By Sky Fisher, Epicure & Culture Contributor
Unlike other countries in Latin America — like Mexico or Guatemala — Costa Rica is not known for its indigenous culture. There are no significant ruins, like the popular Tikal in Guatemala, and no market that tourists purposely visit to buy local handicrafts.
However, just because indigenous culture is not a selling point of tourism in the country doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. A visit to the Rojas Bros Borucan Art Gallery will show you otherwise.
The gallery is small, just two walls and a display inside of the Provecho restaurant; but on those walls is a wealth of culture and history, which owner Graceann Rojas will happily share with anyone who asks.
Mask-making: A Traditional Borucan Art
On my first visit to the Rojas Bros Borucan Art Gallery, Graceann began with an introduction to the masks, pointing out each specific style on the wall, weaving small bits of history into each description.
The first style is the Diablito, the warrior mask with fangs and horns. “The name “Diablito” which means “little devil” actually comes from the Spanish who recorded that they found men dressed as “little devils” when they arrived in Boruca. At that time, the Borucans wore these masks for both safety and intimidation as they fought the Spanish,” Graceann explains.Looking for #local #art in Costa Rica? #costarica Click To Tweet
Other styles of masks displayed in the gallery include ecological, eco-diablo, and spirt animals. Ecological masks feature plants and animals found in Boruca, with the Shaman face included in each piece as a representation of their love for nature and concern for how man’s development is affecting our natural resources. Eco-diablo masks combine the elements of the Diablito and Ecological masks, usually with both a Shaman face and horns or fangs. With Spirit Animal masks, the main element is always an animal important to their culture, like the jaguar.
“The jaguar is an important spirit animal in Boruca. One legend is that their god Sibu took the form of a black jaguar to communicate with Kuasran, the last remaining warrior, after the Spanish left and led him to rebuilding Boruca,” Graceann says, pointing out several of the jaguar masks on the wall.
Setting A New Standard For Boruca
Each mask, made from bolsa wood, can take several days for the artist to carve and paint.
Rojas Bros Borucan Art Gallery is owned by Borucan Domingo Rojas and his wife Graceann. They opened in December 2015 with the intention of setting a new standard for what each artist should be paid and encouraging them to create true art pieces showcasing their talent.
“For many of the Borucans, mask-making is their primary source of income. The problem is that few Borucan artists have direct access to the point of sale, and middlemen are making more money off of their work than the artists themselves. Our goal is to allow the artists direct access in order to receive a fair price for their works,” Graceann explains.Understanding Costa Rican Culture through #art: #ethicaltravel #costarica Click To Tweet
They currently work with eight artists, five of whom are Domingo’s brothers. They have plans to work with more artists in the near future.
Each mask at the Rojas Bros Borucan Art Gallery is signed by the artist. It’s then marked with a serial code unique to that piece. Each mask also comes with a certificate of authenticity to prove that it’s an authentic piece of Borucan art, as well as an ethical purchase.
Sharing The Culture
Beyond being an outlet for Borucan artists to share their work, Rojas Bros has a mission to share the culture of Boruca with others. Listening to Graceann talk of her experiences in Boruca and of many legends was the most interesting part of visiting Rojas Bros.
Hanging on the wall of the gallery is a map locating Boruca. The indigenous reserve is located in the southern mountains of Puntarenas and is one of the largest in Costa Rica. The gallery is also home to several images of Boruca and the artists. To me, the one that stuck out was of the men wearing masks.
“That’s from last year’s “El Juego de los Diablitos” (Little Devil’s Game), Boruca’s annual reenactment of the Spanish conquest,” Graceann explains, pointing to a few other photos. “Each year they create a “bull” structure to represent the Spanish, and for three days many of the men in the community wear masks to transform into Diablitos and follow the bull around Boruca. On the last day, they burn the bull structure as a representation of keeping their culture despite the Spanish conquest.”Want to see a different side to Costa Rica? #responsibletravel #costarica Click To Tweet
Boruca is fairly remote and remains mostly untouched by international tourism. Many people from other parts of Costa Rica visit each year for El Juego de los Diablitos. Last year, Rojas Bros offered a tour to the 2016-2017 fiestas as an opportunity for visitors to their gallery to experience Boruca.
The gallery also hosts exhibitions with the artists on a regular basis. I’ve attended several and found them a great opportunity to see the mask-making process and ask questions to the artists about mask-making as well as Boruca in general.
If you can’t make it to an exhibition, Graceann is happy to answer any questions and share her love of Boruca.
I’ve never been a big fan of art or made visiting galleries a priority while traveling, but the Rojas Borucan Art Gallery is more than just a gallery. It’s a place to uncover the hidden indigenous culture of Costa Rica.
What’s your favorite Costa Rica art gallery? Please share in the comments below!
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