Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see this and other anti-Nicaraguan slogans around Costa Rica. The political and economic realities of the two countries mean that many Nicas come to Costa Rica seeking work and a higher standard of living, and some Ticos are resentful of immigrants from their northern neighbor.
In contrast, however, the first edition of the new biennial “Conjunciones” exhibit of visual arts, now on display at the Costa Rican Art Museum in San José’s La Sabana Park, looks to celebrate the relationship between the two countries.
“True to its name, ‘Conjunciones’ allows creative people of all nationalities to reflect on and reformulate the course of these two nations and the need for a brotherly understanding through their artwork, and do so without compromising their individual and social identities,” said a statement issued by the Costa Rican Art Museum, the Ticos y Nicas: Somos Hermanos (Ticos and Nicas:We Are Brothers) association and the Friends of the Costa Rican Art Museum Association, co-sponsors of the exhibit. “It will be a space in which the participants can display their visions, perceptions and approaches in complete freedom.”
For this first edition, artists were invited to enter completed, original works into a competition. Eighty-three artists answered the call, submitting a total of 107 entries for consideration, from which the judging panel chose 30 pieces by 26 artists to feature in the exhibit.
“The position of the museum was ‘Let’s throw this first one completely open to whatever may come in,’” Museum Director Gabriela Sáenz told The Tico Times during a guided tour of the exhibition. “We just waited to see what happened, and that was risky, very risky, as we had no idea what we would get.”
The judges, Nicaraguan artist Patricia Belli, Cuban curator Ramón Vázquez and Costa Rican critic Virginia Pérez-Ratton, awarded the competition’s top prize of $5,000 to a loop video entitled “Retrato Hablado” (“Spoken Portrait”) by Costa Rican artist Joaquín Rodríguez del Paso. According to the award citation, the film, which uses the motif of a victim describing a suspect to a police sketch artist, “manages to demonstrate, by inserting a simple supposition from the victim, how the possible identity of a guilty man can be sealed by prejudice.”
Three other pieces, “Pequeña Moral a Elvira” by Clara Astiasarán, “Tatuajes de la Carne que Nos Une” by Loida Pretiz and “Son unos Monstruos” by Diego Herrera León, were awarded prizes of $1,000 each.
The open-ended nature of the competition has made the final exhibition unique in that it includes a vast range of art forms, from painting and sculpture to video and textile works and even conceptual art.
For Silvia Piza-Tandlich, 53, a textile artist based in San Rafael de Heredia, north of the capital, this diversity was highly attractive.
“As a textile artist, I am honored to be sharing the wall with paintings and sculptures,” Piza-Tandlich said.
Speaking of the theme of the exhibition, she said, “It was a challenge. The brotherhood-sisterhood thing is difficult to convey in art. It is a lot easier to fall into the negative side than to go for the positive. In my case I found something that is positive.”
Her quilt, entitled “Hermanas Vecinas” (“Sisterly Neighbors”), depicts a mask from each country, with the Nicaraguan one above a traditional indigenous Boruca design from Costa Rica.
“I collect masks from all over the world. I think they are very significant because it is a way for the human being to hide his or her own identity,” she said.
Piza-Tandlich noted that the masks from both cultures in some way mock the Spanish conquistadors; a stereotypical mustache, for example, is typical on a Nicaraguan mask. In her piece, however, that mustache is expanded into a yoke in purple.
“There is an arbitrary yoke that separates the two cultures – the San Juan River,” Piza-Tandlich said. “It is my way of explaining my protest against the arbitrary border between two cultures that are so similar. Nicaraguans have had very bad luck in politics, but other than that we are really similar.”
Piza-Tandlich’s daughter, painter Rebecca Walk, 24, is also participating in the event with her piece “Escudo” (“Coat of Arms”). The acrylic-on-canvas work uses stylized elements from each country’s coat of arms in one piece, “thereby integrating them into one,” Walk said. “My intention is to represent the two countries on one plane, creating a continuous landscape.”
The only disappointing aspect of the works on display is that not one is by a Nicaraguan artist, something organizers are keen to address in time for the next “Conjunciones” exhibit in 2010.
“I think that the museum’s stance is that in the future we will make a call for proposals, rather than completed works,” Sáenz said. “I believe that needs to happen to reach into Nicaragua.”
“Conjunciones” is on display until at least April 28 at the Costa Rican Art Museum on the east side of La Sabana Park in San José.
The museum is open Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entry costs ¢500 for Costa Ricans (free for kids under 12, students and senior citizens), $5 for foreigners or $3 for foreign students. Admission is free Sundays.