The Artsy Vanguard 2020: Abel Rodríguez

Shannon Lee
Sep 11, 2020 8:00PM

Abel Rodríguez

B. 1941, Cahuinarí region, Colombia. Lives and works in Bogotá.

Abel Rodríguez, Hueco Guacamalla, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and private collection.


Through meticulously detailed drawings of the Colombian Amazon, Abel Rodríguez preserves the indigenous knowledge of the region’s flora and fauna. The ecological wisdom documented in his works was passed down to him from his adopted Muinane elders, as well as the tribe of his birth, the Nonuya. Such information is extraordinarily rare; only a few members of the Muinane community are entrusted with it. As climate change and violence continue to devastate the area, Rodríguez’s drawings are among the most comprehensive records we have of a world that is quickly disappearing.

Rodríguez was first recognized for his expertise in the ecology of the Amazon in the 1980s, when he was tapped to help guide scientific expeditions throughout the decade; he worked with the Dutch conservationist group Tropenbos International, among others. When Rodríguez’s community was displaced by environmental devastation and political turmoil in the ’90s, Tropenbos asked him to translate his knowledge into drawings. A self-taught artist, Rodríguez imbues his landscapes with the most intricate care, fastidiously rendering each leaf in his dense tree canopies or on his lush forest floors, so that every living thing is distinct and accounted for.

In the past two decades, Rodríguez’s works have slowly gained recognition not only for their scientific merit, but also for their intrinsic beauty. In 2014, he received the Prince Claus Award, honoring those in the cultural sector who make a positive impact on society; in 2017, he was included in Documenta 14. Earlier this year, Rodríguez was celebrated in his first institutional solo show at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Arts in Gateshead, England, and he’s currently included in the group show “Among the Trees” at the Hayward Gallery in London. Rodríguez, who now shows with Bogotá-based gallery Instituto de Visión, will be featured in the forthcoming São Paulo Bienal next year.

The Artsy Vanguard 2020

The Artsy Vanguard 2020 is our annual list of the most promising artists shaping the future of contemporary art. This year, artists are organized into two categories: Newly Emerging, which presents artists who’ve gained momentum in the past year, showing at leading institutions and galleries; and Getting Their Due, which identifies artists who have persevered for decades, yet only recently received the spotlight they deserve. Now in its third edition, the feature was developed by the Artsy staff, in collaboration with our network of international curators and art professionals. Explore more of The Artsy Vanguard 2020.

Shannon Lee

Header and thumbnail image, from left to right: Abel Rodríguez, “Árbol de la vida y la abundancia,” 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Instituto de Visión; Abel Rodríguez, “Ganagucha,” 2018. Courtesy of the artist and private collection; Portrait of Abel Rodriguez by Sebastian Palacios. Courtesy of the artist and Instituto de Visión; Abel Rodríguez, “Untitled,” 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Instituto de Visión.