San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Permanent Exhibit Explores Tico History, Identity

IT’S been argued that before colonizersarrived in Costa Rica, it was a land ofnothing. The new permanent exhibit at theCosta Rican Art Museum in San José seeksto dispel this belief with an in-depth explorationof Costa Rican history and identitythrough art. “Adentro/Afuera: Esa SupuestaNada” (Inside/Outside: That SupposedNothingness) spans 1,500 years of artranging from pre-Columbian times to thecontemporary period.The exhibit, which opened July 5,houses an impressive collection of paintingsand sculptures organized into 10 modules.The overriding theme of contrast isseen in a series of juxtapositions presentedin each module, such as national vs. foreign,European vs. indigenous and man vs.woman.The exhibit’s title comes from a passagein Alexander Jiménez Matarrita’sbook, “El Imposible País de los Filósofos”(The Impossible Country of the Philosophers).Referring to the European colonizers’view of Costa Rica, Matarrita argues,“Colonialism supposes… that before thearrival of the conquerors, nothing existed.”WALKING through the museum,strategically placed paintings and sculpturesbring this idea to life. Pieces thatfocus on the “inside,” or Costa Rica,depict disproportionate, grotesque imagesof indigenous people, Afro-Costa Ricansand women. In contrast, the outside worldis portrayed by white, polished, well-proportionedpieces with heavy Europeaninfluences.Curator José Miguel Rojas said anotherpassage in literature explains why theEuropean conquerors portrayed native peoplethis way: “They had to make the conquestgigantic, so that it didn’t look smallfrom far away,” wrote Severo MartínezPeláez in “La Patria del Criollo” (TheCountry of the Natives).The exhibit begins with two keypieces, “Monolito” (Monolith) and “CristoAtado a la Columna” (Christ Tied to theCross), both created by unknown artists afew hundred years after the birth of Christ.“Monolith” is a painting of a stone supposedlyused by indigenous people in humansacrifice, Rojas explained. In contrast, thepainting of Christ on the cross evokesChristian-European images of salvation.Rojas said theses two works are key inshowing the traditional belief thatEuropean colonizers were righteous andpure compared to the savage indigenouspeople they found in the New World.MOVING through modules withthemes such as “Ethnic Borders” and“Drama of the Body,” the exhibit progressesto the 19th century, when Costa Ricabegan exporting bananas and coffee. Thistime, the contrast lies between CostaRicans’ views of themselves compared toforeigners.“Here, we see a new esthetic. The eramarked the rise of a new class and the illusionof a homogenous culture,” Rojas said.“Everyone wanted to be white.”Again, inside and outside are contrastedin the rejection of everything typically CostaRican, and the focus on the outside world.Museum director Elizabeth Barquerosaid beautiful stone and ceramic pre-Columbian pieces, on loan from theNational Museum, are key in emphasizingthe concept of national identity. The piecesprovide evidence of the rich culture thatexisted before the arrival of Europeans.Art is also on loan from the Museum ofArt and Contemporary Design, the BancoCentral museums and private collections.“This theme of ‘inside,’ or locally producedart, is what defines us and influencesus,” Barquero said. “Sometimes we believethat whatever is national isn’t good; welook to the outside. But in reality, CostaRican art has great value.”“Inside/Outside: That Supposed Nothing”will be on exhibit for one year. TheCosta Rican Art Museum, on the east sideof La Sabana Park, is open Tuesday toFriday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday toSunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Entrance costs¢500 ($1) for Costa Ricans and foreign residents,$5 for foreign visitors and $3 forforeign students.For more information, call 222-7155 or222-7247, or visit

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