Many people consider visiting Costa Rica because of its widely recognized natural beauty and opportunities for ecotourism. Less well known, however, is that the country is also home to a rich tradition of Costa Rica Arts. It has much to offer to those who enjoy soaking up the culture of the place they visit. If you want to experience the culture in Costa Rica, you should take a look at its diverse arts. With a varied art history, the nation’s many styles reflect the different origins of its people and home to many respected artistic traditions – one of which has even been recognized by UNESCO. In recent decades, several contemporary Costa Rican artists have gained international fame, and their contributions to the artistic world extended far beyond the country’s borders.
Costa Rica’s other internationally known artist comes from the world of sculpture. Francisco Zuniga has won several awards (given out by institutions everywhere from Mexico to Japan. His work’s seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Statue Garden of Washington D.C. among other places. He was born on the field, having a sculptor for a father. Francisco started producing his work at the age of fifteen. Later he moved to Mexico, noticed by the wider artistic community. Then began teaching at one of the country’s most prestigious creative colleges. His work is noted for its abstract representations of the human form, and also for its incorporation of indigenous styles.
Today, Costa Rica is home to many budding artists who aspire to take over the legacy of last century’s masters. One of the most prominent of these is Priscilla Monge, whose art includes everything from painting and sculpture to videos – with many pieces being multimedia. She’s known for her willingness to experiment. One of her pieces is a life-size statue of the Virgin Mary made of soap, for example. As well as winning several awards; she has had work exhibited in galleries as prestigious as the Tate in London.
Besides the traditional and historic art forms we see in Costa Rica, we also see a lot of it on the streets. Just walking around downtown San Jose, you will see a lot of different graffiti full of expressive colors. Other forms of art you see on the street include the street performers from fire jugglers to face painters and human statues. You will be amazed at how Costa Rica Arts protrude into the daily lives.
Costa Rica Arts History
Like all of its cultural pursuits – from music, to dance and dress, Costa Rican art is a product of the blending of its three main communities. The Indigenous, European, and African populations have all contributed their culture and traditions> These have now come together to create an elaborate range of artistic expression.
Art has existed in Costa Rica for as long as the people have. The native people have always created it, and some of this is still made in its original form today. The Chorotega people of Guaitil on the Nicoya Peninsula, for example, still make beautiful pottery just like they have done for centuries. Made from clay, these pots, bowls, and vases are delicately painted with intricate patterns and beautiful pictures of local animals. Traditional weaving is also present in parts of the country and although this serves a practical purpose, the clothing produced is so beautiful that it is considered an art form.
Another native art which survives today is the mask making as done by the Boruca people of Puntarenas. Other than being stunning, they are also used in traditional dances and rituals. The most spectacular of these rituals, is the dance of the devils. It is performed spread out over several days during which actors use the masks to tell the story of the Spanish invasion.
Costa Rica’s African population has had less influence on the nation’s art scene than in its music, food, and dance. As most arrived as slaves, they lacked easy access to the materials needed to paint or sculpt. In recent years, however, there has been a conscious effort by black artists to reconnect with their roots by blending local and African influences. Perhaps the most famous is Adrian Gomez, who paints silhouettes of African people on top of colorful and attractive backgrounds.
The Spanish introduced European culture to Costa Rica and in general, this took two distinct forms. The elites preferred classical art which imitated what was popular among nobility back home. Seen in the statues put up in plazas across the country, the portraits which they commissioned, and the architecture of the historic palaces and mansions. Ordinary people, on the other hand, had their own forms of cultural expression. The Costa Rican ox cart – inscribed by UNESCO onto their list of important cultural traditions – is an excellent example of this (although some indigenous influence should be acknowledged). Uninterested in the formal artwork admired by the rich, they painted the ox carts which they used for transporting goods, transforming them into masterpieces. They are instantly recognizable by their bright colors and the beautiful patterns which adorn them. A great place to see some of these amazing carretas, is Atenas.
If you want to see some more of the traditional Costa Rica Arts, then pay a visit to the Museo de Artes CostaRicense. Founded in 1977, it has been the center of art in Costa Rica. They have courses for students to hone their artistic skill and have a beautiful collection of both local and international pieces.
Contemporary Costa Rica Arts
In Costa Rica – as also happened across the world – art took off in the 20th century. New ideas blossomed, movements created, and artists found themselves unshackled from the rules of previous years. In Costa Rica, several talented artists emerged and some achieved international recognition for their work.
Francisco Amighetti is arguably the most famous contemporary Costa Rican artist, as well as being one of the earliest. Born in San Jose to an Italian family, he embraced the abstract surrealist style of painting which had recently originated in France. Francisco likes to depict scenes of ordinary, rural Costa Rican life in his art and subjects include cock fights, farmers at work, and religious processions. He exhibited his work in the USA and Europe, and when one of his pieces sold, it became the most expensive work of art in Costa Rican history.
One of Amighetti’s contemporaries was Cesar Valverde Vega who was also born in San Jose. After initially training to become a lawyer, he rebelled and became one of Costa Rica’s most famous painters. Much of his work focused on the female form. His paintings normally characterize women’s faces and Picasso-like strips of color. Today, his work is exhibited in several important governmental and academic buildings including the offices of the Costa Rican legislature.