First American Art Magazine No. 22, Spring 2019 - Page 38

he regularly organized group exhibitions for his fellow Guna painters. Velásquez is also is an accomplished printmaker, whose decades of service at Panama’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) have earned him national and inter- national recognition. Indeed, many prominent Central American artists have turned to Velásquez to reproduce their works, while naturally, some are less enamored with his abilities and have looked elsewhere for advice and encour- agement. Just as the naïve style triggered aesthetic deviations, realistic art has also provoked reactions, contributing to what social anthropologist Paolo Fortis might describe as an ontological approach to painting. above Achu, or Oswaldo De León Kantule (Guna, b. 1964), Waiting for Our House to Sink, 2009, acrylic on canvas, private collection. opposite Naluginya Vergara (Guna, b. 1957), Fisherman, 2009, acrylic on canvas, private collection. Vergara explores Indigenous esoteric knowledge. graduate of the National School of Art, where he studied under Silfrido Ibarra and became fascinated with the life of Gustav Klimt. The influence of both artists is apparent is Kansuet’s work, in his Ibarra-like idealizations of the natural world and his focus on the female figure, which follows Gustav Klimt's example by framing the subject in nearly abstract ornamentation. In most instances, Kansuet depicts his young daughter Alison in a hyperrealist manner, envel- oping her in romanticized visions of Guna Yala’s natural environment. Guna Yala’s birds, plants, and fish form the background of these swirling paintings. They encircle Alison’s body in mola-like fashion, suggesting the possibility of harmonious links between humanity and mother earth. Sometimes Alison sleeps along a forested coast or lies peacefully in a hammock of seedpods and vines. Inspired by the Chilean artist Claudio Bravo, Julián Velásquez (Guna, b. 1955) produces similar almost photo- graphic depictions of Panamanian flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Velásquez is a longtime veteran of Guna visual culture. His creativity has transpired through a variety of phases, and he has mentored generations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. For years, Velásquez has been employed as an instructor at the National School of Art, and through the 1980s and 1990s, 36 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM ARTIST AS SHAMAN: THE ONTOLOGICAL TURN BEGINNING EARLY among many of these Native artists, was an impulse to reject realistic representations and attempt to portray Guna esoteric knowledge. James Howe indicates that the command of such rare and limited knowledge constitutes the most presti- gious aptitude in Guna society. So it is not surprising to witness the emergence of Guna painters whose thoughts are steeped in religious, medical, and phil- osophical doctrines and who attempt to illustrate these complexities in their art. Such depictions tend to be less figura- tive, responding perhaps to what Paolo Fortis has defined as the ontological principles of Guna visual culture. This tendency to reject realistic representa- tions, especially of the human figure, instead conceives aesthetic creativity as a pathway to alterity and the soul. As a prime example, Fortis points to the nuchukana, wooden carvings that the Guna utilize in healing ceremonies. The nuchukana are front-facing, human sculptures whose features are minimally elaborated. In interviews, some Guna