Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

The Bright Side of the Tunnel. (Inter-American System)

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

The Bright Side of the Tunnel. (Inter-American System)

Article excerpt

The world's longest mural is underground. Appropriately entitled Roots of Peace, it decorates the tunnel connecting the OAS headquarters building to its administrative building in Washington, D.C. Painted by the Uruguayan artist Carlos Paez Vilaro in 1960, the subterranean mural was repainted by the artist in 1975. Currently, it is undergoing a complete restoration by the Spanish restorer Roberto Arce. "My principal objective," Arce explains, "has been to repair the original design, which in many places had been lost, and reestablish the lines and colors needed to restore the entire mural" to its 1975 condition.

In 1959, when Paez Vilaro was invited to paint this mural, he presented a sketch to the OAS that was fifty feet long and eighteen inches high. To initiate his work, he brought an assistant from Uruguay and then engaged thirty volunteers from the Corcoran School of Art. (Only two of those assistants remained on the job to the end.) The finished mural, which is 170 yards long, necessitated nine hundred pounds of paint and three hundred brushes, which were contributed by the Inca Paint Company of Uruguay.

Paez Vilaro welcomed the opportunity to paint this Picasso-esque mural and asserted that it was an experiment in a different perception. The mural is not a series of individual paintings to be looked at, one after another, by someone standing in front of them. Nor is it, as with most murals, a complex scene to be seen as a whole from a certain distance and then, as one moves closer to view its distinct component parts, seen as various statements of a more complex message.

In Paez Vilaro's mural the slanting edges of the sections are slightly stretched, giving a sense of continuity and compensating for the walking speed in the eyes of the person passing through the tunnel. The tunnel becomes the mural. The development of the Americas is presented as a continuous and integrated whole. Devoted to the peoples of the New World, the mural identifies them as visual representations of the social, economic, and cultural objectives of the programs of the OAS.

Born in 1923 in Montevideo, Paez Vilaro is a self-taught artist who has executed murals throughout his long career. They can be found in practically every corner of Montevideo as well as throughout the Americas, in Europe, Africa, and in Polynesia. When he returned to the OAS to refurbish his mural in 1975 Paez Vilaro was an internationally known painter, muralist, sculptor, filmmaker, and ceramist.

His famous "sculpture house," which he built whimsically for himself (in the early 1970s) and which is now a hotel, was a labyrinth of rooms and walkways, terraces and public spaces, and turrets and towers, designed and created while it was being built by the artist and a few friends--on a rugged hillside near Punta del Este. Casapueblo (House-Village), as he called it, was developed from continuous, and close to endless, fits of the artist's inspiration.

When he returned to the OAS in 1975, Paez Vilaro admitted that, more than a restoration, he had created a new mural. "There is more dynamism, more optimism in this than in the original mural," he explained, "but the meaning has not changed: It is the Bolivarian influence and the dream of Latin American integration that my father inspired in me." He identified sections depicting such inter-American themes as technical cooperation, cultural exchange, development, universal literacy, and the respect for liberties. …

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