By Christiane L. Vaca, Photography by Glow Ruiz.
Born in Granada, Nicaragua in 1972, Carlos Barberena de la Rocha comes from a family of artists, poets, painters and musicians; an environment that strongly influenced his artistic formation. As a young boy he left Nicaragua during the war and lived with his two older brothers, both talented artists. A self-described late bloomer, he eventually found himself experimenting with different mediums and becoming an artist in his own right. His works, including paintings, sculptures, photographs and engravings, have been exhibited all over the world in places including, the United States, where he now resides, Germany, Spain, Brazil and most recently at Covenant San Francisco in his hometown of Granada.
How would you describe your creative process?
-It begins with an idea that you work at. To me, it’s more like receiving, where you become like an antenna and you capture different situations, different images. That’s when the process begins to ‘digest.’ Then, when it’s time to apply technique, you already know what you want to work with. It’s a constant labor that begins with this process.
What is meant by the title of your exhibit, “Años de Miedo” (Years of Fear)? Is it in reference to any personal experience, or is it meant to be exclusively political or social commentary?
-I find it to be a personal experience. Thirty years ago, I was seven years old and many images from that time remain on my mind. I was watching my brothers run, having to hide all the time because Somoza’s guards were after them. I had cousins who went through the same thing and uncles who died during the Somoza dictatorship. Then experiencing the revolution, taking part in the protests out on the street that were broken up by the Guard, I think it was all experiences that I tried to channel into my art. All these very complex things make up Nicaragua’s history. When I left, people would ask me what was going on in Nicaragua, and I just got tangled up trying to explain about Somoza, the revolution, the Contras…you just can’t explain it. I think this is the idea for this series, a reflection on war and its consequences.
It’s interesting to note the structural contrasts going on in most of your pieces, a balance between simple and complex, black and white.
-Yes, I feel that the contrast between black and white gives the project more strength. Sometimes I think that this series chose its own medium. So, what better to illustrate fear than through black and white?
Do you believe that your art tells a story uniquely related to the Nicaraguan experience?
-No, it is decidedly not just the Nicaraguan experience. If you set this in another country that has been devastated by war, you’ll have the same thing. And what is important is to call them “years of fear,” because at the center of it all is the fear. It’s how different parties rule a population by fear, whether you’re a mother concerned for your child, concerned for your family, whether you’re being followed or threatened unless you turn your neighbor in. It’s the fear of living such a violent life. That’s the point of my exhibit, to reflect upon what we’ve lived through, the world over, not just Nicaragua. As you can see in a few of the pieces, some are about what happened in Abu Ghraib, some are in reference to article 5, Guantánamo, etcetera. There are different points of view.
Do you believe art to be an end unto itself, or do you think it should serve a higher purpose?
-I think that one creates art, first of all, to purge many things and to communicate them, whatever they are. It’s not like I’m hoping someone will change their life or opinions after seeing my work. I’m just exposing my point of view, like a writer or a musician; it’s an act of communication though, and should not be merely decorative.