In order to appreciate any folk art it is necessary to clear your prior understanding of all other kinds of art that you have read about or learned in art appreciation classes, for it is neither scholarly art, nor is it art learned in classes.
At Galería Namu, practically all of the artists have no formal training at all and it is for that reason we say that the gallery is an Indigenous and Folk Art gallery. Actually, tribal art is, by definition folk art; the folk art in this case being the culture expressed through art of the people of Costa Rica’s eight indigenous tribes.
In upcoming blogs I hope to shine some light on the amazing talent and versatility shown in our folk art collection. But in this article, I am going to focus on the wonderfully expressive art from a group of women known as Corazones Valientes, or Brave Hearts, a group of 8 campesinas (countrywomen) who live near Arenal volcano in the village of Union de Monterey.
Twenty-five years ago these women were introduced to six months of art instruction as part of a Peace Corps initiative. And what an amazingly forward thinking project that was! It was the poverty level of this group of women which received the Peace Corps’ attention in the first place. Low income-producing agriculture practices were their mainstay; the area offered little in the way of better paying jobs.
Rebecca Hart, the Peace Corps leader of this initiative, recognized that the women were greatly supportive of one another; the idea was that this mutual caring and support, useful in so many aspects of their daily subsistence living, could be invaluable with this new artistic endeavor.
The first stage of the project was very difficult for the group because of their low income and the lack of comprehension on the part of some of their families who did not support them. Frankly, it must be said that the men did not appreciate their women being involved in such a project, particularly when it exposed the women to publicity, exhibitions, etc. Culturally it was very discordant to the norm in their lives, yet the women rejoiced in their acclaim and the empowerment they felt with their newly found talents.
When we talk about Corazones Valientes in the gallery, we often mention the amazing experiment these women were part of. The enormity of what they accomplished is astounding as they express in their own aesthetic language the landscapes of their exuberant tropical humid forest and their message about the need to protect these natural resources. They also paint subjects such as the relationship between man and woman and other every day events in rural living. They delight in this activity of creating art and together are their own advisors, critics and cheerleaders. They empower each other while encouraging and teaching their own children, mothers and others in their artistic expression.
Luz Rios, one of the most prolific artists of the group, has taught her two daughters and mother how to paint. Toribia Mairena, the eldest member, has a most primitive expression in spite of a severe astigmatism in one eye (doesn’t that recall the theory of the particular expression of el Greco’s art!). She paints highly imaginative animals and offers us unique perspectives on her daily life. Her paintings are fantastical and other worldly. Toribia says, “I love to paint and make new designs. Once I’ve done a new design and have started, I want to finish it quickly. When I paint I forget my problems and my debts. Four hours go by so fast.”
The gallery offers many opportunities to appreciate naïf, primitive art. But perhaps none so innocent and revelatory as the art from these earnest and forthright women who have poured so much of themselves and their daily life into their art. That they have had no formal training or exposure to the ‘Masters’ of Western art that informs much of the aesthetic that we have become so used to, allows them to show us their way of life without self-consciousness or filters. What we see, then, in their artistic expression is a window into the soul of these Brave Hearts.
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