Monday, December 31, 2012

“Rock out like the mangos are in season.”

How can I presume to have a handle on a country that is still figuring itself out?

Paraguay surprises me every day. Still. Nearly 20 months in and the moment I think I have this place pegged it throws me for a loupe. Some days the surprises give me a little smile and a soft flutter in my heart--a random neighbor kid calling me by my actual name (as opposed to Doña Kevin or la yankee). Other days, these surprises drop my jaw to the ground--peering 70 meters over the edge of Salto Cristol and climbing down over boulders to take a dip in the pond formed from the falling water. Lately, my favorite surprises come in art form.

Volunteers spend a lot of time discussing frustrations related to standard teaching methods present throughout Paraguay’s classrooms. Teacher reads from book or writes on board, student copies. Teacher draws something on the board, student copies as exactly as possible. Parents and teachers often discourage children to paint a tree pink or a dog purple.

However beautifully and skillfully Paraguayans may produce traditional ñanduti and leather-work, these pieces often lack evidence of the artist’s hand. A hold-over from the dictatorship, they all tend to look the same. Tightly controlled governments--especially those requiring the submission of a few million people--generally do not push art education initiatives that include personal expression. Interested in keeping a nation under your thumb? Control your artists. Art inspires critical thought. Art builds self-esteem. Art teaches creative problem solving. None of these qualities help maintain the status quo under an oppressive regime.

Though much of Paraguay’s national cultural identity lies within this highly available craftwork, it does little to reflect today's burgeoning democracy. Finding work that does proves quite a challenge. 

Nonetheless, I feel the tide changing. Every time I come into Asunción I see more and more street and installation art. New galleries--supporting more mediums--keep popping up. Art activists get more visible. Paraguay’s growing artist scene includes brilliant minds and inspiring personalities, many of whom as dually dedicated to art-making as to reaching younger generations of Paraguayans.

This year I have had the distinct honor of working with Ahecha Paraguay, a participatory project that enables Volunteers to teach basic photography. Since 2007, this program has served 150 Peace Corps communities and nearly 1,000 Paraguayan youth. And 2013 holds something very special in store: ImaginARTE. Partnering with some of Paraguay’s most influential artists and cultural promoters, we proudly announce a three day, two night creative arts camp benefiting fifty youth from all over Paraguay.

Participants will meet like-minded peers, working artists, and professionals working in art related fields. They will have the opportunity to learn new skills, see workshop space, and gain a toolbox full of strategies for living an artful life. In short, for three days these kids will "rock out like the mangos are in season.” And they are in season.

1 comment:

  1. I had brunch with Anis one time! Had no idea who he was then