When a Wall Becomes a Window

When you imagine Central America you think of color, vibrancy, excitement and Leon, Nicaragua is no let down. The houses are brightly colored. The decommissioned American school buses outfitted for Central American public transportation are painted with bright colors and intricate designs. Music fills the streets, vendors call out to those passing by and cars with speakers blast announcements and ads for locals. In short, Nicaraguans love energy and excitement and when there is none, they add it. Throughout the city the plain colored walls around parks and the bland faces of the buildings have been filled with public art. These pieces are carefully planned murals painted by aspiring artists or groups of students for all to enjoy. However, a closer looks at these brightly colored, beautiful works indicates a significance well beyond “looking pretty.”

Murals have an important history in Nicaragua. Following the Revolution in the 1970s, these works filled the streets of Nicaragua with the stories of the triumphant Sandinistas, the carnage of the Contra-Revolutionary War that followed and the future Nicaraguans hoped for. Empty spaces were filled with vibrant depictions of the demise of Samosa, the horrors of Contra soldiers firing into non-violent student protests and the triumph of Nicaraguan students unlocking the potential of education all at the same time. Together these images tell the well-known story from various perspectives with various values highlighted, yet at the same time is uniquely Nicaraguan.

After the Revolution and the Contra war the mural painting tradition continued. Many new murals seek to interpret where Nicaraguan culture is headed. They depict the past as a relevant piece of the future. They interweave the legends, stories and pasts of ancestors with the questions of the present and future. How will technology effect such a culturally rich and close-knit community? Will it tear the very fabric of social life? Is technology a new cultural imperialism being impressed upon communities? Or is it the new educational potential for students, providing access for all those who seek it? These murals perform a task which is not so easy and in high demand around the world. They weave together meaningful pasts to make sense of the present and seek to improve the future.

Therefore beyond just making the streets more vibrant and colorful the murals play an important role in the community. They are means of self-expression for local artists and students, in a country where art is less common in schools. They serve as reminders of fallen heroes, failed ideas, and successful innovations and they question the role of these histories in the context of the present. Meanwhile for us foreigners, they allow us to each walk through time with a Nicaraguan guide, hearing stories filled with all of the emotions and honesty of the Nicaraguan people of failures, triumphs and hopes for the future. It offers us a window to delve in, ask questions and immerse ourselves with the modest, wise and resilient people of Nicaragua. Most importantly, every time we look back at those murals after meeting yet another perspective or after hearing another story we will uncover something new to aid in our understanding and draw us closer to the community we now call home.

Rebecca Duffy ’16