Santiago Echeverry’s orange pants, enthusiastic teaching and distinct accent are cause for a second glance, but what has gotten the most attention for this new UT professor is his controversial Web site.
The art professor became a topic of conversation earlier this year after his online syllabus provided the URL to a personal Web site (www.santiago.cn) that some students and faculty members deemed inappropriate.
Due to a student’s anonymous complaint, Echeverry removed the link from his syllabus, but he has now restored it. He says the change is a reaction to conservatism on campus and the fact that his site and even more explicit material can be found through a simple Google search.
The site, which blends politics, love, current events and sexuality into an autobiographical multimedia presentation, includes photos of the openly gay Echeverry naked and in drag. Videos, photos and poems depict or refer to gay sex and masturbation.
Echeverry says he is able to completely express himself on the site, which receives about 60,000 hits per week.
Most of the site is not sexually explicit, focusing on everything from the violence and political climate in his native Columbia to pets and pop culture. Its main page offers links to photos, videos, poems and other media. The poems range from life, death and youth to provocative titles like ‘Hustlers’ and ‘Angels and Orgasms.’
Echeverry, who has been in the United States for three years, says his art is not just about entertainment. It has political meaning for a man who grew up gay in a place where people were imprisoned, tied to trees or worse.
Also included on his Web site is Patty, Echeverry’s drag queen personality. Patty was created in 2000 for political survival and for entertainment in a crumbling political environment in his native Colombia.
Another one of Echeverry’s alter-egos, ‘Sor Opus Gay,’ engaged in what he calls ‘cyber activism’ through a Web site called ‘Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – Colombian Order.’ According to the site, it is ‘a political response to the attacks on the Gay and Lesbian Community by the extreme right in Colombia.’ The site also includes a letter addressed to President Bush:
‘Here is a souvenir from our marriage in Denmark, Canada, San Francisco, Brussels, Hawaii, Boston, Sweden among other places, and an invitation to join us very soon in Argentina, France, Italy, Spain and COLOMBIA. Certain things in life are unavoidable. May God bless you and let you sleep in peace. Big kisses and cuddles. Yours always, las hermanitas.’
Echeverry’s art is a reflection not only of the place where he’s lived but also the times in which he’s lived. Growing up during the AIDS crisis, he lost many friends. Only by becoming aware was he able to survive the crisis that has killed more than 39 million people around the world. These statistics have inspired Echeverry to try to abolish stereotypes like those about the gay community.
After the recent controversy, Echeverry admitted that he was shocked to see how conservative some UT students are. ‘When I create art, it is not to decorate a wall. It is a way to transform the world,’ he says.
The site is intended to inform people about an ever-present subject that some people try to avoid. Echeverry says his Web site was made available to his students not to offend but to provide them with an example of how art can positively alter perception.
Echeverry believes that as a place for higher education, college provides freedom of thinking and reasons for coexistence. ‘By being myself, I show that we [humans] are all pretty much the same,’ he says. Echeverry says that in order to make change, you most importantly must be yourself.
‘Be yourself, and take risks. That is the meaning behind my orange pants.’
Echeverry says his supportive family allows him to live a life of truth without being afraid of who he is. He tries to set positive examples for his nieces and nephews and open people’s eyes to the gay community.
For him, there is no better way to do this than through his art. Though his career began in video/performance in 1988, his passion is now the Web, which he says is the ultimate form of mass media.
‘I believe in the web. I believe in digital media,’ Echeverry says. ‘Art is a way to transform the world.’