Ants are crawling over the walls of London’s Saatchi Gallery. No, the cleaners aren’t on strike; the ants are an installation by Colombian artist Rafael Gómezbarros, part of a group exhibition called Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America.
If you look closely, you will see that the bodies of the ants, each of which is 50 CM (about 19 inches) long, are made up of casts of human skulls in fiberglass and resin. For the artist, the ants represent the millions of immigrants traveling the earth in search of a home. In particular, Gómezbarros pays tribute to thousands of Colombians who suffered internal displacement and violent deaths in the armed conflicts that have convulsed his country over the past five decades. His ants have taken over the facades of several important buildings in Colombia, including the National Congress building in Bogotá.
Why ants? It’s easy to see why they work well as a stand-in for the teeming masses of immigrants. Humble, hardworking and capable of building complex social organizations, ants are also unfortunately easy for larger animals to snack on or crush underfoot. But ants are resilient, too. They are able to “farm” their own foodstuffs, band together to kill much larger species, and create rafts of their own bodies to float in water. Ants are survivors.