All posts by Henry Lewis

Unconventional artist, writer, videographer and teacher. Personal Quote: It isn't easy being me ;-)

CultureTravel

A Tale of Three Colombian Pueblos

You’ll find colorful ‘motochivas’ in many of Colombia’s pueblos. They are a useful form of transport since many of the streets are quite narrow. Photo: Henry Lewis.

While Colombia’s big cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali get most of the press, the true heart of this incredibly diverse South American country lies in its smaller towns and cities, known as ‘pueblos’ in Spanish. My favorite pueblos (so far) are all located between 5,000—7,000 feet elevation (1,500–2,100 meters) in the Andes mountains, a barrier of three smaller ranges which roughly divide the western half of Colombia from north to south.

During my recent explorations of this region, I’ve discovered there are both similarities and differences in the way these pueblos have defined themselves. In rugged mountain regions such as the Andes, similarities are often based on geographic proximity while differences may depend on the origins of the original settlers or the hand that fate may have dealt a specific locale in the form of violent conflict or natural disaster. These aspects, in turn, have determined how each town has chosen to promote itself as Colombia becomes a budding center of tourism for both domestic and international travelers.

Since all three pueblos are similar in size and located in the Antioquia department of northwest Colombia, I’ve chosen to share my impressions of Jardín, Jericó and Guatapé in one post. Each of these towns can be easily reached by bus or car from the department’s capital, and Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín. For foreign visitors, the city’s nearby international airport in Rio Negro is less than an hour away from Medellin’s main north and south bus terminals.

I experienced each of these diverse pueblos from early December to early January when municipal governments all across Latin America ensure that the spirit of the Christmas (Navidad) season lights up every nook and cranny of each town. While larger crowds and heavier traffic can be expected during this holiday period (especially on weekends), I find it a fascinating time to travel in order to see the great lengths each town has gone to in an effort to outdo their peers with festive decorations, musical performances and even a parade tossed in here and there.

Read More

CulturePersonal Development

Can we free ourselves of cultural bias?

I saw the sign ‘Real Estate—Apartments and Condos for Rent’ so decided to stop in and inquire. The professionally dressed middle-aged man running the office approached me and asked, in his decidedly American accent, if he could help me. We chatted for a few minutes about my desires for a living space—small, a studio apartment with a balcony—and he then asked my price range. When I said I would prefer something under US $1000 per month, he laughed and said, “Well, you’re not going to find anything for that price unless you want to live in a (with verbal stress) MEXICAN neighborhood.”

It was September 2016 and I was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico looking for a small apartment to rent on a long-term basis. I was so shocked by this American’s brash rudeness and the way he was disparaging the citizens of the foreign country where he was a guest that I couldn’t respond. I simply turned and walked out. I thought about his attitude a lot over the following few weeks and wanted to return to the office and give him a good telling off but I felt it would be wasted energy and a stressful confrontation that I didn’t need.

Fighting cultural bias within

Living in a variety of developing countries in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America over the past 15 years has taught me a great deal about my own attitudes and prejudices and forced me to examine my cultural biases in a way that I never would have done if I’d remained in the USA. I’ve encountered my share of ugly Americans (and other Westerners) on the road—such as the real estate agent in Puerto Vallarta–and I must admit that I’ve also fallen into that category on some of my worst days.

As those of us who’ve traveled extensively or lived for long periods of time in poor developing countries can attest, things often just don’t work as efficiently as they do back home in one’s comfortable Western environment. Sometimes things don’t work at all—things like electricity, hot water and most importantly an internet connection. The food is different. Sights, sounds and smells can be offensive. And the locals may not speak a word of English (egads!).

Besides the normal bureaucratic trials and banking challenges, the things that slowly grate on my nerves are the incessantly barking dogs, blaring music from huge speakers placed in the street as ‘neighborhood’ entertainment at all hours and seemingly complete lack of the concept that noisy activities might be disturbing a neighbor. I believe the vast majority of the locals in all the countries where I’ve lived have been kind and caring people, so what gives with the lack of consideration for others when it comes to noise?

Read More

CultureVisual Arts

Madonnas as Symbols of Devotion

Only a Woman, divine, could know all that a woman can suffer.
― Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

I love the way this Madonna and Child are placed ‘inside’ the living space.

Shrines to the Virgin Mary (often simply called a Madonna—and not of the singing variety😉) are as ubiquitous in Latin America as statues of Buddha are in Southeast Asia. Some Madonnas are culture-specific such as the Virgin of Guadalupe who can be seen adorning myriad spaces in many areas of Mexico. Outside the normal church setting, Madonnas can be spotted on street corners, in neighborhood parks and at the entrance to apartment buildings and individual houses.

Madonna and Child situated in a cozy nook just outside the front door of this house.

Read More

CulturePolitics

The Power of the Visual

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. This is definitely the case when comparing the power and lasting memory of an illustration, cartoon or photo to the written word—an essay on a political or social topic. In much the same way that viewing a graph can more quickly and clearly describe the results of a survey when compared to reading a written abstract, an illustration or cartoon can convey its message more powerfully by using creative visual elements that are aimed at stirring the viewer’s emotions in a way that makes them almost palpable.

I was fortunate to stumble upon a public exhibition of illustrations by international artists last week that focused on social and political issues around the world. I’m sharing my favorites in this post.

[Apologies for not giving credit to some of the artists, but the exhibition didn’t identify the creators of each work–strange, I know! For the signed illustrations, I’ve tried to decipher the artist’s signature.]

This powerful illustration certainly fulfills its purpose of addressing the remnants of Colonialism that still negatively affect indigenous populations today, as well as the timely issue of responsible tourism. Artist: P. Kuczynski, 2009.

Read More

Culture

Film and Television Production: Living in an Alternative Reality

Actress Rachel Jones and I aboard the wardrobe truck on the set of a (horrible) horror film called “Dracula’s Widow”

Have you ever wondered why Hollywood ‘celebrities’ seem to be so out of touch with the reality that normal folks live? Well, it’s simple. They live in an alternate universe—one that’s both insular and pretty much self-regulating. That means that people in positions of power (lead actors, producers and directors) are given extreme latitude to be either their most talented and creative selves or egotistical maniacs intent on wreaking havoc on those who are vulnerable.

And make no mistake about it, there’s no shortage of bright-eyed victims who are drawn by the lure of fame and fortune and who are naively willing to do whatever it takes to reach stardom–what I perceive as being a dark and lonely place. Think of producer Harvey Weinstein and his lecherous behavior with seemingly half the female talent in the ‘business’. And by the way, it is very much a business. The Hollywood madness is arguably America’s biggest cultural export to the innocent masses around the world.

I remember being told by a friend who was teaching English in South Korea that the sitcom Friends was being used in language institutes all across that country as a classroom teaching tool. “Oh great,” I said. “Now Koreans will think that every waitress in Manhattan can afford to live in a spacious loft in Brooklyn with a drop-dead gorgeous view of the city’s skyline!” Hollywood has always prospered on fantasy, and that’s even more obvious when experienced from the inside.

I always wanted to work in ‘the arts’ (snicker, chuckle, guffaw) and so I was incredibly excited when I got a job on my first film production, Michael Cimino’s violent drama, Year of the Dragon, set in New York’s Chinatown and starring Micky Rourke. I’m not sure what I expected, but what I got was a baptism by fire.

Read More

CultureVisual Arts

Rediscovering Legendary Artist Frida Kahlo

Frida With Flowers in Her Hair, c. 1940. By Photographer Bernard Sliberstein.

I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.
– Frida Kahlo

It’s impossible to write about the life and work of Diego Rivera (as I did last week) without also discussing the life and work of his wife and companion Frida Kahlo who lived from 1907 to 1954. Though their work was very different in style—Rivera’s larger than life murals of Mexican history and Kahlo’s often quite discomforting gaze from her intimate self-portraits—their sense of dedication to commoners in general and Mexico’s indigenous people in particular was reflected in the art they created.

While Rivera was honored as a painter and master muralist of international renown during his lifetime, Kahlo was often simply seen as Diego’s wife–a woman who just happened to dabble in paints. By the time of her death, Kahlo had exhibited her paintings in her native Mexico City as well as in both New York and Paris. Her works were present in the private collections of some of the art world’s most prestigious patrons. Still, in her New York Times obituary, she was identified as, “Frida Kahlo, Artist, Diego Rivera’s Wife.”

Read More

CultureVisual Arts

Diego Rivera: Master Muralist and Defender of Worker’s and Indigenous Rights

Avowed atheist, proud communist, tempestuous lover and principled artist—Diego Rivera was all of these and much, much more. The Mexican painter and muralist, who lived from 1886-1957, became one of Mexico’s most well-known painters during a career that bridged multiple styles and brought the artist international acclaim.

Along with his now equally famous 3rd wife, the painter Frida Kahlo, Rivera’s boisterous life and works of historical narrative have taken on legendary status. However, Rivera was far from being a mere celebrity. According to Lynn Zelevansky, American art historian and noted curator, “Rivera was one of the great innovators of 20th century art.”

Diego Rivera and his artist wife Frida Kahlo, c. 1931. This photograph was taken in New York while Rivera was organizing a retrospective exhibition of his works at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

Read More

Human RightsPolitics

Discussing US Immigration: Emotion and Facts

On this blog, I welcome dissenting opinions as well as all comments and insights from readers, but I do expect dissenting opinions to be supported by some sort of evidence even if it’s only anecdotal. This is what I always required of my students when they composed argumentative essays and it should be the same in a forum such as this.

This week I’m presenting a comment I received from a reader who responded to last week’s post “Dispelling Myths About Migrantion.”

Wow so much emotional appeal, so little facts.
Being poor and brown does not qualify people for citizenship in any country, especially not the US. Caravanning and causing a huge scene is not how you achieve asylum. These people are not hungry, half of them are fat, they are not fleeing, they are living in a culture of violence which is completely different.
What’s next, should America boat in all 100 million people from the Philippines just because their own failed nation is plagued with violence and low wages? Get fucked.
FINISH THE WALL, DEPORT & BAN ALL ILLEGALS. American citizens (including the legal immigrants) do not want to pay for these people to move in and take up space and jobs especially while the country is already overpopulated (with low wage workers at that).
Democrat policies ruined America for decades and we’re tired of it, no more, the gig is up for “diversity” pushing leftists.

What isn’t clear is whether the writer was seriously expressing a personal opinion or just trying to get a reaction from me. Either way, here goes. Note the commentator’s words are all in brackets.

Read More

Human RightsPolitics

Dispelling Myths About Migration

With thousands of migrants from Central America currently stranded just south of the US border in Mexico, it’s time to ignore the political rhetoric coming from Washington for a few minutes and focus on the reasons so many choose to leave country, culture and family behind and walk 2,500 miles (4,000 kms) to an unknown future.

It’s difficult for privileged Americans–as well as most other Westerners–to feel empathy for the lives these people are leaving behind. But make no mistake about it, the actions of Western governments–through flawed foreign policy decisions–have contributed to the mass migrations we’ve all witnessed over the past decade.

Some recent comments I’ve read:

 Refugees are lazy and just want handouts.”

“Refugees are entitled and ungrateful.”

Really?

A laborer struggles to pull a wooden cart loaded with rolls of fabric through the garment district in Mexico City. Photo Credit: Henry Lewis

Read More

CultureVisual Arts

Street Art in Manizales, Colombia

“Art is something that makes you breathe with a different kind of happiness.”

~ Anni Albers

Manizales is a city of approximately 500,000 people  located high in the mountains above Colombia’s Eje Cafetero (coffee-growing region) in the west central part of the country. It’s known mainly for its many universities and colleges, its position as the business center for Colombia’s economically important coffee exports and for its steep hills–

heavy breathing here–

Manizales’ rather short list of attractions and cultural offerings can’t compete with those found in the capital Bogotá or Colombia’s  second-city of Medellín. However, as I discovered on a recent visit, it does have a street art scene that–while smaller in scope–compares favorably with its bigger sisters in quality.

Read More