* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Sunday of Carnival, the parade begins. For a whole day of celebration in music and dance, people can express their hope and fears, revive their myths and escape to a reality far from everyday life.
Thousands of spectators arrive from different parts if Bolivia and other countries. Filling the streets, they straddle benches, window ledges, balconies, cats and eve hang from walls or roofs to witness the entrance of the Carnival. Thus is the magnificent parade when Carnival makes its official entry into Oruro. The comparsas (dance troupes) dance to music for20 blocks, nearly eight lies, to the Church of the Virgin of Socavón (Virgin of the Mine). Each tries to out do the next in the brilliance of their costumes, the energy of their dancing and the power of their music. All their efforts are dedicated to the Virgin whose shrine is found on the hill called Pie de Gallo.
If there are thousands of spectators, there are also thousands of dancers from the city and other parts of the country. Among the most remarkable are the Diablos and Morenos which count for eight of the 40 or 50 participating groups. Keeping in mind that the smallest troupes have between 30 and 50 embers and the largest between 200 and 300, it is possible to calculate the number of dancers and imagine the spectacle.
… Each dance recalls a particular aspect of life in the Andes. Lifted from different periods and places, the dances offer a rich interpretation of historical events, creating an imaginative mythology for Oruro.
… Carnival blends indigenous beliefs and rituals with those introduced by the Spaniards. Both systems of belief have undergone transformations, each making allowance for the other, either through necessity or familiarity. The Christianity fought from Europe becomes loaded with new meanings while the myths and customs of the Andes accommodate their language and creativity to the reality of their conquered world. The process can be seen as a struggle culminating in a ‘mestizaje’ or new cultural mix.
El Carnaval de Oruro by Manuel Vargas in Mascaras de los Andes Bolivianos, Editorial Quipus and Banco Mercantil
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A: Unfortunately, I have not been able to reconstruct my family tree further back than two generations. So as far as I can tell, I am the first artist of any sort, whether musician, actor, dancer, writer, etc. in my family.
Both sets of grandparents emigrated to the United States from Europe. On my mother’s side my Polish grandparents died by the time my mother was 16, years before I was born.
My paternal grandparents both lived into their 90s. My father’s mother spoke Czech, but since I did not, it was difficult to communicate. I never heard any stories about the family she left behind. My grandfather spoke English, but I don’t remember him ever talking about his childhood or telling stories about his former life. My most vivid memories of my grandfather are seeing him in the living room watching Westerns on an old-fashioned television.
Sometimes I am envious of artists who had parents, siblings, or extended family who were artists. How I would have loved to grow up with a family member who was an artist and a role model!
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A: It didn’t take long to become smitten with these beautiful people. It happened on my first trip there in 1992 when Bryan and I, along with busloads of other tourists, were visiting the Oaxacan cemeteries on The Day of the Dead. The Oaxaquenos tending their ancestor’s graves were so dignified and so gracious, even with so many mostly-American tourists tromping around on a sacred night, that I couldn’t help being taken with them and with their beliefs. My studies since that time have given me a deeper appreciation for the art, architecture, history, mythology, etc. that comprise the extremely rich and complex story of Mexico as a cradle of civilization in the West. It is a wonderfully heady mix and hopefully some of it comes through in my work as a painter and a photographer.
By the way I often wonder why the narrative of Mexico’s fascinating history was not taught in American public schools, at least not where I went to public school in suburban New Jersey. Mexico is our neighbor, for goodness sake, but when I speak to many Americans about Mexico they have never learned anything about the place! It’s shocking, but many people think only “Spring Break” and/or “Drug Wars,” when they hear the word “Mexico.” As a kid I remember learning about Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and other early civilizations in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, but very little about Mexico. We learned about the Maya, when it was still believed that they were a peaceful people who devoted their lives to scientific and religious pursuits, but that story was debunked years ago. And I am fairly sure that not many Americans even know that Maya still exist in the world … in Mexico and in Guatemala. There are a few remote places that were not completely destroyed by Spanish Conquistadores in the 16th century and later. I’ve been to Mayan villages in Guatemala and seen shamans performing ancient rituals. For an artist from a place as rooted in the present moment as New York, it’s an astounding thing to witness!
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