Saturday, 15 September 2012

Contemporary Guatemalan Art Needs You

In Central America - Guatemala : The city of Quetzaltenango is a mine of cultural gems. On its surface you'd be forgiven for walking the streets and thinking nothing happened in this smoggy, grey place, aside from gnarly old mayan women carrying fruit in baskets on their heads. But open a door and everything changes - doorways lead into arty bars and cafes covered in paintings, to old artifacts and rewired computers - live music blares from a cello and guitar duo, a dubstep event, heavy metal concert, or a marimba - and the people are courteous and interesting. I visited Xela (as the Mayans call the place) after travelling through Mexico and Belize, and have came to rest in this fascinating city for a while to do some Spanish classes (for which the place is famed).

While exploring the city I made a visit to the Cultural Center on Calle 4a / Avenida 19 which consists of the Museo del Ferrocarril de los Altos (an abandoned railway station),  the Museo de Arte (an art museum) and Museo Ixkik (a weaving and textiles museum). The railway station was only used for 3 years and now lies abandoned : a huge empty room with wooden lobby and desks. It's an atmospheric place with great potential and contemporary art space written all over it. The Museo Ixkik is home to a range of weaving, textiles and clothing from the various regions of Guatemala, and we were guided around and given information by a patient and charming woman who showed us men's and women's clothing, and described the meanings behind the designs and patterns used, linking it directly to Mayan beliefs, agriculture and lifestyle. Unfortunately photos are not allowed of this section, so I cant show any. As we left for the art gallery she asked us to tell other travellers about the place, as they are struggling to find funding for adequate promotion. I recommend it.

Rodrigo and myself in the warehouse store

The Museo de Arte next door is run by Rodrigo Dias with whom we had the pleasure of a long conversation with, and a guided tour of his work and that of others in the gallery. Rodrigo has had shows in France, the US and Germany to name a few, and his work is reminiscent of a folkloric Paul Klee. His enthusiasm and commitment is admirable. The Mayor of Quetzaltenango is storing barrels of rubbish in one of his warehouse stores. There's little support or money for the Cultural Center, but the place is primed and perfect for bigger and better things, which is one of the reasons I'm writing this.

Rodrigo tells me he has previosly helped people stay in Xela on residencies and he himself has stayed with others working abroad and seemed enthusiastic about it happening again. He's had books produced of his work and spoke of his friends in France and Germany who've helped him promote his work. He also tries to include and encourage local artists to aspire to better things, and provides a gallery space in which to show their work.

As Rodrigo was talking I couldn't help but think that people in the UK would love a chance to get connected with him, the Cultural Center and Guatemala, and maybe invite him to show somewhere or even arrange a residency swap. Rodrigo spoke good English and was motivated and enthusiastic, he held little hope for financial reward, but is dedicated to showing his work and that of others he knows, wherever and however possible. So if you think you may be interested in showing his work, helping him out, organising a residency or getting involved with Guatemalan art in some way please contact him :

More information on Rodrigo can be found here:
and here :

The art gallery

The muesums old railway station - a perfect art venue?
The warehouse store