Pearls from artists* # 482
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Devils’ heads with daring and disturbing eyes, twisted horns, abundant grey hair and hooked noses hang on the blue walls of Antonio Viscarra’s house. Long benches covered with old, multi-colored cushions in Bolivian motifs surround the concrete floor of the small room. Several dozen of these hanging faces, which seem to watch in silence from the darkness, are ready to be used in festivals and traditional dances.
The maskmaker or “maestro” as he is called, lives [deceased now] in the area of Avenida Buenos Aires, far from the political and administrative center of the city of La Paz, but rather at the very center of the other La Paz (Chuquiago in the Aymara language) where many peasant immigrants have settled, and which for that reason, is the center of the city’s popular culture.
Viscarra is the oldest creator of masks in La Paz, and his work has helped to conserve, and at the same time to rejuvenate, the tradition of using masks in Bolivian dances. If economic progress and alienation have contributed to the excessive adornment of new masks with glass and other foreign materials, Viscarra, in an attempt to recover the distinctive, original forms, has gone back to the 100-year-old molds used by his grandfather. His work has been exhibited in Europe, in the United States and in South America, Most important, however, is that Viscarra is transmitting his knowledge to his children, ensuring that this form of authentic Bolivian culture will never die.
…Viscarra inherited the old mask molds from his grandfather and was told to take good care of them because some day he might need them. After keeping them carefully put away for 50 years, the maestro used them again for an exhibition of masks prepared in 1984, slowly recreating the original masks, beautiful in their simplicity, in their delicate craftsmanship and in their cultural value. In this way, the masks which emerged from the old molds are regaining their past prestige and importance.
Antonio Viscarra, The mask Maker by Wendy McFarren in Masks of the Bolivian Andes, Editorial Quipus and Banco Mercantil
Comments are welcome!
Q: Were there any other artists in your family?
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!
Comments are welcome!