Martin does not eat, sleep or even think about his girlfriend during Feria de Los Flores (Flower Festival) every August in Medellin, Colombia. Martin is a silletero that is dedicated to creating painstakingly beautiful flower filled displays (silletas) that often reach as much as 150 pounds. Martin will strap his intricate flower design to his back this coming Sunday and display it proudly as he walks several miles through the city of Medellin along with hundreds of other silleteros during the annual celebration of the Feria de Los Flores (Flower Festival).
Martin’s silleta design and style is young, like him. It consists of a neighborhood with a wall of graffiti that says, “These are the gangs we dream of: no more weapons and only instruments of peace.” The designs will include several caricatures, graffiti writing on a wall, a DJ and a dancer. Also included in the design will be an accordion, a young man reading, an athlete and a teacher.
“The message from my silleta addresses the social issues of gangs in Medellin. We want a completely different gang: musicians, athletes and people who contribute to knowledge,” explains the social communicator of the Cooperative University of Colombia. The program currently works with the local planning and participatory budget office of City Hall in Medellin.
Martin lives with his family just outside of Medellin in the village of El Placer de Santa Elena. Martin travels to work every day in Medellin. He says he prefers to travel back and forth to the city because he does not want to live away from Santa Elena.
Martin has already dedicated 25 days putting together his silleta, making the caricatures in polystyrene and placing the live purple flowers delicately into the design representing bricks in a wall. The truth is that Martin has dedicated more than 3 months of his time since he first sat down with his family to talk about ideas for the design of his silleta. In fact, his entire family including his mother and father, brother, three uncles and a cousin who is 11 years old will be participating as silleteros in this years parade. This is a family tradition for Martin and has long been a tradition for the people living in Santa Elena, Colombia.
The are eight silletas in total the family will exhibit during the parade. The Atehortúa family is one of the most respected families of these incredible flower displays in Santa Elena. They have a long history in this town as silleteros. As a matter of fact, Martin’s grandfather, Augustine, who died 24 years ago, was one of the founders of the parade, 53 years ago in 1957.
Martin’s grandfather taught all the children how to make silleteros and he learned from his father. “My father started showing me how to make these when I was six years old. My father was calm and patient with me even when I damaged the flowers and made mistakes,” recalls the 27-year-old who has participated in the annual event since he was 10 years old. Martin was chosen as a finalist in last years parade.
“I feel very proud of my design. I am passionate about it! I don’t eat. I don’t sleep. I forget about my girlfriend. Fortunately my friends come over and hang out while I make my silleta” he says.
His house is one of the most popular houses on the silletero circuit in Santa Elena. Every year, people travel from Medellín to Santa Elena to witness the silleteros as they create their designs in their homes. Martin’s home is one of the popular on the circuit and attracts hundreds of curious onlookers including foreigners from all around the world that come to Medellin to witness the annual event. One lady even offers her advice to Martin’s sister Clara as she works on her silleta, stating “you should tape the nose with something so that it won’t get damaged”.
Clara laughs as her plate of food gets cold sitting beside her. She is as passionate as her brother and forgets to eat as well. The same can be said for all of the Atehortúa family, Londoño family, Sanchez family and all the other 503 Santa Elena families that create their designs each year and walk with them on their backs through the parade in Medellin, Colombia.
Discover Colombia took part in this years silletta event in Santa Elena. Take a look at our Santa Elena, Colombia travel report as we document and follow the festivities.