Friday, March 15, 2024

I'm Still Not Tired of Street Art (But This is the Last Batch, from This Trip Anyway)


Remember I mentioned the red-light district?

I love that this one was painted to look like there were open cutouts, and today the sky and clouds cooperated to enhance the illusion.

Caribbean on top with the Carnival theme, but African on the bottom.

Kinda touristy but we had to. All the symbols are island sights -- the lighthouse, the red anchor, the chapel, the windmill, etc.

"Nostalgia" -- the refinery and aloe plants

This pair of herons uses the same technique as the previous red/blue quarantine mural but unfortunately my image through the filters didn't work out. Still cool though!

This representation of an aloe plant, painted with island symbols, is made of PVC and located at the corner of a gas station. Art is everywhere!

The warrior, "Our Defender"

This piece, "Night Watch," is painted on the side of the police headquarters. The artist used to get in trouble for street graffiti but here he got to spray paint on the building of the authorities ... by invitation!

Some kids build sand castles, these kids are building a sand "refinery."

This one was a little weird; there was an app you could download and a code to scan and then he came to life, eyes and mouth moved. I had no idea what he was saying, though; it wasn't in English.

More Murals

 This is one of my favorites. The prikichi is a beloved local bird. In this mural, its head is painted in saturated colors, but the tail is washed out, almost transparent -- the species itself is fading away, the artist warns, threatened by overdevelopment and invasive boa constrictors eating their eggs. The lovely gentleman raking trash offered to move his pickup truck so I could get an unobstructed photo and apologized that the streets were dirty and not nicer for the visiting tourists. I thanked him but told him to stay, leave the truck and himself in the picture, he was part of the story. Here in this struggling town, even the people with the most menial jobs went about their day to day lives surrounded by rich art, and who's to say that isn't an equal or greater definition of "wealth?"

Part of this carnival dancer's costume is real gold tiles. The flowers in the background pay homage to the Arubian flag: the red hibiscus in the upper left is the red star, the two rows of yellow blossoms across the bottom, and the pale blue background. (Our rental car in the lower left corner for scale -- and what a beautiful way to remember where you've parked!)

Pairs of herons/egrets seems a common theme, and since heron is also Dan's spirit animal we enjoyed every one of them!

This one is called "King of the Streets" and the 3-D effect is incredible; that's a flat shop front. The aloe plant and the hanging bat (for guano) are both historically money makers. 

It is illegal to remove shells of sand from the island, but tourists can give themselves "angel wings" made of seashells in this backdrop.

Closeup of the shells

Not sure about this one. Making origami from a high-denomination bill in the local currency.

This one is meant to be viewed through a red or blue filter. Prophetically, it was made in 2020 and shows how they can't quite get in sync and there's something keeping them apart.

Viewed through the blue filter, you can see her surface and his deeper core...

... and vice-versa through the red filter.

The leatherback turtle goes out into the world, but comes back to the beach where it was born to lay its eggs and create the next generation. So too with island youth, who go to Holland for college. There's been a brain-drain in recent years as many young people choose to remain in Europe, for jobs and at least in part because the exchange is favorable compared to the island.

Another mural honoring locals while they're still living; this gentleman (Hidaro Donker (sp???)) bugged the government to get street lights in town.

Sarah Quito Ofredo is a windsurfing champion; if you look closely her shirt is the ocean. It is said that she's so good she can take her morning coffee on her board with her and drink it and never spill a drop.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

San Nicolaas, where "the streets are quiet and the walls are loud"

This city, on the "sunrise" side of the island, is worlds away from the glitzy tourist bubble. In the past, it held an oil refinery (and the red-light district that serviced it) and a major source of wealth. But the refinery closed, the red-light district remained, and the place became synonymous with decay, local and authentic but quite rough around the edges; gray walls and peeling paint. Though, surrounded with gorgeous beaches and turquoise water like the rest of the island.

Around 8 years ago, they got the idea to turn it into a local arts scene. Those sad, gray walls are now bursting with color and energy; concrete benches (think bus stop) are tiled with mosaics representing local fauna and flora. Two new art galleries have opened downtown, restaurants and pubs are serving food and drink and reggae music is heard on the streets. There's still a long way to go but the turnaround energy is palpable. We had seen the murals before as we wandered (though new ones are added every year!) but they were simply "pretty pictures" and we had no way to guess the meanings behind them. So we signed up for a walking tour with Tito Bolivar, the guy whose passion started it all. 

Here's a photo dump containing about a tenth of the insights we received. But if you're on island, really, take the tour. So many stories, and they're adding new art every year.

Random benches. There are many more, including some that weren't made by artists but were a project done by at-risk kids. (Sorry, my pix of that one didn't really come out well. Wanna see it? Take. The. Tour.)

I have literally hundreds of pictures of the murals on the walls. Here's a generous sampling of the ones that I found most compelling. Every one of them has a story. I was told all the stories. I wrote them down as our guide Tito was speaking. I still can't convey the richness of culture we saw, that morning.

"My promise to the island" contains pictures of the wildlife, and in the background, images of the decoration motifs found on traditional houses. There's so much pressure here from overdevelopment.

The other half of the same mural, too long to fit in one shot. The background colors of yellow, orange, and purple represent sunrise; San Nicolaas, on the eastern tip of the island, is nicknamed the sunrise city.

Her name is Alicia von (Romont??? sp??) and she's an artist who has painted some of the murals in town. Tito said that all the murals of people we'd see on the tour represent living people, so that they'd know while they're still alive, how much they were respected by the citizens.

"Please recycle"

(the other end of the recycling mural)

His name is Atto Niro (sp?) and he's a rapper. The artist who painted this, Rashid Lowe, was 16 when he made this mural.

"Dushi Bida" means, "sweet life."

The rest of "dushi bida." Again with the yellow-orange-purple.

The public library is probably my favorite story. Painted by Alicia whose mural I've already shown, at its heart this mural is a protest or a wake-up call. Only 3000 people visited the library the year this mural was conceived. The information within was "chained up," held hostage to the lure of the cellphone. 

more library ... 

... and more ...

Nanzi or Anansi, the spider is a west African folklore character. Like our Native American Coyote, he's a trickster, achieving his goals by cunning, creativity, and wit. He's also associated with storytelling. He used his cleverness to get the stories originally owned by the sky god Nyame, but later dropped the container that held the stories and they spilled out available to all. (Read the full tale in the wikipedia linked here.)

The goddess Nyame, original holder of the story wisdom in the Nanzi stories

So many murals, so many stories, I'm going to break this post into two.