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Continuing my exploration of the built environment, and examining its impact on the development of human identity, the exhibition 'Raíces: Imperio, Reino, República' encompasses centuries of Central American history in this expansive collection of work. Twenty-seven pieces depicting maps and architectural drawings of Guatemala's past, strive to highlight the tumultuous history of a nation who underwent bloody and radical transformations, the scars of which have never truly healed. Presented in the ruins of the Dominican monastery of Santiago de los Caballeros - currently the Santo Domingo Museum, Antigua Guatemala - this exhibition opened in 2021; in time for the bicentennial anniversary of Guatemala's independence.  

In the midst of a global health crisis, which joins ongoing humanitarian and climate crises that are presently converging over Latin America, the need to properly address and dissect the complex history of the continent becomes even more pressing. Especially in regards to my generation, who are subject to the cancel culture phenomenon, fake news, doctored history, and standardized educations, it is imperative we acknowledge the heritage of inequity we are presented with, lest we find ourselves stuck in a continuous cycle of self-harm. Therefore, the history I research and present is not chosen simply for the sake of historic preservation, but instead represents a curated selection of historic moments which showcase specific turning points in the social evolution of the region.

 

Each chapter of Guatemala's history, which I represent thorough the architecture of the time, is meant to highlight the lessons these places contain; lessons which serve us well today in confronting problems of the present. 

"I have great respect for the past. If you don't know where you've come from, you don't know where you're going."

- Maya Angelou

"El Quinto Real"_Map of Central America 1609
Map of the captaincy general of Guatemala in 1609.jpg

El Quinto Real (The Royal Fifth)


127cm x 190cm
modeling paste, gold leaf, acrylic, on canvas
2021


- map of the Captaincy General of Guatemala 1609

In 1609 what would be known as the Captaincy General of Guatemala (also known as the “Kingdom of Guatemala”) was established under the rule of the viceroyalty of New Spain. Within this “kingdom” were the five provinces of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. The peoples of these lands lived under the iron rule of the Spanish crown, and were forced to pay a specific tax to the king known as “el Quinto Real” (the royal fifth). Essentially one fifth of all of one’s wealth was considered the property of the king, and thus would be shipped away to a place most of those people would never even see. 

When Spain’s grip on the land was broken, and the kingdom shattered, five separate nations emerged. Despite being brothers, born under the same oppression, and tethered by the same chains, these nations preferred to brave the new democratic age alone. Whatever their reasoning for this decision at the time, history has proven that unity makes for strength; and what is more unifying than having shared in the same suffering? 

One day perhaps Central America will remember a time in which we were brothers. On that day we might choose to focus on all the things that unify us, rather than the few that divide us; and we may ask ourselves what kind of “royal fifth” are we still paying?
 

Mi Querida Viejita (My Dear Old Friend)


190cm x 127cm
modeling paste, gold leaf, acrylic, on canvas 
2021


- map of Santiago de los Caballeros (Antigua Guatemala) 1773

Dedicated to Lilia Cofiño de Carrera

LA CIUDAD DE LAS PERPETUAS ROSAS

by Carlos Wyld Ospina

Esta ciudad en Rodenbach dormida,
cerró los ojos a la edad presente;
y enamorada de su antigua vida
se echó a soñar introspectivamente...

Las muertas horas, los cansados días,
desdoblando un iluso panorama
que se pierde en astrales lejanías,
dejaron rastros de un infausto drama
entre rotos fragmentos de elegías...
Y el ojo del misterio nos acecha
y el brujo encanto se abre como una
flor: ¡oh, leyenda sin título ni fecha,
historia sin prestigio ni fortuna,
ensueño donde rueda la ilusoria
música del silencio de la luna
sobre el horror de la ciudad deshecha...!

Yo divagué por sus callejas solas
y me apoyé en sus muros desolados;
crucé sus grandes plazas españolas,
hechas para desfiles de soldados;
soñé bajo el reposo de las naves
de informes templos de vencidos arcos,

que dejan entrever los cielos suaves
como a través de destrozados marcos,
y donde, entre el abrazo de la hiedra,
que enrosca el tallo a tropicales palmas,
lloran las epopeyas de la piedra
el sino tempestuoso de las almas...

Aja la tarde desvaídas sedas
en la rota Babel de los escombros,
y pasa, entre las hondas arboledas,
un eco de anacrónicos asombros:
¡llorad inacabables elegías
inánime dolor de cosas muertas,
agonía de viejas agonías,
alma de esta ciudad de almas desiertas...!

Yerta, vives aún. Tú no reposas
en el bíblico polvo todavía.
Tienes, cual las esfinges pavorosas,
por bajo tu silencio sobrehumano,
un gesto de inmortal melancolía
que mide, sin hablar, todas las cosas:
tu hálito sepulcral, tibio, lejano,
se aroma aún en tus perpetuas rosas.

Un milagro de rosas inocente
atempera tu lívido letargo:
ha nacido de ti, como una fuente
de las entrañas de un dolor amargo.

Rosas en el jardín de tus conventos;
rosas en tus capillas solitarias,
donde los cristos, cárdenos y cruentos
tienen grandes, pupilas visionarias;
rosas de los altares, con dorados
relieves, y vitrales y frontones,

donde miran sin ver, rostros cegados
de santos, sus eternas tentaciones:
flor de oración y extático delirio
que el mago influjo de la sangre ama,
y ofrece a los espasmos de la llama
la carne mártir y el votivo cirio...

En la tarde un' perfume se difunde:
dulce y lejano, penetrante, inmenso;
sube, se pierde, reaparece y se hunde
en el éter sutil, como un incienso:
son rosas de tus patios solariegos
y rosas de tus huertas vespertinas;
sidéreas rosas de tus cielos griegos
que eternizan su azur sobre tus ruinas;
y son las rosas que en tu suelo suave
se abren, en el milagro de la ofrenda
cuyo místico aroma no se sabe
si sólo es un perfume de leyenda...

Campanas, rosas; rosas y campanas:
flores de seda y flores de armonía
llenan la paz de todas tus mañanas
y cubren de tus tardes la agonía.

Ya no eres -¡oh ciudad!- más que un dormido
osario, en que cadáveres de flores
diluyen en los vientos del olvido
vagas fragancias de épocas mejores.

Y así, con melancólico desgaire,
opones a tus mudos desconsuelos
un perfume de rosas en el aire
y un gemir de campanas en los cielos...

Mi Querida Viejita_Map of Antigua Guatemala 1773
Antigua_Guatemala_location_map.jpg
La Nueva Patrona

La Nueva Patrona (The New Patron)


122cm x 91cm
modeling paste, acrylic, on canvas
2021


- floor plan of the Metropolitan Cathedral, Guatemala City

Following the tragic fate of Santiago de los Caballeros, the new city of Guatemala de la Asunción was established. Rather than the whimsical baroque architecture of Santiago, this new city opted for the Neoclassical style. Long has this style been associated with the rule of law, stability, and strength; ideal in the end for a city destined to be an independent capital.

It is said that the Neoclassical style did not properly take root until after the construction of the new Cathedral. While its plans were already determined by 1779 (six years after its predecessor's destruction), the first stone was not placed until 1782, and the building would take a further 33 years before it could begin to function. In 1815, the venerated image of Nuestra Señora del Socorro was carried in procession to the new temple, and placed upon the main altar; a new patron for a new city. 
 

Catedral Metropolitana de Guatemala.jpg
340px-Catedralplano1782.jpg

Aplausos en Cobre (Applauses in Copper)


122cm x 76cm
modeling paste, acrylic, gold leaf, on canvas
2021


- floor plan of the Miguel Ángel Asturias theater, Guatemala City

The National Theater, located within the Cultural Center Miguel Angel Asturias, might not be for everyone. The 1970s, when it was built, was a time of exploration for many societies, and the styles that came out of that time are either loved or hated today. Yet even the staunchest critics of 70s architecture have to admit, it was a very interesting time. As new ideas and concepts swept the world, Guatemala was looking to show a new side of itself. As society slowly moved out of the Eurocentric worldview, ideas and concepts inspired by Guatemala’s original inhabitants came to light. 

Completed by the renown artist and engineer Efraín Recinos, the exterior of the building was made to look like a sitting jaguar. Within the space all the glory of the 70s can be found, from wood paneling, wall to wall red carpets, and gold finishes all around! Again, you either love it or you hate it. Yet I invite you to think of that moment in time when people had a vision and an ambition for a new modern Guatemala; one no longer bound by the legacy of colonizers and oppressors; a Guatemala with its own unique identity. 
 

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Aplausos en Cobre_plano del teatro nacional miguel angel asturias
Partial floor plan of the Santo Domingo Monastery in Antigua Guatemala

Los Domingos Olvidados (The Forgotten Sundays)


102cm x 102cm
modeling paste, gold leaf, acrylic, on canvas
2021


- partial floor plan of the church of Santo Domingo, Antigua Guatemala

The monastery of Santo Domingo is perhaps one of the most tragic losses of the 1773 earthquakes. It is written that Santo Domingo had massive bell towers, sumptuous cloisters and chapples, gardens and orchards, and even an enclosed reflecting pool in which the monks could fish! The altars, sculptures, and silverware that was salvaged (today located in Guatemala City’s Santo Domingo church) proves that this was one of the most beautiful and emblematic buildings of the New World. 

Unfortunately the Santa Martha earthquakes of 1773 reduced this magnificent building to rubble. In the years that followed it was used as a quarry to scavenge for building materials on the cheap; such was the level of deterioration that no one thought it would ever be restored. Today, obviously, it has seen a dramatic reversal of its fate. However, despite the keen interest of many historians over the years, original floor plans have not been found, so the exact map of this building remains as one of Antigua’s best guarded secrets. 
 

Navidad 1917 (Christmas 1917)


91cm x 152cm
modeling paste, acrylic, on canvas
2021


- map of Guatemala City 1917

When the new city of Guatemala de la Asunción was established, the valley of la Ermita was chosen because it was completely surrounded by deep ravines, which the founders of the new city believed would protect it from the earthquakes that frequently occur in the country. However, a series of earthquakes that occurred between 1917-18 put an end to this false belief.

On December 25, 1917, at 10:20 p.m. the first disastrous earthquake occurred. An earthquake like never before, the earth shook in waves like seawater. The inhabitants stepped out into the cold night air as their houses creaked and cracked. When the power grid failed, the moonlight spared no detail, and the citizens of Guatemala watched in horror as their city collapsed around them.

Even when the earthquake stopped, and silence returned to the night, the citizens feared an aftershock that surely arrived. At 11:23 p.m. there was a second earthquake that lasted the same as the previous one, but of greater intensity. Whatever survived the first impact didn't for much longer. Under a full moon, people gathered in parks and streets as aftershock after aftershock ravaged the city until dawn.

Guatemala de la Asunción, the "Pearl of Central America," ​​was reduced to rubble in a single Christmas night.
 

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Santa Marta _ Map of Antigua Guatemala 1773

Santa Marta 1773


102cm x 102cm
modeling paste, acrylic, on canvas
2021


- map of Santiago de los Caballeros 1773

The history of Guatemala is written by earthquakes. None perhaps as iconic as the Santa Marta earthquakes of 1773 that ended the life of Santiago de los Caballeros, the then capital of the Captaincy General of Guatemala.

Of all the great seismic events that determined the fate of this nation, the scars of Santa Marta are still evident today, as the city of Santiago was frozen in time from that year on.

But perhaps a detail that many do not know today is that the greatest damages that were observed in the centuries to follow were not caused by the earthquake, but by the citizens themselves. While large structures like the many churches had collapsed in the quake, many of the houses had survived. But with the royal decree for the abandonment of the city, and the migration to the new capital that followed, many citizens uprooted everything that could be saved. Columns, floors, roofs, windows, rails, and whatever else they could carry was taken away.

Thus it was that the houses of Santiago de Guatemala also, in a certain sense, moved to their new home.
 

Santa Maria 1902


102cm x 102cm
modeling paste, acrylic, on canvas
2021


- map of Quetzaltenango 1902

Between October 24 and 25 of 1902, the Santa María volcano erupted in one of the largest eruptions the region had seen in centuries. The damage was felt throughout the western part of the country. For more than 20 hours, ash fell as rain on areas of Guatemala, Soconusco and Chiapas. The areas of Quetzaltenango and San Marcos were covered by half a meter of volcanic material.

The city of Quetzaltenango, which was still recovering from an earthquake that occured on April 18, urgently needed help. However, the government of Manuel Estrada Cabrera turned a blind eye. After a difficult year in which natural disasters had devastated the nation, Cabrera had organized, with much pomp and gallantry, a "Festival of Minerva" that would act as a showcase for Guatemala to the world.

Cabrera completely ignored the eruption, leaving the citizens of Guatemala's second-largest city at the mercy of the elements, all so that his festival could continue uninterrupted. 

On June 3, 2018, another leader downplayed a volcanic eruption. In fact, with much less boldness, but no less apathy.

In this land of beauty and generosity, we cannot ignore the high price to pay. The history of Guatemala is written by the wrath of nature. When such wrath occurs, where is the characteristic kindness of Guatemalans? Will Cabrera's cruelty be allowed to continue? Or will we help each other rise from the ashes?
 

Santa Maria 1902
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El Capitán 1764
Palacio de los capitanes antigua guatemala.jpg

El Capitán 1764 (The Captain 1764)


120cm x 120cm
modeling paste, acrylic, gold leaf, on canvas
2021


- floor plan of the Palace of Captains, Antigua Guatemala

Of Antigua’s iconic architecture one striking specimen is undoubtedly the Palace of the Captain General. It is hard to miss this building as it occupies the entirety of the south edge of the central square. Its massive arcade that stretches for more than 360 feet, and has a total of 26 bays; often dwarfing the arcade of city hall, which actually was built first. From this massive and proud building the administration of all of present-day Central America (known then as the Captaincy General of Guatemala) was handled, from 1549 - 1773.

However, as has often been the case with the politics of this region, this building has always been a “work in progress.” Based on the recorded growth of the building, and its sprawling nature, we can observe there was little planning. Furthermore, the constant restorations it underwent during its lifetime provides evidence enough to confidently say that this building has never been entirely finished.

 

Nevertheless, it carries on, and within its walls there have always been significant government bodies. This building, perhaps more than any other in Antigua, highlights the ingenuity of a society that has learned to make due.
 

El Ojo de Minerva (The Eye of Minerva)


122cm x 60cm
modeling paste, silver leaf, acrylic, on canvas
2021


- floor plan of the temple of Minerva, Quetzaltenango

In 1899 president Manuel Estrada Cabrera decreed that the last Sunday in October would be destined for the celebration devoted exclusively to praising the education of youth. Throughout the nation he built Greco-Roman-inspired temples dedicated to the Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom (among other things). This of course was not the apex of his education reforms, and was just a symbol of what he hoped would be a greater push to raise Guatemala up through education. 

Unfortunately either by neglect, earthquakes, or purposeful demolition, the temples of Minerva are almost spent. According to historians, around 50 were built in the country, although currently there are only 6 remaining.

 

Therefore, to my fellow Guatemalans, I invite you to take a moment, and wonder: is it wise to turn our back on the goddess of wisdom?
 

El Ojo de Minerva
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Palacio de Correos y Boligrafos Ciudad de Guatemala.jpg
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Querida Guatemala (Dear Guatemala)


130cm x 100cm
modeling paste, acrylic, on canvas
2021


- floor plan of the Palace of Post and Telegraphs, Guatemala City

Dear Guatemala, 

I sincerely hope you are doing well. Often under gray European skies I think of you. I think of your color, your passion and your energy. 

I hope you still remember the great dreams you once had. Especially the dream of being a nation that could look any other nation in the eye, and despite the hardships you’ve endured, stand before them with confidence. You saw what other nations had, and you refused to accept that, for whatever reason, you could not have what they had. So it was in 1940, when you proudly unveiled the Palace of Post and Telegraphs, that you showed the world that you, Guatemala, intended to be a modern, progressive, and forward thinking society. You saw that the world was gearing up for a modern age based on communication, and you stepped up to the plate. Where has that dream gone?

Dear Guatemala, do not let the skeptics and cynics tell you you can’t have something, especially when it is something you already had. 

Sincerely, 

Your Wayward Son
 

On December 16th, 1998, Guatemala sold off its National Post. In 2014, after receiving no support from government, Guatemala's post - a fundamental institution for ANY modern society - stopped functioning completely and has since been abolished. 

Opresición Legal (Legal Oppression)


102cm x 102cm
modeling paste, acrylic, on canvas
2021


- floor plan of the Palace of the Police, Guatemala City

For this piece I will refrain from diving too deeply in the simple history of this place. Suffice it to say that this building, the Palace of Police, was built in 1935 and employs an elegant gothic-romanesque style. Yet for this piece I would like to speak a moment on the symbolism of architecture. In a nation whose history has seen the police be more oppressors than protectors, is it not fitting that their base of operations is a castle? Complete with towers ramparts and battlements this imposing structure is any medievalists dream, assuming they don’t mind it being a complete fake.

Law enforcement is one of the pillars of a functional and fair society. Agents of the law should never stoke fear in the innocent, but rather be a reassuring presence. Yet all across the world the opposite is true. With law enforcement becoming increasingly militarized, and no end in sight, when do we start considering their fake castles real castles?
 

Opresición Legal