Hidden within a glass paned studio, seven women arrive to do art. Once a week, working independently yet together, each woman finds her passion, her purpose and paints.The styles vary from abstract, surrealism to naive with an intensity of a woman who has found a few hours to freely empty her soul to the universe. Welcome to the secret world of art in Asuncion, Paraguay.
With a legacy of a political dictatorship, plenty of organized crime and drug cartel security challenges, Paraguay is only further challenged by an tenuous economy, yet steadily growing.
Mercedes de Centurion, stands tall with an elegant graceful presence. She is the teacher, the guide who opens the door for the ladies to find their voice in art. It is within her home, in her private garden, the ladies walk along the stone steps into her studio to meet. As an artist her self, Mercedes’ work is bright abstracts and who has shown her work in Paraguay and the United States. At first blush, her art is calm, balanced, natural. Yet, when taking a step back, her series of paintings are powerful mandalas, intense with the natural cycles, circles of life, inspired by Tibetan mandalas.
Influenced by her uncle, who was an artist, Merecedes grew up reading and looking at as many art books possible and then really began painting after her children were grown.
As the leader, Merecedes has created a safe space and encouragement for artistic expression for the seven women despite the confusion and lack of understanding by all their spouses.
“We paint because we love it. Love to paint. No pressure. Important, don’t have any pressure to sell. We can paint what we like and don’t have to sell to live. We are a family.”
Seven ladies, seven families and a passion to express themselves through their art and take art out to the public, to share with those who do not have the opportunity to experience art.
With the firmness of an ambassador, Mercedes declares,
“We want to be known by other things than drugs and politics. We want to be known for our hospitality, friendship and culture.”
Joining Mercedes, this one April evening in 2012, were four others who join the weekly art session. Alicia Perito, who opened this secret door of contemporary women artists in Paraguay, is a slender, business savvy director of a travel agency. She is dynamic, powerful, confident and it shows in her paintings. Alicia uses raw talent, only tapped within the last ten years training under Mercedes as well as her first art teacher the esteemed contemporary artist of Paraguay Carlos Columbino. She strips the unnecessary from her art and with the skill of an archer, she strikes the heart of her target. She reveals the core of connectedness among women, among people. Her abstract art is shear energy bursting from the canvas uncontrollable, vibrant, bold.
Another woman in the group is Martha Uhl, who is warm, evocative and opens the emotional portal of her own sensuality, sexuality, raw desires even anger. In a rage of love or anger, Martha paints, paints to release the overwhelming emotions locked within. For her, she feels her emotions, sees them in colors. Martha explains, “Red, when feeling peaceful, sensual, erotic, I feel full of the color. Purple, black or orange I feel passion, hot or anger. Anger, especially when my husband asks, “when are you finished with art school?” With determination she continues, Martha explains,
“I live to paint.”
Gladys Mas, an architect by profession, reveals a complex artist with the skill of storytelling within multiple layers. With a soft warm expression, she starts to explain her vision calmly and then with passion with an urgency to explain the sacrifices and miracles made for humanity as she sees through her faith of Roman Catholicism. First noticing the death of a fish as the symbol of Christ and then shocked by the buildings coming down on September 11, she turned to art to share her passions and truth. Her art, too, reveals more of the feminine, breasts, circles, symbols of women. Interestingly, a great similarity to the very nature of round mandalas. She interprets her own abstracts,
“My art is very religious.”
Another woman in the group is Lendi Pena, with a calm, graceful unassuming power, is one of the few women business owners in Asuncion. With the skilled precision of entrepreneur, Lendi travels to the heart of the Chaco, the jungle area of northern Paraguay, to paint the animals and nature of an area terribly affected by climate change, experiencing extreme swings in weather – drought, fires and floods. First inspired to paint during the recovery of a family member. Now, Pena says she is,
“sorry there isn’t more time to paint. Would like to do more. I enjoy work and enjoy art.”
Pena, also introduced concept of public art education through her public transportation business as a moving art gallery for the public. On the back of each bus is a poster of one painting by a local artist. The inauguration of the Arte Rodante campaign in 2011, presented one painting from each of the ladies who paint in the art group led by Mercedes de Centurion. With over a hundred buses covering five cities in the Asuncion metropolitan area, Lendi’ says, “people don’t usually go to the galleries so we show art in public.” The pubic reaction has been overwhelmingly positive between numerous phone calls and even requests from other artists to have their work included in a campaign. Every year the ladies plan to take art out to as many people as possible to educate and inspire.
Ultimately, each of these women through their art, passions and lives answer the question, who and what is the authentic Paraguay beyond the cliches found in the news. These ladies are one of the hidden gems and secrets of Paraguay.
By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, D.C. (Please follow 9 Muses News use policy.)