from it.
Seven days later they came for me. It was 5 pm and two men were waiting for me outside the house. They both had guns where I could see them. I was terrified, but more than anything I was grieving my uncle. They wanted me to get into the car, but no way in hell was I getting into that fucking car. I remember seeing my mother and my grandmother waiting in the corridor of the house, frozen in place. It was clear the men had already intimidated them.
I began talking, anger breaking through fear, telling them, making them listen that I had nothing to do with anything they were accusing me of, that I just wanted to be someone of good. As one of the men tried to grab me, I hugged him as hard as I could, and told him in his ear: “Whatever you’re going to do to me, do it here and do it now because I am not getting in that car.”
I released him, thinking about the sound the cannon in his hand could make at any moment. I forced myself to start walking towards our front door, waiting for the sound, imagining what the cold would feel like in my back. My hand was on the door and then I was inside the embrace of my mother and grandmother. When I turned back they were gone. That night we packed our things and left Commune 13.
After years in exile, I returned. I had been trying to forget the memories, to move on. But instead I wanted to fight for him. To thank him for the happy moments, the simple, easy, real moments. The times with Santi and Grandma Mima that made me want to change the world just like them.
Santi would often talk about the importance of thinking globally but acting locally. He preached that revolution had to start within the individual and then spread on a local level for there to be any real progress for the people. Santi would criticize the government officials and lift up the local community organizers in the same breath. And suddenly, as if a gift from Santi himself, an opportunity presented itself and I knew what I had to do. Instead of running away from my home, I would go back and invest my energy into Commune 13 in Santi’s honor.
When I met Jeihhco, it was design and his project Casa Kolacho, a nonprofit spreading the message of love through hip-hop, graffiti tours, and Colombia’s history, that brought me back home. It was then when I reconciled with the neighborhood and with my past. I did not move back, but I began working on projects there. And in 2017, Boycott was born to create and connect with artists from Commune 13 who wanted to make a social impact through design. Very soon, artists from all over Colombia were joining the Boycott movement.
In March 2018 we held our first event, a barbecue at Casa Kolacho. I presented Boycott‘s first collection, roasting some choripanes, giving away beers with DJ Seek on the vinyls. It was a huge success, and every three months we held a Boycott party; live music, cold beer, painting a wall, grilling something, and receiving a few hundred people from all over the world, mostly there to go on Casa Kolacho’s Graffiti Tour — one of the most popular tours in Medellín.
On December 16, 2018, we launched the collaboration “Los Santos” (Lost Saints), a private event for friends and family, with a tour of Commune 13, to tell the story of where we’d been and where we were going. It was a way to unite those who had always been there.
I talked to my family about renting out our house, which was still empty, to Casa Kolacho for its new location. And on June 28, 2019, we opened our doors. A week later, we announced the great “BOYCOTT PARTY” with tattoo artists, DJs, b-boys, graffiti artists, a rollerblade tournament, and almost 25 artists from various places in the city, plus hundreds of people visiting the house, buying works, and enjoying the party that lasted all day.
In September 2019, I traveled to Bogotá to a Domestika congress, where I met great artists thanks to Enka. We went to the studio and had beers with Ceroker, Deimos Type, and Green Amarilla and that night I met Andres Shaq, the founder of The Freaky Collective, one of the most important bands in the country. Between rum and beers, I told them what I wanted for Commune 13 and for Colombia. I told them how I believed that the connection between artists and the people is the key to unlocking our collective power.
Shaq offered me a free concert for my next Boycott party coming up in December, but having The Freaky Collective signed on had me thinking bigger. I returned to Bogotá 15 days later to give a talk about Boycott. It was then that I began laying out the dream in my mind of a street festival in Commune 13. I also wanted to break the divide between Bogotá and Medellín’s design communities and include Enka, Deimos and Green in the Street Fest.
I needed help, and I turned to my great friend Mauro Arroyave, an art director and expert in everything that has to do with production and the execution of events. But more importantly, a madman with a big heart, passionate about changing the world. He did not hesitate for a second to join in and invited his cousin Piery, a calm, peaceful woman, with a similar approach to life. Together with Casa Kolacho, we began to collect resources to realize the vision that we had already been calling “De La Calle Fest,” or “Festival of the Street.”
The challenge: how do we create a festival in a month?
During December 12-14, 2019 we met in Casa Kolacho with more than 50 artists from various parts of the country. It was insane. We offered free workshops to the community, concerts and artistic exhibitions. Creating. Feasting. Dancing. Laughing. (See video above)
We had big plans for 2020, the festival was growing. But the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to cancel. Against all odds, however, in 2021, Commune 13 has been able to maintain relative stability. Other areas of Colombia have not been as fortunate. We do not have a government or competent authorities. They are shit. The pandemic is hitting us all, but there are forgotten places like Chocó getting hit the hardest.
De La Calle Fest 2021
The Boycott Times has teamed up with De La Calle Fest and commissioned 24 world renowned street artists to paint skateboards. We are selling these skateboards with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the people of Chocó. (See all boards here: De La Calle Fest)
We join Nuestro Motete — located in Quibdo, Chocó — a beautiful project led by dreamy optimists, who promote the development of critical and autonomous thinking to create active citizenship through education and exposure to art. A donation will also be going to a library in Quibdo, which provides about 170 families in Chocó with books and items to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well as to promote good hygiene.
It was Santi’s dream to change the world. And by planting a seed within his nephew, I like to think he did. Everyday, I work to embody his vision of offering design solutions and to become an agent of change through my art. We hope that more people generate more initiatives, or join ours, for the people of the world need to help each other now more than ever. (If you are interested in purchasing a board, donating or learning more about Boycott‘s Misión Chocó, or want to make art for The Boycott Times contact Daniel Hernández: ElDanielUK@BoycottX.org)