Humberto Vélez

The Welcoming, 2006

The Welcoming, 2006

Humberto Vélez (b.1965, Panama) defines himself as a paradoxical nomad: one obsessed with the local. For him every place constitutes a fascinating cultural crossroads overflowing with differences, similarities, tensions and constant change. He has worked or lived in different parts of the world, and wherever he goes his central focus is the prevailing cultural dynamics. Human relations – on which he bases his creative process – are as significant as the final artwork. He is mostly concerned with sharing ideas and moments, revealing the capacity of communities to create their own aesthetics, their reappropriation of public spaces, and the ways in which ‘outsiders’ react to their distinct cultural manifestations. He thus ‘explores the way in which people relate emotionally and verbally to their corporal, psychic and geographical territories’, as Adrienne Samos has pointed out.

Recently Vélez has worked with a popular marching band that paraded at the ‘wrong’ place and time, built and destroyed a pihata with a Chinese community, and organised a regatta with the immigrant population of Venice. Vélez is quick to distinguish his activity from community art, which is entirely generated by a specific group of people. The community must be an active agent, but his art also entwines personal memories, dreams, visions, and the determination to play at inventing new worlds.

In his project for International 06 entitled The Welcoming (2006) Humberto Velez used the historical role of the city’s docks - point of departure for thousands of migrants hoping for a new life in the ‘New World’

The Welcoming was about migration, a subject pertinent to many Liverpool residents who are either descended from migrants or are migrants themselves. However, the experience of new arrivals in the city, refugees and asylum seekers, is not always positive, given the negative attitudes towards them fuelled by some sections of the media.

Humberto Velez worked with a group of young refugees and asylum seekers to create a symbolic public welcome for them. This aimed to remind the audience of its personal connections with migration and also challenged Liverpool to think about the welcome it extends to these recent arrivals.

The Welcoming took place on the Albert Dock and celebrated the Mersey docks and their importance in the context of migration to the UK and the rest of the world. People from the city, in occupying these spaces, became an integral part of the artwork. Velez wished to encourage discussion about racism, immigration and integration, youth and social inclusion, use of public spaces, communities, history, rituals and fiesta. In the context of Liverpool Biennial, The Welcoming aimed to blur the distinctions between high and low art, using the public realm to negotiate between community participation and the art world, between local people and cultural policy-makers.

Humberto Vélez at Liverpool Biennial 2006

The Welcoming, 2006
Welcoming event and rally
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2006
Event took place at the Albert Dock

Supported by

Northwest Regional Development Agency
Riverside Housing