A Wondrous Wander through La Paz : An errant gringo’s Artistic Pursuits
22 Oct, 2010 | Jack Brooker
It’s barely my second day in La Paz and my priorities have become ap- parent: mustering enough oxygen to find my way around, and simply surviving the shooting ranges that are paceño zebra-crossings, which may as well not be there. To get from my accommodation to anywhere of note I have to take my life into my hands at least three times, and as a tall blond gringo it’s Christmas come early for the trufi and micro drivers who see this is as a perfect opportunity for some target practice. With survival in mind, and the fact that I was still desperately trying to feign perfectly good health in the face of altitude-induced dizziness, head-aches, total loss of appetite and exhaustion after any kind of exercise, I had given little thought to my work commitments and the artistic theme of the September issue. Keen to impress on my first day at the Bolivian Express, I nodded enthusiastically at the opportunity to write an article on Bolivian artistry whilst privately feeling at a complete loss as to where to even begin. I took a gentle meander through the Sopocachi streets in an attempt to conjure up some inspiration.
It transpired that I needn’t have worried, as before as I could say Mamani Mamani I stumbled into a completely open and free art exhibition a few footsteps away from the Sopocachi district. The small gallery (which featured such classics as ‘tree stump made into a face’) couldn’t have been more inconspicuously-placed, and yet it was a perfect introduction to contemporary art in La Paz. I recommend you begin here, too (gallery of the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes “Hernando Síles”, calle Salinas). My Lonely Planet reliably informed me that the next most obvious place to continue my artistic quest would be the Museo Nacional de Arte, situated just off the plaza Murillo and widely regarded as the centre of Bolivia’s artistic high culture. Feeling the need to get my 10bs worth I decided to apply myself to the task in hand, and actually read the pamphlet which accompanied my ticket. I first scanned the up- per floors of numerous paintings by anonymous artists (understandably so given the dubious facial characteristics in some of the works) before heading down to check out the heavily- hyped Marina Nuñez del Prado exhibition. I was most impressed. Her sculptures were a far cry from the frightened-looking fish with the dodgy eye in the Sopocachi exhibition, and yet the links were there for even my untrained eye to see: it was easy to appreciate the celebration of indigenous Bolivian women and culture in her work, characteristic of the indigenismo movement. Even the highly vigilant security guard, keen to catch any misdemeanour, took time out from his busy post to proudly describe the sculpture of the Andean woman before me.
The museum – both the building and the works inside – was undoubtedly a good starting point to gain some artistic bearings in La Paz, but perhaps the walk back from the Plaza Murillo best encapsulates why La Paz is such a melting pot of artistic activity. Murals line the streets, art exhibitions spring out from nowhere, restaurants with enthusiastic owners are deco- rated from front to back with paintings and murals alike. Even students patrol the streets with their work in an attempt to make a quick buck and spread the word of their talents. Namás Té (Zoilo Flores, 1334) or Etno Café (calle Jaén, 722), for example, offer more than just good food and drink: an eclectic variety of paintings can be found herein, of the Illimani mountain in particular. You really don’t need any artistic background or knowledge to appreciate what La Paz has to offer, and whilst the museums offer an insight into Bolivian art past and present, the best examples are perhaps found out and about in the city itself - which is itself a post- modern masterpiece of sorts.