Art from tropical countries always seem to delight and gladden the heart – especially on a snowy, bitterly cold day in Northern climes and Costa Rica art is no exception. This country is brimming with sunshine and a bio-diversity to dazzle the senses. When you think Costa Rica art, think multi-faceted and a vibrant artistic stimulation that comes directly from this rainbow-hued land of towering waterfalls and awe-inspiring volcanoes – to mention just a few of the inspirations that local artists draw upon. While it is not widely apparent that art from Costa Rica is varied and beautiful, it is even less recognized that this artistic expression extends to the splendor of tribal art thanks to the tiny, but diverse indigenous tribes that are left and working in their artistic traditions in Costa Rica.
A Costa Rica mother lode of cultural richness is found in the art of the predecessors of today’s tribes; those pre-columbian people who inhabited the area before the European contact. A visit to the three principal museums: the Jade Museum, the Gold Museum and the National Museum, will reveal the stunningly sophisticated art of those people of earlier times; from elaborate vessels to complex gold and jade working. The richness of their daily lives is reflected in the ritualistic and ceremonial artifacts that have survived through time.
Tribal use of gold and jade is long gone in Costa Rica, although artisans still create reproductions. One of the country’s eight tribes, the Chorotega people, continue to create pottery vessels and figures that are in an unbroken succession from their ancestral traditions. The sad fact, it is said, is that there is only enough clay remaining for 40 more years of pottery production. It is also reported that there is a substantial repository of the clay, as well as the valued “slip clay” used for polychromatic decoration, on private property to which collection rights will not be granted.
Another enrichment to the art of Costa Rica is an exceptional body of a few artists who specialize in the art of museum reproductions. Many have native blood in their veins, many have accompanied their fathers back before the ‘50’s when removing archaeological pieces from their final resting places was not prohibited and provided income for poor country people, and saw with amazed eyes, the art that was being exhumed out of the earth. Luckily that practice is now illegal, and a body of gifted artists have evolved who make pieces made to look old or “envejecido.” This is a much more equitable way to have a beautiful piece of ancient-looking art without the insult of facilitating the desecration of native ancestors.
Overall, Costa Rica art is thriving as is the continuation of artistic expression of this small country’s indigenous cultures, and of other Central America countries. The ability to acquire exceptional quality reproduction of tribal art such as the aforementioned pottery, carved wall masks from the Brunka tribe, handmade arts and crafts from smaller tribes and original paintings of talented individuals can be found throughout the Galería Namu collections.