Our team in Bolivia was brainstorming at the beginning of this year about how to raise public awareness on social equity – and came up with the idea of an art competition. This must be put in the context of a country with a very diverse population, in which until recently, an indigenous person had significantly lesser and more limited life opportunities than a person of European descent. As noted in a previous posting, societal attitudes also permit a high level of violence against women. Yet both these social “norms” are changing fast. The leadership of President Evo Morales has catalysed a renewed sense of pride in indigenous culture. In addition, opportunities for women to participate in public life are far greater than in the past.
Opportunities are one thing; grasping them is another. Despite much progress, attitudes in rural areas, in particular, remain narrow and traditional. Starting a discussion on how things might be different is never easy. Our team members thought that an art project might be a good entry point – challenging artists to come up with a visual portrayal of what social equity means to them. The intention was to then use the winning pictures in developing a variety of communication materials, both for use with our partners and with the general public
The entries were judged by a panel comprising two art experts, one gender specialist, and two Helvetas-Bolivia representatives. It was two art students, both from rural backgrounds and in their final year of study at the Major University of San Andrés located in La Paz city, who topped the list. First prize (of approximately US $ 800) went to Herlan Balboa, for his painting entitled “Weaving Equality”. This draws on the fact that weaving is a very traditional art form in Bolivia; he explained that for a well woven society, men and women need to live in equal conditions. Herlan chose acrylic paint to build up many layers, thus giving his painting texture, whilst using warm, traditional colours.
Second prize (of approximately US $ 500) was awarded to Ronald Candida for his oil painting “Hidden Perspectives”. He elaborated, “I wanted show that the identity of people goes beyond their cultural origin, gender or age. In this picture, all eyes are at the same height and is difficult to distinguish whether they belong to men or women, people of Andean, African or Asian descent, someone young or someone old.” Both artists said that they would use their prize money to buy further artistic materials.
The two winning paintings were recently displayed in an art museum in La Paz, in an exhibition featuring the work of young artists. With a number of other entries, they are now adorning the walls of our office in La Paz, where they have also stimulated reflection amongst our staff members. Staff are divided on which of the two winners they prefer – generally agreeing that the equity between men and women is clearly represented in the first, whilst admiring the expressiveness of the faces portrayed in the second. To be honest, I am visually more drawn to the runner-up painting, but you can judge the paintings properly for yourself on our Helvetas Bolivia website.
This is my last posting before the Christmas-New Year break. Here’s wishing very happy festivities for those taking leave – and for those who are not, hoping that they experience no inconvenience from the holiday shut-down in many parts of the world.