Living in Honduras and Guatemala is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Painted Tribute to Honduran Women

“Ellas” is the name of my latest painting exhibition that opened last night in Café Via Via, Copán Ruinas.
The year 2012 was centred on Maya culture because of the alleged Maya prophecy of the end of the world and I won’t deny I’ve been taken advantage of that event in my art work as much as I could. But while the “End of the World” came closer, I was more than fed up painting Maya calendar glyphs. Time for something new and completely different!

Inspired by a conference for women artists I attended, organized by Mujeres en Las Artes in Tegucigalpa (Encuentro de Mujeres Creadores, December 3-5, 2012), I decided to prepare an art show dedicated to Honduran women. So I chose photos of strong women who have a special meaning to me and started painting in a –for me- completely different style, depicting the women in bright bold colours against abstract backgrounds. Even if women here lead harsh lives with many shortcomings, I wanted to paint them in bold, joyous colours, letting their sense of humour, their strength and beauty shine through. So here they are, “Ellas”:

I’ve known Cecilia since she was about three years old, when she first started attending my art workshops, dragged along by her older cousins. Cecilia always reminded me of myself when I was little, physically as well as in her behaviour. Just like me she would find herself a quiet corner and sit there for hours, completely focused on her artwork. Both Cecilia’s parents are in the US while she and her brother are being raised by her grandmother. She rarely speaks about how hard that it is not to be able to see her parents (for years now) but every once in a while it comes to the surface. I remember Cecilia singing a heartbreaking ranchera once during a talent show we had organized, about a father abandoning his child. Tears were streaming over her cheeks while she sang her heart out. It was truly heartbreaking. The good thing, however, is that she won the first prize.

Isabel, better known as La Chave, is one of those women who touch so many hearts without even realizing it. La Chave works as a cook in La Casa de Todo, but she is so much more than just an employee. La Chave is a presence, a hurricane, the one who can get anything done. She also has a very sharp tongue and doesn’t shy away from scolding just anybody, tourists, colleagues, customers or her boss alike. She also masters quite a nasty vocabulary, but there is no woman with a bigger heart and a more contagious laugh than La Chave. 

Kensy used to be one of my students and since I’ve known her, I’ve always wanted to paint her, because I think she’s so incredibly beautiful. Not just pretty, but really beautiful. She’s also very witty, full of initiative and has a great smile that makes it very hard to refuse her anything. Definitely a young woman worthy to be in this tribute. 

Helen is a young woman from the village of La Pintada and as the other girls, I’ve known her for years and always had a weak spot for her. Whereas many girls from the indigenous communities are very timid, Helen is outgoing and always the first to volunteer. When I went up to la Pintada in December with a camera crew that wanted to film indigenous women making cornhusk dolls, Helen was, as always, the first to invite us into her home and show us her craft making. I just hope she’ll keep studying…

Sonia is five years old and also from la Pintada. I’ve known her basically since her birth, because she is the daughter of a student of us, unfortunately a girl herself. Sonia’s short life hasn’t been extremely difficult, but whenever I see her, she’s always full of smiles and ready to play. I hope she never loses that playfulness. 
I met Maritza when here daughter participated in the first Children’s Council in 2002 and we have been friends ever since. Maritza is from a tiny village about two hours from Copán (nowadays. It used to be more like 4, back then), in a very remote corner of the municipality of Copán. Maritza is a fighter and a doer and nothing will stop her. Despite her lack of education (she never finished elementary school herself) Maritza decided to open a kindergarten in her village. She started with a small group of children in her own home, but a few years later she managed to get a real classroom donated to the community where she now teaches about 50 kids. This kindergarten happens to be named “Carin Steen” which is a great honour for me (albeit also a great obligation…). And she and her family have honoured me even more when her first grandchild was called Carin Maritza. May she turn in such a strong woman as her abuelita Maritza!
I have thousands of pictures of kids, but not so many of older women. The opening of my show was coming near and time was running out, so I asked around for some good head shots. My good friend Fredy Rodriguez sent me a few great pictures of women in the village of Carrizalón. So I don’t know these women personally, but I’m fascinated by their features and hope I’ve managed to express, through their hardship, their beauty and dignity.


Elsa is from a small village and dropped out of school in grade 3, because her father didn’t think she needed any more education. But Elsa didn’t agree and decided to educate herself. So through the Maestro en Casa program (classes broadcasted by radio), she graduated from elementary school. And then she went on and struggled her way through high school in the same way. Five years ago, Elsa started to work with me as a facilitator in our Maya education project. Besides her job, she kept on studying, started a successful sowing business, sells AVON (lots of it) and is a mother and wife as well. I was extremely proud when last December she asked me to be her godmother at her graduation, because Elsa is now an elementary teacher herself. 

Destiny was the cutest thing when she came to live in Copán about nine years ago. Cute is not quite the word anymore, she’s just drop dead gorgeous. She’s a terrific kid and what I really love about her is that she LOVES TO READ! More than that, she devours one book after the other. Much like I did when I was a kid, but not something you see a lot in this country. So I’m more than happy to lend her my books and enjoy our conversations about what we’ve read. 
In June of 2012 I had the opportunity to accompany two girls from the small indigenous village of la Pintada to Spain to attend the Fourth youth Forum on Cultural Patrimony. It was an amazing trip, visiting al these majestic places throughout Spain. But for the girls, who had never left their village before, it was so much more than that. It was an eye-opening, inspiring, scary sometimes, but mostly life changing experience. For this painting of Dilcia I chose a photo I took in Cordoba, where we visit the famous mosque. Dilcia was super tired at the time (who could blame her), but I love her pensive expression. The background of this painting is based on the wooden carved windows of the mosque. What a symmetry!
There’s one more woman to go in this series, but more about her later.
All these portraits were painted with gouache on watercolour paper and measure 51 x 36cm (Except for “Kensy”, 75 x 55cm).
Except for “Helen” and “Destiny”, all works are for sale (with or without frame) and can be shipped. For prices and shipping details, please contact me through email.

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