Capturing the Nicaraguan People in Six Portraits
I’m in the Peace Corps, which is also know as “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I moved away from home for 27 months to live in Nicaragua. While I’ve drawn and painted sporadically all my life, art has now become my favorite hobby. I even take my paints with me on trips. When every day brings twists and turns, like power outages, street harassment, and bacterial infections, painting helps me feel in control.
I live in the sunny, mountainous region of Matagalpa. There’s amazing weather, lighting, and some of the most photogenic subjects. Since moving here, I’ve done six acrylic portraits of Nicaraguan people I’ve met, each with one word that represents them:
“Have a gatorade and some crackers,” Abigail said, after I’d gone through a long distance break-up. “It will make you feel better.” We’ve seen each other at our best and worst. Although she’s twice my age, this artisan has become one of my best friends.
In both my art and my writing, I’m interested in exposing the fact that vulnerability isn’t weakness. Traveling has made me an incredibly vulnerable person since I’m constantly being thrust into new situations. It’s this vulnerability that makes me accept the challenges that come my way, pushing me to ask “What can I learn? What do I have control over?” I enjoyed painting Elena because she looks so comfortable with her own vulnerability.
Some pieces are harder than others to create. This one was the most difficult because of the lighting. I took a picture of Saviera in March, and I didn’t complete the portrait until September. She always has a mischievous smile on her face, and bounces around from room to room as if she’s up to something. I wanted to capture that look and give it my own spin.
Girl from the Caribbean Coast: Optimism
Just like Saviera, she captures the Nicaraguan spirit of optimism despite everyday challenges that come with being in Latin America’s most impoverished nation. This is the first time I’ve painted something in black and white, and it’s the only painting I’ve kept for myself.
I gave this painting to my host grandma for her birthday to thank her for dedicating herself to making sure her family never goes hungry. She offers me whatever she can, whether it’s beans and rice, or a surprise pastry she bought me from the corner store. I’m grateful to the host families who have fed thousands of Peace Corps volunteers like myself during our service. It wouldn’t be the same without them and their fried plantains, soup, and tortillas.
After Alejandros’ mom saw Elena’s picture, she called me, telling me how much she loved it. She asked me to paint her son. He turned out not only to be my first male subject, but my first male subject with curly hair. Oh, and with a wooden background.
Top photo credit: German Enrique