The popular uprising that began in Nicaragua in April 2018 continues to be a large topic of debate in neighboring Costa Rica. As I noted in a previous post, the tense history between the two countries, the arrival of tens of thousands of Nicaraguan refugees within just a few months, and the threat of negative impacts for the region as a whole have led to a huge response from Costa Rican citizens. Over the past several months there have been marches in solidarity with Nicaraguan refugees, conferences and panel discussions sponsored by local universities, and protests against Nicaraguan immigration. Another important way in which both Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans have sought to make sense of Nicaragua’s instability is through art.
A perfect example is a recent San José art exhibit entitled Nicaragua, a collaboration between Colectivo Rhizome and Colectivo veinti3 with support from TEOR/éTica and Asociación Ticos y Nicas (Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans Association). The event was on display on the University of Costa Rica’s San José campus during November and December 2018 and featured artists from Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and other Latin American countries.
The exhibit centered on the idea of respect for human life and aimed to demonstrate that Nicaraguan refugees have support around the world. To do so, Nicaragua used various forms of visual art to explore the experiences of Nicaraguan refugees living in Costa Rica.
One of my favorite pieces in the exhibit is Afiches by Ana Granera, a Nicaraguan graphic designer. Granera edited an old copy of La Nación, Costa Rica’s largest newspaper, to convey the idea of history repeating itself in Nicaragua.
The original newspaper edition was published in 1979, and the front page announces the end of the Somoza dictatorship after 43 years. The Somozas were an incredibly powerful family who controlled Nicaragua from 1937 to 1979, when Anastasio Somoza Debayle was forced to resign largely due to a popular insurrection led by el Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN, the Sandinista National Liberation Front). The FSLN was originally inspired by the ideology of Nicaraguan revolutionary leader Augusto César Sandino, who was assassinated in 1934.
Daniel Ortega joined the FSLN as a teenager and quickly became heavily involved in the Sandinistas’ fight to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship. Following Somoza Debayle’s resignation, Ortega was first elected as president in 1984. He has served as president on and off ever since, always representing the FSLN. It is ironic and chilling that Ortega began his political career as a revolutionary leader fighting against an authoritarian regime and is now the target of a new popular rebellion.
By changing only a few words from La Nación’s 1979 headline, Granera perfectly encapsulates this irony and argues that Ortega has become shockingly similar to the man he once opposed so strongly. Granera merely replaced Somoza’s name with Ortega’s, changed the duration of the Somozas’ political control to that of Ortega, and crossed out the word terminó (“ended”) to demonstrate that Ortega remains in power. The lack of a need to make major changes to the headline after 40 years speaks volumes.
Another piece included in the exhibit is a photograph taken by Alejandro de la Guerra of Nicaragua. The photo is entitled Montoya and features a monument to war hero Ramón Francisco Montoya. The monument depicts Montoya forever pointing towards the enemy. Coincidently, Montoya’s monument is very close to Daniel Ortega’s house. Similarly to Granera, de la Guerra’s work encourages viewers to consider ways in which “the enemy” has changed over time. The artist accomplished this by climbing Montoya’s monument and pointing at the enemy himself. According to de la Guerra, the enemy is no longer the Salvadoran and Honduran troops that Montoya was pointing towards, but Daniel Ortega, whose house is in the opposite direction.
Also included in the exhibit is a photograph of a mural painted in 2005 by Adán Vallecillo and Leonardo Gonzáles of Honduras. The mural is entitled Goodbye Sandino and is about the death of Sandinista ideology. The mural features a pink silhouette of Augusto César Sandino that has fallen over and appears to be partially sunken into the ground. This is a representation of the way in which the FSLN’s ideals have changed under Ortega’s leadership. The FSLN was founded based on Sandino’s ideals regarding national liberation, but many Nicaraguans believe that it has since strayed far from its roots.
A tipping point in this process was the 2006 presidential election. Leading up to this election, Daniel Ortega and his party began using pink flags instead of the traditional red and black FSLN flags, which are meant to represent Sandino’s insistence upon liberty or death. The FSLN government has frequently used the color pink ever since. This pink color is referred to as “rosado chicha” in reference to a pink Nicaraguan beverage.
For many Nicaraguans, the adoption of a new color to represent the FSLN is emblematic of a larger change within the party; the use of pink is a physical marker of the ideological changes that have made the party unrecognizable. Vallecillo and Gonzáles represent this viewpoint by depicting Sandino as a pink silhouette sinking into the ground. Goodbye Sandino was destroyed the same day it was painted.
The exhibit as a whole features videos, sculptures, photos, paintings, and other pieces of visual art related to the Nicaraguan political crisis and the experiences of Nicaraguan refugees. Photographs of all the pieces included in the exhibit (as well as descriptions written by the artists) can be found here.