February 7th, 2011

Fall in Love With San José

Visitors to Costa Rica often fall in love with its beaches, volcanoes and tropical rain forests. But in their rush to the mountains and coasts, some visitors—and some locals, as well—fail to fully explore the capital itself, missing out on some of San José’s cultural attributes. The Costa Rican Ministry of Culture and Youth (Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud) wants to redirect attention to the city and to promote its finest features. To that end, the Ministry is sponsoring a months-long program called “Cultural Corridors: Fall in Love With Your City” (“Corredores Culturales: Enamórate de tu Ciudad”).

The Cultural Corridors program encourages tourists and Costa Ricans alike to spend their leisure time in downtown San José, enjoying its parks, art exhibits and cultural performances. The program began in February 2011 and will continue through July 2011. Activities begin at 11:00 AM on each Saturday of those months.

San José’s parks will act as the main “corridors” in the Ministry’s new plan, because they connect the city’s museums and theaters and act as outdoor exhibition and performance spaces. The Sleep Inn is conveniently located right near several of the parks that serve as the focal points of the program, and each of these parks will have a particular cultural focus. For example, the Park of Spain (Parque España), almost directly in front of the Sleep Inn, will be an exhibition space for the visual arts—painting, sculpture, engravings and art installations. The Park of Peace (Parque de la Paz), in front of the Escuela Metálica, will host urban sporting activities—dancing, circus acts, roller skating and BMX riding. The Morazán Park (Parque Morazán) will be the new music center, and musical groups will perform all genres in the kiosk that stands at the center of the park. Other cultural activities are planned for the areas immediately surrounding each of these parks—and surrounding the Sleep Inn.

The Cultural Corridors program has three goals. The first is to celebrate Costa Rica’s history—not just in terms of dates and events, but in terms of what it means to be a Costa Rican. The program aims to create a certain nostalgia for the Costa Rica of long ago—a quieter and more tranquil time. The program’s second cultural goal is to encourage both locals and visitors to establish—or reestablish—their relationships to the city’s parks and to reclaim these parks for rest and relaxation. The Ministry says that the fast pace of urban life has reduced the parks to mere walkways, as people hurry through them from one errand to another. The idea is to encourage people to spend some time in the parks, talking to one another and enjoying the urban oasis the parks create. The third cultural goal is to promote multiculturalism in the city, celebrating the artistic and historic contributions of Costa Rica’s various ethnic and cultural groups.

Founded forty years ago, the Ministry preserves and promotes cultural diversity in Costa Rica, encouraging all social and economic groups to participate in national cultural activities. The Sleep Inn is proud to find itself at the hub of the Ministry’s new and exciting cultural plans. Sleep Inn guests should remember to inquire about activities happening during their stay.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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November 16th, 2009

Costa Rica, in Haiku

Costa Rica has long inspired literary and artistic tributes to its natural beauty and charming lifestyle. Painters and poets, enchanted by Costa Rica’s history and its people, create great artistic works with the country as their inspiration.

This posting showcases three haiku pieces that pay tribute to facets of the Costa Rican experience that visitors always find remarkable. The first haiku describes the ominous beauty of Costa Rica’s volcanoes, which lend a thrilling, dangerous edge to the country’s otherwise serene beauty. Visitors to the Magnolia Restaurant can enjoy a similar geologically themed painting, by artist Denis Salas, in the niche over the piano. The ethereal grays and blues of the painting suggest the smoky landscape around an active volcano. The haiku captures the volcano’s explosive energy:

Active volcano,
Red-rimmed, rumbling at night.
The violent earth speaks.

A second haiku draws its inspiration from Costa Rica’s abundant tropical fruit, a real tourist favorite. The lively fruit paintings in the Sleep Inn breakfast area similarly celebrate this marvelous tropical abundance:

Slices of sunshine
Lying on a morning plate.
Fresh mango breakfast.

A final haiku hearkens back to Costa Rica’s past, a quieter time when ox carts and their drivers slowly crisscrossed the countryside, delivering farm goods and supplies to a country not yet industrialized. Just outside the Sleep Inn’s smoke-free casino, guests can enjoy a beautiful depiction of the ox carts in old Costa Rica. The haiku showcases this same nostalgic sense of history:

Oxen and driver
In the days before cities.
Driving on the brink of change.

Read more about Costa Rica’s volcanoes.

Read more about Costa Rican mangoes and other tropical Costa Rican fruit.

Read more about Costa Rican ox carts, now a part of the UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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June 5th, 2009

Rafa Fernández, A Costa Rican Master

Connoisseurs of Costa Rican art recognize Rafa Fernández as one of the country’s most influential painters. Born in 1935, Rafa Fernández has produced a large body of critically acclaimed work and has had many national and international exhibits.

Largely self-taught, Rafa Fernández has won several important awards for his artwork, most notably the 2002 Magón Prize, awarded by the Costa Rican government. His paintings often focus on the feminine form in surreal, magical settings, and his palette is rich and colorful.

In 2002, Rafa Fernández put together a viewer-friendly exhibit of his work, rejecting the traditional museum space in favor of San José’s city streets—the “heart of my city,” according to the artist. For this exhibit, the artist hung high-quality reproductions of his work on the outdoor information kiosks that stand in the pedestrian mall of Avenida Central. Viewers could stroll outside, studying 28 paintings that represented 50 years of the artist’s work. Johnny Araya, then mayor of San José, declared that this exhibit would bring the artist’s work closer to the average Costa Rican and that the images would speak to the spirit of the entire community. The exhibit acknowledges the artist’s own efforts to bring good art to the average Costa Rican.

In March 2009, Rafa Fernández exhibited 25 of his recent oil paintings at the Calderón Guardia Museum (Museo Histórico Rafael Angel Calderón Guardia). The exhibit included fantastical images of acrobats, unicyclists, trapeze artists and marvelous animals.

Of this recent exhibit, the artist said that

…[m]y paintings are the ghosts, large or small, who surrounded me in my childhood and who showed me that the world could be seen from an alternate dimension: filled with magic, mood and craziness, that I could create the most absurd worlds from the most concrete reality and that I could allow myself the luxury of absolute belief in the reality of these worlds. [The ghosts] taught me to create images that did not exist, to speak with characters I did not know, and in time, they became my family.

Read a brief biography of Rafa Fernández.

Read more about Rafa Fernandez’s exhibit on the streets of San José

Read more about Rafa Fernández’s exhibit at the Calderón Guardia Museum

Read about César Valverde, another great Costa Rican artist.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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December 11th, 2008

César Valverde, Costa Rica’s Muralist

As an art form, muralism functions in a very different way from paintings done on canvas. César Valverde, Costa Rica’s most prominent muralist, recognized the mural’s unique role in public life. He often spoke of the ways in which his large-scale works of art reached out to a broad spectrum of viewers. His murals hang in several of the country’s important government buildings and universities.

Born in the late 1920s, César Valverde studied art at the University of Costa Rica and later became a professor at that same university and a director of its art department. He also studied art in Italy and France and was very involved in European cultural and artistic movements. He served as Costa Rica’s Vice-Minister of Culture in the early 1980s and received several important awards for his art. Although he painted canvases and smaller works, César Valverde is now best known for his large-scale works in places like Costa Rica’s National Assembly building (Asamblea Legislativa), its Department of Comptrollership (Contraloría) and the Universidad Autónoma de Centro América.

In a 1990 interview on a local Costa Rican television station, Valverde described murals as true “art of the people.” Because they hang in public places, he said, murals should not make intellectual statements and should, instead, speak directly to their viewers. Valverde believed that mural viewers should feel a kind of collective ownership of the art. An ordinary person should look at a mural and think, “This is mine.” He pointed out, too, that successful murals engage in a dialogue with the architecture of the spaces in which they hang. He said that, in muralism, architecture and painting join together to form one single work of art.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of all of Valverde’s work is his use of color. Oscar Bakit, a Costa Rican artist, argues that Valverde’s vivid color palette is his own personal “invention”: a César Valverde work is unmistakable because of its brilliant oranges, yellows and turquoises.

Just as Valverde used several signature paint colors, several images frequently recur in his art. He often painted very similar women, figures some describe as female archetypes. These women often stand against backgrounds of small houses or among tropical fruits and vegetables.

César Valverde described his own work as “full of optimism, full of life,” and he thought of his art as a visual representation of Costa Rica’s most important values. The Costa Rican national post office commemorated his life and work with a limited-edition postage stamp of his art. César Valverde died in 1998.

[If you would like to comment on this post, please click on the title of the post, and leave your message.]

Click here to see an interesting video about César Valverde.
Click here for César Valverde’s website.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 24th, 2008

Artwork that Once Worked Hard

Before there were cars and buses, paved roads and traffic lights, Costa Rica’s most common mode of transportation was the oxcart, or “carreta.” Dirt roads crisscrossed the countryside, winding through coffee farms and sugar cane plantations. Farmers loaded their goods onto wooden oxcarts to transport them to market.

Oxcarts all looked relatively similar, and their traditional shape has since become an iconic Costa Rican design. Oxcarts had one axle, to which were attached large, round wheels. These wheels were flat and had no spokes. Two oxen usually pulled the cart, a heavy wooden yoke over their necks. Someone often walked in front of the cart, guiding the plodding oxen to their destination.

At first, oxcarts were plain and unpainted, their wood slowly weathering to a natural grayish brown. But the simple lines and utilitarian beauty of the oxcarts soon lent themselves to decoration and embellishment. Oxcart decoration became something of a national art form. Wheel-painting was particularly popular, and artisans decorated cart wheels with brilliant geometric patterns that radiated from the center of the wheel. Yokes also became a popular design element, and painters covered them in flowers and curlicues.

Now that Costa Rica’s transportation systems are fully modernized, oxcarts are almost nonexistent as transportation. Some rural farmers still use them, but oxcarts have now become mostly decorative. Restaurants and museums across the country hang hand-painted yokes and oxcart wheels on their walls. “Carretas” are the subject of many nostalgic historical paintings, and entire oxcarts stand in the lobbies of theaters and art galleries nationwide. In 1988, during the first presidency of Oscar Arias Sánchez, the Costa Rican government officially declared the “carreta” a national symbol. And in 2005, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the “Oxherding and Oxcart Traditions in Costa Rica” a “Masterpiece of intangible cultural heritage.”

These beautiful, cultural symbols once put in generations of hard work.

Read about UNESCO and Costa Rica.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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