LJWorld.com weblogs Notes from John
Paraguay is a little known (in the USA) South American country snuggled between Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia with a rich artistic tradition that is celebrated in an exhibition of over 150 works currently at the Mulvane Art Museum of Washburn University in Topeka. The exhibit is open through April 13, 2008.This exhibit includes cultural artifacts of several indigenous peoples. Tools, water pots, sandals and spears are just a few examples. But Paraguay is not just a romantic tropical or sub-tropical country. A 2007 human rights calendar published by Museo de las Memorias is a graphic reminder of abuses of past dictators. This museum is part of an old police station that was used to torture political dissentients and is dedicated to keeping the memory of these events alive.There are several works by artists who struggled for artistic and political freedom during the repressive dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). Carlos Colombino is one of these artists whose work of that era is highly symbolic. His El Supremo not only refers to Paraguay's first dictator but to a long line of repressive governments. This work shows a head emerging from or submerged in a landscape form constricted with rope.Other, less troubling aspects of Paraguayan culture are represented. Nanduti is delicate lace work that seeks to emulate and go beyond the intricate spider webs that inspired this craft. Nanduti is the word for spider web in Guarani which is the other official language of Paraguay with Spanish. Nanduti is represented in the exhibit with several handmade examples and by other works that pay homage to this tradition such as the contemporary works of Alfredo Miltos. In this exhibit, as in the artistic expression of most cultures, the traditional and modern are intertwined. A very interesting modern artist is Maria Gloria Echauri who takes pictures of peoples lower legs and feet and superimposes them on maps representing the movement of people to find work.The exhibit is titled, "Visual Encounters with Paraguay: Forty Years of Kansas Paraguay Partnership." Kansas and Paraguay have been partners since the 1960s as part of the Partners of the Americas program. Through the years there have been and continue to be a variety of exchanges including education, agriculture, medical, and arts. Much of the work in the exhibit is from the private collection of Kansans who have traveled to Paraguay as well as from the Spencer and Mulvane Museums of Art.Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen, Interim Director of the Mulvane Art Museum is the curator of this show has done a masterful job of presenting the breadth and depth of Paraguayan art. She states, in the exhibition catalog: "Visual arts, like music, are powerful communicators of a people's history, cultural identity and values across boundaries of language and political borders." Her presentation of the works is a testament to her ability to enable the art to communicate. The catalog is trilingual, English, Spanish and Guarani. That may be a first for Kansas and Paraguay.