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.”
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).
“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.
Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1638-39. Artist: Artemisia Gentileschi.
The 17th century artist Artemisia Gentileschi was a woman who possessed a wealth of strength and intelligence that enabled her to overcome personal adversity and gender-based discrimination to become an acclaimed Italian Baroque painter. The power with which she imbued her female characters led to her rediscovery and a resurgence in her popularity in Western culture during the final decades of the 20th century.
I first discovered Artemisia’s brilliant work during the 1990s on a visit to a local Seattle bookstore. While leafing through the full-page color plates of some of her most arresting paintings, I was captivated by the psychological depth given to the female heroines she often painted as well as her mastery of techniques such as chiaroscuro (the play of light against darkness), adding a dramatic dimension which gives these figures both realism and a larger than life feel.
One of my favorite aspects of living in Latin America is the abundance of street art that adorns buildings, alleys and bridges, especially in the major cities.
On my recent visit to Lima, Peru, I made sure I booked a room in the rapidly gentrifying hipster neighborhood of Barranco which is ground zero for Lima’s street art scene. The largest collection of paintings can be found in the area around the Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros) which has a reputation for being a popular place for young lovers to stroll.
Lima’s street art is particularly welcoming considering the city’s skies are perpetually gray for long stretches of the year. In addition, the city’s gray concrete walls and nondescript buildings make great canvases for creative street artists.
As is true of cities in Colombia and Ecuador, these colorful exterior scenes highlight each country’s ethnic diversity and native traditions as they merge with contemporary issues and international themes. Local artists–as well as the general population–love vibrant color and this is reflected in their art.
Since I believe the images speak for themselves, this introduction is brief. Enjoy this visual feast!
The Bridge of Sighs–Puente de los Suspiros.
Bridge of Sighs.
The Bridge of Sighs viewed from the opposite direction.
Imagine my surprise when one of my Omani students told me that the walls of his entire village had been painted by a local street artist. “Really,” I exclaimed with glee! “I love street art!”
On the following weekend, I headed north from the port city of Sohar in a bid to capture on video whatever I found. What I discovered in a small fishing village just west of the slightly larger town of Liwa was much more than I had expected. The walls of the village were indeed covered in art—an assortment of male faces—from the walls immediately surrounding the local mosque all the way to the sea.
As a great lover of colorful urban landscapes, I’ve traveled to many of the world’s most noted cities for street art. Berlin and Athens are two that immediately spring to mind. After visiting Colombia’s thriving capital, Bogota, several times over the past year, I would definitely add this high-altitude city set against a background of dramatic Andean peaks to a list of the world’s most interesting street art locations.
Sadly, Bogota’s street art scene was both accelerated and legitimized by a tragedy–the police shooting of a young graffiti artist, Diego Felipe Becerra, in 2011. The protests that followed Diego’s death resulted in the setting aside of city-sanctioned areas for street artists to paint. Of course, as street artists by nature tend to rebel against the establishment, there’s now street art spread over large areas of the cityscape, although there are specific neighborhoods with significant clusters of walls painted by both local and internationally-recognized street artists.