Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Bright Colors, Deep Source

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Bright Colors, Deep Source

Article excerpt

Roberto Mamani Mamani, one of Bolivia's foremost painters, has a very personal sense of mission. His paintings are more than a passive representation of the lifestyle and culture of the Aymara Indians of the Bolivian altiplano. Through his work he seeks to preserve and stimulate an alternative vision to that of the modern, industrialized twentieth century. "We have moved away from the serene life that my descendants lived.... What's important to me is to show that we [the Aymara] have another culture with other values, principles, other ways of seeing the world," he says.

Mamani Mamani, thirty-two, was born in the semitropics of Cochabamba and not the traditional Aymara highlands of the altiplano that are portrayed in his art. His parents had been driven there from their home near the ancient Andean ruins of Tiwanaku by their families' disapproval of their relationship. Since returning to his home village at the age of nine, Mamani Mamani has committed his art to those indigenous Aymara roots.

"I am Aymara, and it is reflected in my work. I couldn't express myself as a Japanese or a European," he says. Due to his unconventional training, he paints against the grain of most of his contemporaries in Bolivia. Although he began to paint at the age of eight, he studied agronomy rather than fine arts as a student in La Paz. "It is not expected for the son of an Aymara family to go to the Escuela de Bellas Artes in La Paz," he explains.

After winning first prize in Bolivia's most prestigious art competition, the Salon Pedro Domingo Murillo, in 1991, Mamani Mamani finally turned to painting full-time. He believes that his lack of formal training has allowed him to explore more themes within Bolivian culture than have other artists in the country.

"In Bolivia there aren't many artists who step out of the European style taught in art college. There isn't a vision of our own way of seeing things. I am interested in Aymara rituals and festivals, the organic culture from our ancestors."

Rather than naming old masters as inspiration for his style and subjects, Mamani Mamani talks of his grandmother. "My grandmother didn't know how to speak a word of Spanish, only Aymara. She had another way of being, the way of the Aymara. For example she didn't know the word stress, or the word depression. These are occidental words.... She sowed her quinoa and her potatoes and lived a tranquil life to almost the age of ninety."

In his 1996 exhibition, M'hamas, Cholas y W'awas, in La Paz, Mamani Mamani paid direct tribute to women such as his grandmother. He explains that m'hamas are the oldest women, cholas is the term for the typical Aymara woman in traditional dress, and w'awas are their babies. The paintings show them as stylized forms with huge, worn hands and flowing dresses. The figures are monolithic and featureless, their bulky forms often protecting their children in a tender caress. Mamani Mamani painted these images, he says, as a tribute to Aymara women because "often they work more than men. They spend all day in the fields, have five or six children, often carrying them on their backs and are willing to fight for a better life."

Mamani Mamani renders an emotional tone of the very rhythm of Andean life through his vibrant use of color. His paintings, mainly in acrylics or pastels, radiate the brilliant combinations of reds, turquoises, purples, and oranges that characterize the textiles and ceramics of the region.

"I use many colors of the altiplano. I asked my grandmother, `why do you use such strong colors in the country?' She replied that it's to appease the spirits, so that they are happy and don't bring darkness."

He employs simple swirling patterns to give a sense of the peace and harmony that radiates from the Aymaras' close interrelation with the land. It is this sense of the sacred in nature that emanates from much of his work.

"For me, art is something that comes from deep inside; for me, art is the Pachamama [Mother Earth]. …

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