Wednesday, December 1, 2010


It has been a while since my experience in Nicaragua. I feel that the experience has made a huge impact in so many ways that I could not even begin to name them all.

One of the most memorable times there was when I taught a portrait painting class to the youth of Limay. The program encouraged us to combine our personal interests as artists with what we felt would benefit the participating youth. It was exciting because I really wanted to share what my experiences as a student of the arts at MICA with these kids. Since I too am a student, I felt that we shared this strong desire to increase our knowledge about something we felt passionate about. I felt that through teaching them something that I greatly cared about would help create a stronger understanding between the group and the kids. Although my Spanish speaking skills were limited, I felt confident that I would have no problem expressing my enthusiasm. The visual arts, after all is a non verbal language that has the power to break down cultural boundaries. It is a very felt and intuitive language. Participants only need eyes and feeling to share the beautiful language of images.

The class that I taught was over portraiture. I chose this subject because I wanted them to improve their observational skills. When a student first begins his or her studies in art, I feel that their preconceived notion of an object inhibits them from seeing an object as it really is. When trying to paint a person for example, one first impulsively responds by drawing the eyes as two ovals- the nose as a sharp triangle. I wanted to show them that the beauty of the variety of differences found in human features. There are shapes and colors found in a face that the artist must closely observe to discover. And when this moment happens, it is a delight because these details are what makes a person unique.

I first began by loosening them up with having them draw only parts of pictures. This way they only pay attention to shapes of positive and negative space registering the image as an object. Afterwards, I taught them to mix skin tones with the primary colors. I spoke to them to pay attention to the sensation of warm and cool colors when light hits the surface of the models face. The students were extremely engaged and asked a lot of questions. When I walked around to show some demonstrations, they took my suggestions very seriously and implemented what I taught in their work. Many of them begin several paintings. At the end of the session, the kids discussed in a casual critique what pieces they felt were most successful.

The Portraiture class that I taught was very fun, and I hope it taught the youth of Limay the importance of paying attention to the unique details that are found in all of us.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Photographic Reflection

It's been just over a month since we returned from Nicaragua and I feel I am only just starting to digest things now. I feel incredibly lucky to have shared this experience with such a talented and diverse group of artists, both from the US and Nicaragua. I'm excited to see everyone's work in the final exhibition.

Here are a few of my favorite photographs from Nicaragua. 

I'd love to see everyone's favorite images.

Also, I have posted my lesson plan on the Educational Resources page and will be posting others as I receive them, so take a look.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Art of Solidarity + VIMAU Video Documentaries

While in Esteli, Art of Solidarity participants worked with VIMAU to create four video documentaries.

The Process
The Process from amartray on Vimeo.

The Process documents cross-cultural artistic collaborations between North American and Nicaraguan artists. This year's Art of Solidarity participants traveled to Nicaragua to work with a collective of muralists and a group of video documentarians. After three years of collaboration, AOS participants document their collaborations and how they are able to use art to bridge language and cultural differences.

Por que somos lo que somos
Por que Somos lo que Somos from amartray on Vimeo.

Estelí is Nicaragua’s third largest city, located in the north, right on the Pan-American Highway. Known for its tobacco production, murals, and pleasant climate, Estelí has a rich archeological, social, and political history. Most Estelians remember the role their city played in the revolution but few know the origins of the city itself. Villa Vieja tells the story of how Estelí was founded. Located about 3 kilometers east of the city center lies a place called Villa Vieja, the place where the founders of Estelí first inhabited.

Con las manos: la industria tabacalera de Esteli, Nicaragua 
Con las Manos de Esteli from amartray on Vimeo.

Con las manos: la industria tabacalera de Esteli, Nicaragua (With the Hands: The Tobacco Industry in Esteli, Nicaragua) illustrates the impact of the tobacco industry in the department of Esteli, Nicaragua. Con las manos features interviews with a variety of workers from several factories, many who began working in the industry at a young age. Their stories reveal the impact of the tobacco industry on their personal lives and that of the surrounding community. Though the factories provide jobs and stability, there are concerns regarding health conditions and wages. For many, it is a simply a means to expand educational and career opportunities.

Estelinas from amartray on Vimeo.

Estelianas is an exploration into what life is like for women living in Esteli, Nicaragua. Five different women share their experiences and perspectives on work, marriage, school, and family. Through their stories the realities of women’s roles in Esteli’s past and present are explored. Within these testimonies the extraordinary resilience and sincerity of Estelian women come to light. The culmination is an optimistic look towards the future and the ever-continuing progress of women’s equality in Esteli, Nicaragua, and around the world.

The preceding projects are collaborations between North American artists and VIMAU Productions of Esteli, Nicaragua through the Art of Solidarity- a cultural exchange study abroad program of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Maryland.

In addition to creating four documentaries in Esteli, a small group of Art of Solidarity participants worked with youths in Limay to create a fictional film about drug use in their town.

El Mundo de las Drogas
El Mundo de las Drogas from amartray on Vimeo.

El Mundo de las Drogas is the story of two young brothers growing up in the town of Limay, Nicaragua. Struggling with the low wages and long hours of working in the fields, lack of support from their family, and lack of alternative opportunities to improve themselves, they turn to selling drugs as a means of making quick and easy money. They quickly fall into a cycle of addiction and crime that leads to a tragic ending.

This project was a collaboration between North American artists and high school students from the Instituto de Ruben Dario in Limay, Nicaragua, through the Art of Solidarity- a study abroad program of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Maryland. Through a week of workshops students wrote, produced and edited the project with the guidance of teaching artists from MICA.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Murals in Limay

Here final pictures of our work on the murals. These pictures are the last pictures that I took of the mural before we left Limay. The murals were hard work but we pushed through and completed these beautiful works of art.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Pacific Ocean

I have been to the Atlantic Ocean more than a dozen times in my life. So many times that I can not recall the exact number. I have never been to the Pacific Ocean or even come near to touching it. This journey has brought me so much joy! Being able to see another one of my God's creation is such a blessing. When I first arrived here to Leon, I looked at the water and sky and stood still for about five minutes, totally amazed by this experience. I stretched out my arms and smiled up to the Heavens. This is a sky that I will never forget, and an ocean that I can say that I touched or an ocean that has touched me for that matter.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

the atmosphere in Esteli

We are back in Esteli and have some time to reflect and unwind. I've been thinking about what I will miss the most, a few weeks ago I would have said the food but now I think I've had my fill of gallopinto and delicious, yet salty, fried things.
Apart from the natural beauty, the visuals I will remember most are the bright colors, details, and patterns in everyday things such as doors, window bars and hand-painted signs. Each block has its own combination of pastels, bright primary colors, tiles and bars in various patterns along with the lush greenery of palms and plants with large, waxy leaves. These pictures are only small parts of what makes up the atmosphere in Esteli.

Long overdue...

Working on the tobacco project I learned a lot. I never knew anything about Nicaragua prior to this trip, nor more specifically about Esteli. Esteli's main economic resource is tobacco and its cigar production. Not knowing anything about this, my group decided to investigate. At first it was rough, not knowing what was possible. After plans falling through and lucky coincidences we were able to conquer all. We learned a wide perspective rather than the obvious negative one. We were granted access to various factories, to film, and to interview. I hope that our video illustrated to others what we learned and emphasized the people who make up the workforce rather than the industry itself. It was important to share their voices and their words to others.
I can't believe how fast the time went. Since arriving back in Esteli, I have not felt like myself. I am lost. Being in Limay was an altering experience. One, I will never forget.

Being in Limay, I cannot emphasize enough my surprise by the students we worked with. These young individuals are so interested and eager to paint and to do art. I cannot explain enough how rewarding that was. It's also upsetting to know that these individuals may not get the opportunity to further improve their skills or pursue art as a career. I am still going through a confusion about being back in Esteli where USA capitalism is so fermented into the city more so than in Limay...

My words would be best after I get the chance to think and write it all out at my own place. For now I'm still trying to enjoy my time here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Check out our awesome murals! We've been working with youth in Limay for the past week or so, determining content and creating designs for the murals. There are two murals, though only one is pictured in this entry. This mural is on the Center for Youth and Adolescents. Its themes focus on different issues that youth here see in their community, including drug use, domestic violence, and teen pregnancy. We've got one day left to finish - I'm about to go paint!

Scorpions, Tarantulas, GIANT Beetles, Oh My!!

Limay is a beautiful, beautiful place, but one of it's downfalls (in my book) is the crazy assortment of bugs that live here. The scarab to the left is one example - we found it crawling on the doorway of Dona Nilia's home, where we eat breakfast and lunch.

This one is a male (you can tell by the big horn on it's head). It was 5"-6" long, and quite slow-moving. A couple of us were brave enough to 'pet' it - the brown part on it's back is velvety soft - surprising for such an 'ugly' bug. It seemed almost like a dinosaur, and when it walked, you could hear it's different body parts rubbing against each other.

While this is a pretty awesome animal to encounter, it's slightly frightening when one considers that this same animal, or others (see title for other prime candidates) could be waiting in the dark latrine at 11:00 pm when you just really need to run in and use the bathroom! So far, encounters with the undesireable insects have been limited to ant attacks (me) and a scorpion sighting (Marci). I personally would LOVE to see a scorpion, though I always clap out my shoes before I put them on so I don't get too close...

El Sapo

While in Limay our group is working on two projects with students at the youth center. The majority of Art of Solidarity participants are working on mural projects. I am working with a smaller group that is leading students in the creation of a video. 

Our students chose to work with the theme of drug abuse in Limay. In the course of planning out their video, students decided that they wanted to shoot a scene in Limay's police station. Not only did the police agree to let our students film in the station, they also agreed to act in our film! On of our student actors was booked, cuffed and thrown in a cell. After shooting this scene the police also filmed a chase scene where they catch a drug dealer in the act. It was a fun shoot, and the police seemed to enjoy it as much as the students did.

Overall our students have done an awesome job both on camera and behind the scenes. I've been really impressed by their ability to select a theme, generate a story, and edit it down to create a storyboard. I've also been impressed by how well they have been framing their shots. 

Here are some images taken during shooting:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sabado! Sabado!

Saturday! Videos! The "Exquisite Eight" (meaning Marci, Sophia, Trami, Rikiesha, Moira, Kristin, Becca and myself) will be there! PLUS Eddy, Jonys, Jorge of VIMAU! AND the talented trio of Aleks, Maria, and Mario! As well as various other really wonderful people! What more could you want? Commmmeee onnnn dowwwwwwn to Esteli!

Monday, August 9, 2010

I have never milked a cow before and I may never milk a cow after what I experienced this day I went with Oscar. This cow kicked, screamed and mooooooed for a while before Oscar was able to milk it. The cow had an infection and she was not feeling well so she was really irritated :( After all the kicking, screaming and trouble that the cow gave Oscar, he was finally able squirt some milk out and this beautiful music was made...listen :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

In Limay I have seen things that I've never seen up close before like little pigs, horses, chickens and green mountains. I also like the everyday things that are slightly different from what I'm used to, like chairs made of plastic and nylon cords, brightly colored hammocks and doors and window panes painted bright turquoise.

I also recently learned how to make one of my favorite beverages, Horchata, from my host mother, la Profesora. Rice andjicama powder, cinnamon and water.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

San Juan de Limay - first thoughts

San Juan de Limay is breathtaking. The town sits in a valley surrounded by mountains. Cars and busses are almost obsolete here; horses and bicycles are the main mode of transportation. I feel like I'm in the wild, wild west - men ride around on horses, and it's not unusual for cows to be herded through the streets. There are tons of beautiful chickens and roosters walking around, and there are tons of cute little cats and dogs!

We live with host families right now, which is a very humbling experience. My family is kind, gracious, and quite giving. I feel lucky to be in their home, and interacting with them in a day to day basis. We watch telenovellas together and draw in the of my necessary tactics, since my Spanish needs much polishing.

We;ve had crazy adventures, walking though pastures and ducking under barbed wire fences in search of the local river, and milking cows at 6:00 in the morning. Much more to come from my fellow travellers, I'm sure!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


After I took this picture I went to lunch and had a conversation with the waitress who worked there. I learned that she was 15 years old and moved by herself from the Atlantic Coast, south of the Rio Coco, to Esteli to work. She spoke some Miskito to me because I told her I had never heard it before and then told me (in Spanish) that she liked Chinese fighting movies.
So, where to begin. There really is no clear beginning to this trip. So much has happened, so much I have experienced, and so much I have learned. I cannot exactly do justice with words, and well, even more sowithout a picture in my first post, but I'll see what I can do.

Straight up, I'm not one to post blogs or use the internet much when I'm not at home. In fact, I've been more or less avoiding so, in order to integrate into living rather than retelling it through the internet. Yes, hesistant and avoidant, I know. a beautiful town. Upon arrival from Managua, I fell in love with the green mountains and the visibility of crisp sky. Since arriving in Nicaragua, the landscapes are ones that I will never forget, both in the city and in the rural areas. Each has its own identity and beauty.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Clase con Senora Blanca

En este photographia, nosotros tenemos clase con nuestra maestra de Espanol! Cada dia, estudiamos por tres horas.

For those of you who don't know me, that sentence would have been a lot worse a week ago! Thanks to three-hour classes with Senora Blanca every morning, I've made a bit of progress in my ability to communicate here. Even more importantly, she's very open with us and a lot of our time is spent discussing what life is like for her here. She's really sweet and has a very charming personality. It's really exciting to have her open up to us and talk freely about her beliefs, family, and outlook. Although she represents only one person's experience, it's a rare thing to find someone to willing to talk, and the best part is, it's all in Spanish! Muchas gracias, Senora!!

A City Full of Professional Graffiti Artists!

Holy crap! There's sooooooooo much awesome graffiti here. It seems like every spare flat surface is either painted or graffitied...but really well. take this Lady to the left, she's on someone's garage door! Imagine seeing that back in the States!

The visual stimulai of the city as well as all the public artwork is really inspiring. I love the colors of the houses, as well as the art, and I'm excited to sit down and make some new paintings!

Magic Mountains

I love the sky in Esteli - it's absolutely stunning. The mountains to the West create a dramatic backdrop to the city itself, and they seem to impact the weather patterns. Sometimes heavy clouds hang over them, like fantastical hands creeping towards the city. This photo faces the west, the direction that weather patterns seem to come from (I blame the mountains!) They really seem like something from a fairy tale to me - I want to explore them!!!

Further on Up the Road

A blanket of smokey fog surrounds the group as we look for an entrance to a bat cave.
Drum Roll....


Look at my new pets! Sleepy and Grumpy :)

A Love Story

I stood in front of a lake filled to the brim with silver liquid. The light reflected on The Lake’s surface does a sensual dance especially for me, a garish display that reveals the true depth of its mystery. Nothing was clearer, as The Lake locked my eye: that moment, a poem was created that would take a thousand years to die. And I stood before the lake, alone before this alluring specter, I wanted more than anything to walk away, to experience the waking morning as I did yesterday, with an absent but satisfied mind. People, newspapers, cars, all become a revolting banality! The Lake did not spare me! The smell of freshness, a blindingly white arena of fog frames my vision. A true tease: This natural and flawless beauty lacked the ability to love any one or anything. Despite all of this, I loved all the more. Black silhouetted mountains line the horizon forever form an eternal embrace with The Lake. Envy fills me. The clouds were in love with it too; for they could not hold their place in the sky, but chose to lie intimately upon the surface, upon the skin, of my beautiful Lake.

Visual Culture

 En primer lugar, quiero compartir algunos enlaces a mi trabajo personal:
(La primera página de mi sitio web es en Inglés, pero el resto también están en español.)
Flickr photos

An excerpt from my first reflection:
Upon entering the city of Estelí one can feel its character viscerally. Despite our urban setting, lush green mountains remain visible to the east and west. The streets are lined with vibrantly painted homes, and businesses are covered with carefully rendered illustrations advertising the goods sold within. Every surface is like a thoroughly worked canvas, rich with color, pattern and texture. It seems as though the people of Estelí possess an innate sense of color and composition. While I came to Estelí knowing that it is home to a rich community of artists, I had no idea that artistic acuity would be so deeply infused in the culture of its people. Never before have I seen such striking and pervasive visual culture.

For me, the most striking features of this city are the hand painted signs and murals. Text and image are applied directly to the city’s architecture, becoming part of the visual landscape, rather than intruding on it like modern advertising in the United States. I can’t help but picture the skyline of Boston from the upper deck of 93, now cluttered with at least a dozen Clear Channel billboards advertising everything from the local YMCA to Miller Light. Even walking down the street in Boston, and every other city I have traveled to, the landscape is littered with visual communication that is completely at odds with its surroundings. While every surface in Estelí is saturated it is never jarring. As a designer I find this continuity between culture and visual language fascinating. Even logos for modern goods and services have been skillfully translated into this language. Seeing these familiar symbols rendered in this way throws my sense of time and place off kilter. In general Estelí is a fascinating mélange of past and present, where horse drawn wagons plod down streets lined with cyber cafes.



It's lunch time. Marci (my extraordinary project partner) is out taking a well deserved lunch break and I am sitting in the sweltering Vimau office...blogging. It's more exciting than it sounds. We've been making some real progress on our video about Esteli women despite some stressful setbacks. I'm feeling positive. We're deep into the editing process now, no more filming. In fact we are supposed to share our finished video with the group tonight... I'm hoping for an oscar nomination. I think that's totally doable... how hard could it be?
Back in reality, I'm really proud of what all the groups have been able to do with the short amount of time that we've had to create these videos. We've got four groups working on different topics: Tobacco/cigar production in Esteli, Esteli's historical background its relationship to Esteli today, the lives of women in Esteli, and a documentation of the collaboration between Vimau, the muralist collective, and MICA. I imagine they will all be on the internet at some point. Keep an eye out.
Awesome pictures of our trip to be added later, bye for now.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Place You Ought to Know

As I walk down the streets of Esteli, Nicaragua past all of the concrete houses, I realize that I am thirsty for some fresh squeezed juice. Lucky me, Nicaragua offers a large variety of freshly grown local fruits at very cheap expense. I think I am in a paradise. Meet Maria Gabriella. Our Fearless Leader. Full of Grace. She is offering me some delicious smoothie of some sort. She is not happy to share.

Scenes like these are not something you see anywhere but Nicaragua! As I sit in a tour van, a man zooms by with a cow cozily tucked in the back. Oh, my.

Kiss T-Shirt with Sandel Socks?!
I'm a-makin' new friends everyday. Even with my limited Spanish speaking skills, I find it very easy to make friends with locals. We can't immediately debate politics, but every one is interested in what you have to say. It is a very comfortable and cultivating environment for learning Spanish.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Delicious food in Nicaragua (Estelí)

I love taking pictures of my food it is an art for me especially, when the food looks like a beautifully painted picture. Sharing pictures of foods we have been eating here allows you to join in on the meal. As you can see we have been eating very good meals (and for cheap too!) We purchased most of these meals for $1.00. The most we have paid for a meal was probably no more than $5.00. On the trip there are four vegetarians, two people who eats poultry and seafood, and six people who will eat anything (meaning there are some dishes that are not represented here because I only eat certain kinds of foods.) I hope you have enjoyed sharing these meals with us, and I hope that they were just as good to you as they were to us.

इस थिस थाई?

For those of you, like myself, who can't read the title of this post it's supposed to be something like "The Women of Esteli: a video project."

Our group's topic is gender, specifically: what is life like for a woman here?
We've interviewed many women ranging in age and socio-economic backgrounds to learn about the challenges they face, what makes them feel unique, and how this generation of young women differs from previous ones.

My goal is to help create a video that captures the strength and sincerity of all the women we have met and worked with here while addressing economic and cultural issues. It's been difficult to say the least but an amazing learning experience.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

We've been busy!

Just wanted to post a quick photo update of some of the awesomeness we have been up to. Feel free to post photos and comments!

Some images from our mural tour with Marco of the Muralist collective, as well as a few images of us all working on our video projects with VIMAU!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Art of Solidarity: Blog 1

This blog has been created to document The Art of Solidarity: Cultural Exchange & Collaboration 2010

Innovation, social justice, and adventure thrive in the MICA in Nicaragua program. Here students interested in community arts and in documentary video come together to collaborate with Nicaraguan artists. The small mountain city of Esteli, where the program begins, has deep roots in music, dance, and folklore. Since the revolution of 1979, it has become a hub of public art and performance. Esteli's Casa de Cultura (Cultural Center) is a municipal art space with studios, workshops, and exhibitions-muralists, oil painters, corn husk mosaic artists, musicians, youth media groups, and performance artists all use the space. For two weeks, MICA in Nicaragua participants will build relationships with artists, collectives, and community art organizations. Workshops will introduce students to traditional and emerging cultural practices and offer the opportunity to discuss social, political, and generational significance. Esteli will orient students to the language and culture before they proceed to Limay. 

For more information, click here.