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Interview with Carmen Alemán: Art in Panama
by Mercedes Lizcano

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Guillermo Trujillo, 2000

Tabo Toral, 2000

Tabo Toral, 2000

Isabel de Obaldía, 2000

LIZCANO: Are their any other forms of expression in Panama?

ALEMÁN: We have just a few artists that work with sculpture, given there are no resources: Leslie Milson works with wood which she covers with canvas and ends up painting with oil. Emily Zhukov uses melted aluminum, since there is no bronze in Panama. Donna Conlon uses marble for her sculptures. Guillermo Trujillo also sculpts, designing ceramics models that he later sends to Madrid to do in bronze. In opposition to sculpture, Panama has a long tradition in ceramics.

In Video and Installation art we can mention Gustavo Araujo. He comes from the advertising world. Gustavo creates photography boxes that illuminate in 20 or 30 interconnected images on perspex. He won first place in the Panama and Central America Biennials in 1999 and 2000, and obtained a special mention in the last Bienal de Cuenca. Brooke Alfaro is also creating Installations based on characters of the Casco Viejo at the same time that he paints. Humberto Vélez is another artist more in the conceptual line. Other artists to mention will be Ana Elena Garuz.

LIZCANO: Is there any influence of the indigenous Indians in contemporary Panamanian art?

ALEMÁN: Right now we are organizing a show of three of the best Panamanian artists who have a pre-Columbian and Indian influence in their work.

Guillermo Trujillo has a big influence of the "Molas" in the Kuna culture, as well as the pre-Columbian polychrome or any Indian ritual. Trujillo works with the "nuchos" (ceremonials sticks used by the Kunas and Chocoes). Guillermo Trujillo is very much attached to Indian culture, given that he grew up in Chiriquí­ and has been surrounded by the pre-Columbian influence since he was a child.

Raúl Vasquez, native to Azuero Peninsula, shows influences from the pre-Columbian ceramics of his native region. The influence in paintings of Tabo Toral, a Chiricano artist, comes from the Molas, decorative patterns of the Gnobe Guble o Guayamí­ cultures, and the pre-Columbian use of polychrome.

These types of exhibitions are what we try to show abroad; curated shows that not only introduce emerging artists, but also give a concept of what we are doing and the dominant trends in contemporary Panamanian painting.

LIZCANO: What other artist with indigenous Indian influence would you point to?

ALEMÁN: Braulio Matos, Tabo Toral, Roosevelt Diaz, Isabel de Obaldí­a in her sculpture...

LIZCANO: What other influences can one find in Panamanian art?

ALEMÁN: American, although also very European. Almost all of our artists have visited or exhibited in Europe. Besides being cultured artists, they also read much and are up-to-date on the most recent artistic tendencies.

LIZCANO: Can you point to any difference between the art of Panama and the rest of Latin America?

ALEMÁN: It is almost impossible to point to a difference in the thematic context. Perhaps the most Panamanian artist is Guillermo Trujillo. He has some abstract tendencies, works constantly with the Landscape, uses the pre-Columbian theme, has influences of the indigenous Indians, and has touched on political painting. This last aspect I havení­t mentioned before, but plenty of our artists, given our political history, have felt involved and reflected it in their paintings.

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