Julie Aguirre: Nicaraguan Primitivist Painter
Detail of FUNDECI mural. "The united community."

Mural-Making: An Act of Love for the Nicaraguan People

With the advent of the Sandinista Revolution, we began constructing monumental works. We painted murals in the open air with blue skies as the backdrop. As a primitivist artist, changing from small canvases to walls of monumental stature was a marvellous transition. We collaborated with other primitivist artists including Hilda Vogl and Manuel García. To share this experience together and to work side-by-side was amazing. It was not only an opportunity to work cooperatively with other artists, but also to invite the public to participate. Our murals were transformed by the public's vision.

The first time we climbed the scaffold and painted on a massive scale, we each painted our own motifs in our own signature styles. For instance, I am engrossed with urban realism and I depicted the family in urban dwellings.

  "La Vaquita," a courting dance. Mural for expecting mothers at a women's health center in Nicaragua.

The first mural I painted was at the Luis Alfonso Velásquez Park. There were other painters there that were not primitivists but had formal schooling in visual arts such as Leonel Cerrato, Alejandro Canales, Genero Lugo, María Gallo. They worked on different pieces of the same site, on the North wall and on the South Wall. This is how many murals were created in Managua and other cities. Some painters were unknown and some were apprentices to painters that formed the Muralist School. Foreign art brigades also did extensive works.

This was neither a political or a commercial venture. It was an act of love for the Nicaraguan people, to educate them about Nicaraguan art. The tragic thing is that the murals were destroyed.

Destroying Murals but not History

  Gathering to discuss women's issues.

What happened at the beginning of the 90s? One day, the-then mayor of Managua, Arnoldo Alemán, began destroying the murals in an effort to erase history. The neighbors came to my door one day to tell me what was happening. We all went right away to the park - all the artists together. They had still not destroyed the primitivist murals. We managed to stop them from destroying what was left of the murals. Eventually, Alemán said that he was going to respect and restore the public murals. They were decreed a national patrimony. The painters sued for reparations. The judges were afraid in those days because Alemán had lots of friends among the ex-Somocistas. The lawsuit failed. We used every weapon we had to fight this battle. Alemán went back and erased the primitivist murals and many others. But he cannot erase the history of this country. History will show that Alemán is a man without culture, without integrity, and without honor.

Cultural Brigade

  Mural for expecting mothers at a women's health center in Nicaragua.

During the Revolution, there was cultural prosperity and artists formed groups to spread this richness. Cultural brigades were formed from dance and theater groups, musicians, photographers and select writers. We numbered about three hundred - the visual artists about one hundred.

In New Guinea, the people had never seen a dance group but they knew what poetry was. They had learned to read during the Literacy Crusade, but they had never heard a poet. We, the visual artists, did not know what to do. A dancer naturally dances, a poet reads his poems. But as visual artists we were not sure what form our contribution should take. We decided to draw sketches, portraits, and other works to create a show.

In Selaya, a mural was left in a cultural center. When enough people came together, a mural was painted and the people took part. It was quite a change from creating a work in isolation in your gallery to going to the countryside to face the reality that our country was living. Here is where I found a lot of inspiration for my later works. That was like school for me. Another interesting thing was being able to bring the city to the country and the country to the city.

  Mural depicts the plight of Nicaraguan women.

It was quite dangerous in the northern areas. One hundred and twenty of us artists were not armed. We were between fifteen and eighteen years old. Manual García, Santos Medina and I - the only woman painter - heard an alarm warning us that armed Contra troops were approaching the border with Costa Rica. The warning lasted from eleven at night to early the next morning. We had to flee because not all of the people could have been given protection.

We had to walk three kilometers in bad conditions at two o'clock in the morning. We walked in the water, fearing the Contras with every step, holding our knapsacks, carrying our art materials, clothing, guitars, big bags, books, watercolors, and a gun to protect the children. We walked with all of our senses. Something could happen any time. We were lucky, it was only an alarm.

  Detail of FUNDECI mural.

Without eating, without sleeping, we arrived at ten in the morning. We walked 35 kilometers in those conditions. With a lot of luck, we got to Cardenas.' But those were positive experiences. It is good to go to the people in your country - otherwise I would not have important things to tell you and my daughter, my friends.

My neighborhood is my inspiration to paint. My work comes from my memories, from the streets - from people coming and going. That is my wealth, landscapes with urban themes.

My Husband's Death

  Detail of FUNDECI mural.

I relive my memories when I paint. I could not go to art school. Art was only my hobby when I ran across a friend who was with another friend. This friend's name was Olmer Madriga. He is a painter.

Our conversation centered on painting. Olmer liked my passion for painting. One day, he gave me a set of oil paints and this made me very happy. I began to paint by myself. I used to look on when he painted. He had some schooling. He had studied in Italy. "You must draw," he nagged me. "I draw things as I feel them," I responded. "Besides, t hey are going to mock me," I said. But he encouraged me. So, art brought us together. We fell in love and got married.

My husband, Olmer , said that my work was coming along quite well. I learned everything I know from him, which is to paint incessantly. Painting for me is innate. If I am a primitivist or nativist painter I don't know. I don't want to put a name on it.

  The community united -- unity produces strength.

My husband, who was a true painter, was murdered by the guardia (National Guard). This sadness lingers in our homes. After much pain and growth, in the end, we must go on. We must remember a compañero that was killed in battle. It is in their memory that we were demanding in our work. Even if we lost loved ones, parents, children, brothers and sisters in this sad struggle, we must seek unity so that we will not be alone in the days to come.


Credit: Interview with Julie Aguirre - conducted, transcribed and translated by Claudia von Vacano, Learning, Design & Technology Program, Stanford School of Education. Revised by K. Stevens, Stanford Center for Latin American Studies, 7/22/00.