Humberto Vélez

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everyday life, love, memory, people, time, Utopia
Film (documentary)
Media Arts (digital arts)
Performing Arts (performance)
Visual Arts (installation art, photography, text, video art)
America, Central, Europe, Southern, Europe, Western
Panama, Spain, England (UK)
Manchester, Panama, Barcelona, London, Rio
created on:
June 3, 2003
last changed on:
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Transformation through language and ideas

Humberto Vélez was born in Panama City in 1965. After studying Law and Political Sciences at the University of Panama, he went to the International School of Cinema of San Antonio de los Banos, Cuba to study filmmaking and TV in 1990. Since 1997 he has lived in England and works internationally as an artist and independent filmmaker. He has been an artist in residence in Havana, Vienna and London and represented Panama at the Lima Biennial in 2002. His work has been described as ‘a metaphor for love, sex and mortality’. He transforms the everyday into something personal, strange and unrecognisable.
Born in Panama City in 1965, Humberto Vélez first studied Law and Political Sciences at the University of Panama. He then received a bursary to study Filmmaking and TV in Cuba at the International School of Cinema of San Antonio de los Banos, funded by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Since 1997 he has lived and worked in Manchester and he also spends time in Barcelona and Panama.

Vélez works as an artist and independent filmmaker, creating installations, performances and events. Rather than fabricating objects in his artwork, he transforms them through language and ideas, suggesting an array of connotations that dislodge their specificity. Vélez makes use of very diverse materials and techniques appropriated from both the popular and the high-tech, from traditional and contemporary realms.

His early interest was in ritualising and parodying social mores. Now he goes beyond this in order to explore the way in which people relate emotionally and verbally to their corporal, psychic and geographical territories. Vélez´s installations are imbued with a characteristic mix of seriousness and humour. He uses video, photography and CD-Rom to explore emotional states and to transform everyday objects into something personal, strange and unrecognisable.

For MultipleCity in Panama City in 2003, Vélez worked with a brass and marching band, known as the Banda del Hogar, formed of students of a family-operated sewing and vocational school. Every year it parades in Panama on Independence Day, projecting a mystique that parallels Panamanians’ fascination with patriotic fanfare. Together Vélez and the school made banners fusing his personal input with the band’s unique style. During MultipleCity, La Banda del Hogar gave parades and performances at the ‘wrong’ place and time.

At Gasworks Studio, London, Vélez was in residence in 2001. He presented ‘The Caretaker’ at his open studio event, a video installation combining hallucinations, obsessions and memories. The piece is set in Manchester’s Victoria Baths, one of Britain’s finest historic swimming pool complexes which closed in 1993. The residency concluded with ‘L’Avventura’ an installation piece at St Peter’s Church, Vauxhall, where Vélez hung a giant papier mache piñata in the shape of a pterodactyl, suspended high above the church aisle. He also led a workshop with children from a local primary school - La Fiesta de la Piñata. The project was inspired by fantasies and scientific discoveries of the Victorian era.

L’Avventura was subsequently shown at the Victoria Baths in Manchester where it hung dramatically above the pool. The piece considered themes of freedom and death, the relationship between emotions and social restrictions, desire and control, fantasy and reality.

Humberto Vélez was selected to present the centrepiece of the Lima Biennial in 2002. Here he presented ‘Lokin4LVnthXXCntry’, an enormous Concorde plane created with the traditional techniques of piñata makers: a wire frame covered with monotone recycled papers. Rosina Cazali reviewed the show for ArtNexus. ´From above, in the huge reception room of the Rimac house located in the historic centre of Peru’s capital, the work seemed to observe the mortals who walked under its belly, recalling the duality in which a piñata perishes: children’s parties and traumas. In its artisanal fragility and totemic airs, it was raised as the perfect relationship between love and hate that emerges between modernity’s utopia (or orphanhood) and the weight of reality. It graphically recalled the enormous social and political difficulties in which we find ourselves immersed, the fragility of our democratic systems.´

Humberto Vélez took part in the Havana Biennale in 2003 where he collaborated with the group Krystal. The resulting work, ´A Song for the Havana Biennale (Because Love Does Not Exist)´, was a series of performances in public spaces in Havana in which songs about love and financial hardship were created and played.

The artist has also participated in the Brixton Market Flypitch artists initiative in South London.
Author: Judith Staines


Humberto Vélez was born in the City of Panama in 1965. He studied Law and Political Sciences at the University of Panama and was awarded a scholarship from The Foundation of Latin American Cinema for studying Filmmaking and TV in the International School of Cinema of San Antonio de Los Baños, Cuba, founded by Gabriel García Márquez. He has been an artist in residence in Vienna, Toronto, London (Triangle Arts Trust-Gasworks), Sheffield (UK), London Southend-on-Sea(METAL) and Paris (Cite des Arts).
In 2000, he presented the solo exhibition “Instalaciones” (Installations) at the Museum for Contemporary Art in Panama considered by Virgina Pérez-Ratton and Adrienne Samos, both influential Central American curators and art critics, to have initiated a new movement in Panamanian contemporary art.
Vélez´s work actively explores the possibilities of working in collaboration with different groups (artists and handcrafters, special communities, athletes, musicians and groups conformed especially for the project), in different places and cultures. The artistic projects are conceived from what he calls “the ability to create esthetics” of, for, and with these groups, according to their different lifestyles, thereby managing different concepts and expressions of popular culture, power, and ethics. The human relations on whom Vélez constructs his creative processes are as important as the final project. In his work, as it was described by curator Gerardo Mosquera, “the community should be an active agent” at the same time as his art also “interweaves personal memories, dreams, visions, and the determination of pretending to invent new worlds.” For this, the artist works with diverse media, ranging from the popular to the high-tech, from the traditional to the contemporary.



Exhibition / Installation
2010, Al Calor del Pensamiento, Daros Collection at Santander’s Art Foundation, Madrid 2009 Cuenca Biennial, Ecuador 2008, Special invitation to the Central American Biennial 2008, Panama Biennial 2007, Mates, super 8 and video film, 8 min, color, Yorkshire Art Space, Sheffield 2006, The Doubtful Stretch (El Estrecho Dudoso), international art exhibition, Celebration of Iberoamerican capital of Culture, TEOR/éTica Foundation, San Jose Costa Rica 2006 Liverpool Biennial 2005, VII Panama Biennial 2004 Central American Biennale, 2004 Shanghai Biennale 2004, For The Time Being (A promise of Progress), Transition at Victoria Baths, Manchester 2004, Hybris (Videoart in Central America), travelling exhibition to the United States and Europe organized by the Museum of Art and Contemporary Design of Costa Rica 2004, II International Belize Film Festival 2003, VIII Havana Biennial; XXI Film and Video Festival MixBrasil, Brasilia, Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro 2003, One Hundred Years of Art in Panama, Contemporary Art Museum of Panama 2003, III Central American Film Awards ICARO, Guatemala 2003, FlyPitch, Brixton Market, London 2003, ciudadMULTIPLEcity international urban art event, Panama City 2002, III Central American Biennial, Managua 2002, VI Panama Biennial 2002, III Biennial Iberoamericana de Lima, Peru 2002, Do It (Central American version), TEOR/éTica, San Jose 2002, Bienamada (Well Loved), Victoria Baths, Manchester 2001-2002, Politics of Difference: Ibero-American Art. End of Century, travelling exhibition to Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Madrid, Paris, Valencia 2001 Periferic Biennial, Iasi, Rumania 2001, Ventanas, Centrodeartecom, Madrid 2001, Intrusiones urbanas en el arte joven panameño, Centro Cultural Andrés Bello, Bogota 2000, Puerto Rico00, San Juan 2000, First Central American Symposium of Artistic Practices, National Gallery, San Jose, Costa Rica 1997, Sonar Festival, Barcelona 1996 III Festival de Video Alternativo, Barcelona 1995, The First Manchester Short Film & Video Festival 1992, Young Filmmakers Film Festival, Havana


Exhibition / Installation
2010, Le Plongeon, a cabaret aquatic and sports performance in collaboration with swimming clubs and young street artists from Paris at the Piscine Josephine Baker for the Centre Pompidou 2008, Bodydream, bodybuilding performance and competition at the Centro de Arte La Regenta in Las Palmas de Gran Canarias, Canarias 2007, The Fight, boxing performance in collaboration with boxing clubs from south London, TATE Modern 2006, the Skyline, Kite Performance and Land Art Project, Egilsstadir, Iceland 2005, Regata Cantata, in association with Artwayofthinking, parade and regatta, Venice 2005 Artists United, Hip Hop Dance Football Match, Sheffield, Yorkshire Artspace 2004 The Mancunian Way, hip hop parade and concert at Victoria Baths, Manchester 2002, L’Avventura, piñata sculpture-installation in St Peter’s Church in Vauxhall, London 2000, Instalaciones, Mixed media, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Panamá 1998, Traumland/La tierra soñada/Dreamland, Video and CD-Rom, Cafe Savoy, Fellowship from The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vienna


2001/02 Gasworks Studios, London, residency
1998 Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vienna, Residency
1990 International School of Cinema and TV, San Antonio de Los Banos, Cuba, filmmaking studies.


CiudadMultipleCity project - Panama City

website in English and Spanish


2002 Review of 3rd Ibero-American Biennial of Lima, author: Rosina Cazali


Flypitch at Brixton Market, London, artists project.

The Fight

TATE Modern, "The Fight", boxing performance, 2007


The Last Builder, video inspired from the performance
"Bodydream" at Centro de Arte La Regenta, Palmas de Gran Canaria, 2008

La mas bella

"La mas bella (The Most Beutiful)", llamas and alpacas parade and beauty contest,
Cuenca Biennial, 2009

Le Plongeon

Centre Pompidou, "Le Plongeon", aquatic and sports cabaret
at la Piscine Josephine Baker, 2010

Cover of C

Le Plongeon
A Song for the Havana Biennial(Because Love Does N