When Nicaraguan-born artist Luis Garay immigrated to Toronto, Canada, in the late 1980s, he intended to pursue a career as a painter, but he found success as an illustrator and author of children’s books. He channeled his experience as an immigrant fleeing a war-torn nation into The Long Road, the story of a young Latin American boy finding a new life in an adopted country. Images from The Long Road are included in Creation Myths of Mesoamerica: Popol Vuh and Quetzalcóatl, opening on Friday, May 6, at the Santa Fe Art Institute. The exhibit features artwork based on the myths and legends of the Mesoamerican cultures of Latin America including those of the Maya and Aztecs. On the cover is Cuatro Caminos, an acrylic with pen and ink from 1999; courtesy Santa Fe Art Institute.
Nicaraguan artist Luis Garay was a teenager in the early 1980s when the conflict broke out between the Sandinistas, who had wrested political control from the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza DeBayle, and the contras, many of whom were loyal to the former regime. Garay was a high-school student in the city of Granada when he began studying art at fourteen. By the age of seventeen, he had fled the country to escape t he escalating violence. “They used to say military service is patriotic,” Garay told “but parents don’t accept it in that way. ‘You’re my child and I want to protect you.’ It was not patriotism. It was obligatory military service. So that’s is why I left.” Garay’s exhibition Creation Myths of Mesoamerica: Popol Vuh and Quetzalcóatl opens on Friday, May 6, at the Santa Fe Art Institute. Garay first lived in Costa Rica and then in Toronto, Canada, where he now has citizenship. His journey is reflected in The a children’s book he authored and illustrated, but it is not an autobiographical account. It is drawn from his own experience as an immigrant only insofar as his story is a common one, not just in Latin America but the world over. “There are situations you face in your life when you become an immigrant. Anyone can be one,” he said. The story follows a boy named José who lives in an unnamed Latin American country. When a civil war breaks out, José is forced to flee with his mother. They head north to begin a new life in a foreign country.
The exhibition includes original illustrations from several of Garay’s books, including The Long Road; Popol Vuh: A Sacred Book of the Maya; Myth, Legend, and Story of Quetzalcóatl, the Mysterious Feathered Snake. “The Long Road was my first book. I did this book when I arrived in Canada in 1988. That was when I started. There was a publisher who saw my work and said, ‘I want to do something with you.’ But I went following the dream to be a painter not an illustrator. When I was a student in Nicaragua, we didn’t have that culture of reading except at school. When he asked me to do a children’s book I said, ‘ What? This is not possible. I am an artist,’ or something like that. I was offended, but I was ignorant. Then he said, ‘Let’s try to do something different than what we do in Western art for illustrations.’ ”
wouldn’t be published until 1997. By that time, Garay saw the endeavor from the perspective of opportunity. “We’re going to tell stories about immigrants,” he said. “We’re going to tell stories that we never tell. When I write, I like social issues — a child who deserves attention, children who have to go to work everyday. This, to me, is very important — to bring it to the first world, to those cities that are doing well economically. There’s another story on the other side of the world that they don’t know.” Stories like
promote understanding of the challenges
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Luis Garay: The Paradise, acrylic, pen and ink, 1999; top, The Lords of Xibalba or Underworld, acrylic, pen and ink, 1999; both images from the book Popol Vuh; all images courtesy Santa Fe Art Institute