Day 181 in Ocotal/Mozonte
November 23, 2012
The Institute is sponsoring three murals, one here on the grounds of the Institute and the other two in the neighbouting towns of Mozonte and Quilalí. Clearly the opening quote has little to do with either murals or the photos above. But it is poetic and touched a place in my spirit with its focus on the purpose of "art".
The three murals, painted by local young people under the guidance of a few adult artists, focus on the themes of how to move out of poverty, how to take care of the environment and how to being about equality between women and men. Lofty goals to be sure, but charmingly executed under the invitation of the United Nations and their slogan: "Taking part in this work, brings color to our dreams" - a program to support local artists.
Mural sponsored by the United Nations, one of three
There is a Britishly cynical part of me that imagines the time and money that was spent coming up with the slogan; around a well-polished marble table in an air-conditioned conference room, bottled water, coasters, and thousands of miles from the artists and children working in the open air, only partially protected from 90F temperatures in the midday sun. Only a small part of me, to be sure
And there is the other part of me that relishes the fact that these children are getting the opportunity to flex their creativity in a public project for the community, working with talented and caring adults who respect and value their contribution. Sounds pretty close to paradise to me!
And I think how this all came together with a few days' notice and little planning, the murals to be unvelied at a ceremony in just 7 days. Two lead artists working three murals. One location about 2 1/2 hours from the others, along a rutted a largely unpaved road. Invitations for the unveiling go out next week (click here to see the invitation), a few days before the event. Everything organized in the blink of an eye.
A young artist deep in concentration
This ability to turn projects round on a dime is an amazing and hugely admirable ability. And I find myself struggling not to get frustrated by the lack of planning (seemingly completely unnecessary) and by how it all just seems to happen, successfully. It's a feature of how things work or (more exactly) happen here. The electric company needs to install a new transformer on a pole (as they did today) and they cut the electricity without warning for an entire day, not only to one town, but two. It's all perfectly acceptable, pefectly normal and there is a sense of resignation to this - that people have no right to expect anything different.
But I digress...I had intended to talk about art...and aesthetics. I am commissioning a local artist to paint a picture based on a photo that is "photoshopped" from an original photo. Third generation copy, with two filters, two interpretations - the photographer and the painter. The photographer, Ramon Moreno. The painter, Pedro Patricio Marin Muñoz.
We got to talking, Patricio and I, about art. His style is highly realistic (part of our price negotiation referenced the work needed to recreate the individual hairs on the donkey), and although I don't normally choose to buy painted copies of photos (at least I have never knowingly done so), I wanted his interpretation of a moment in a street where I currently live that had caught my imagination. He was delighted that I was giving him complete license to interpret the photo. I was curious to see what he would do. And this led to a rich conversation - or more exactly my ramblings in limited Spanish - about aesthetics.
One of my bug-a-boos is the apparent reduced and often minimal appreciation by many in the world for aesthetics, defined broadly as "critical reflection on art, culture and nature". Call me old-fashioned, but I wince outwardly and cringe inwardly at the plethora of billboards, unsightly cellular phone towers, construction of utilitarian buildings with little regard for any element of "form" in "function", fast-food chain signage and other visual clutter. Yes I am a snob, but in this matter, my wincing and cringing go beyond this.
I had used the word "curious" when I told Patricio I wanted a painting and not a photograph, because I was "curious" to see and appreciate his interpretation. And I suggest that the lack of curiosity in one's surroundings and otherness, and an inward focus on oneself and individual needs, diminishes the interest in and ultimately the ability to evaluate aesthetics. On one level, a lack of curiosity leads to intolerance, ignorance and ultimately marginalization of people and groups of people. On another level, a lack of appreciation of aesthetics (i.e. not being curious) leads to global branding (with little regard for local culture or aesthetics), homogenization (which typiclally results in less diversity and fewer creative choices) and a lack of general concern for the environment and our "footprint" in this world.
Big. bold, simple conclusions I can hear you thinking. Be they so. When I witness the level of concentration of these children and the creative choices they are being encouraged to make. When I think of the local cultural references that are included in the murals. And when I think that this wall might have hosted a billboard selling some multi-national product, I say "boo-boo". I vote for big, bold and simple any day.
Let art (and culture) "help human beings find their own place in the sun"...and let them be curious and let their "place" be aesthetically pleasing. Amen!
I sold house, car and most of my furniture to move to the small town of Ocotal in Las Segovias on the Honduras/ Nicaragua border.