Artist provides students lessons in art, life

ROCHESTER — Artist Roberto Mamani Mamani encouraged students to find their voice in their art and paint without fear.

"Art is easy," he said. "You don’t have to be afraid."

The artist from Bolivia met with students from three high schools housed at Benjamin Franklin High School on Oct. 9 during a weeklong stay in Rochester. His visit was sponsored by the AAVia Foundation, which raises funds for the health needs of Bolivian children. His time in the Rochester area included stops at James Monroe High School, Ibero-American Action League, Casa Hispana at Nazareth College and culminated with an Oct. 12 fundraiser at Casa Larga Vineyards.

Mamani painted as he spoke to the students at Franklin, starting with color suggestions he solicited from them. Following the presentations, the students were able to paint drawings they had created in art classes or while Mamani spoke. The students also had lunch with the artist.

He told them that he always uses the two last names of his grandparents to honor his ancestors from the country’s Aymara people. The name "Mamani" means eagle and stands for the duality of the sun and the moon in the Andean culture, he said.

His grandmother, who was a weaver, also served as inspiration for his art that began at the age of 8. She taught him about the most important part of their indigenous culture — the Andes Mountains, he said. He even named his three sons after the indigenous names of its different ranges, Mamani noted.

"We are people of the mountain," he remarked.

A Franklin High School student works on a painting during an Oct. 9 workshop.

He has gone on to paint thousands of pictures representing the Aymara people and has traveled throughout Europe, South America and North America to show and talk about his unique art style. He will travel next to Japan, said his daughter, Maribel Aguilar, who tagged along to Rochester for her first trip to the United States.

In addition to using a lot of color in his paintings, he paints women with large hands to show that they do the bulk of the work in almost all cultures, he said. He also has a series dedicated to "Mother Earth," which is called "Pachamama" in his native tongue, Mamani said.

He still paints some of his works on newspaper as when he first began as an artist, he said, and he advised the students to utilize whatever materials they may have at their disposal.

And while he might use up to 40 colors in a painting, Mamani said that he uses many yellows and oranges that represent the energy of the Andes.

"My paintings are full of color," he added. "Color represents happiness and life."

Aleah McCall, a sophomore at Vanguard Intercollegiate High School, said that she was happy to hear his message about using colors, as she worked on a rose that she was considering painting blue.

"I like mixing colors that shouldn’t go together," she said. "But I make it together."

Charline Ruiz said that she also finds Mamani’s art "colorful and interesting" and was surprised he found Rochester bright and full of blues as well as the yellows and oranges of fall that he called extraordinary.

"I think of Rochester as dull," said the 15-year-old sophomore at World of Inquiry School No. 58, which is temporarily at Franklin while its building is renovated. "He focuses on more natural things. Nature inspires him and his family."

Every location has its individual energy, and you can show that in art through the use of light and color, Mamani explained.

He also told the students about the importance of showing one’s identity in art, as he does to impart the values and traditions of his people through his paintings. Even one’s artist signature should be distinctive, he explained.

"You must put yourself in everything and do it with passion," he said. "And it’s important that with everything you do, you give everything you have in your heart so that you’ll be happy with what you have painted."

Sue Hollister, a visual arts teacher at Vanguard, said that Mamani’s visit provided her students valuable lessons about art and life in finding passion and blazing new trails.

"Some don’t have art class," she said. "Some have decided they want to pursue the arts. So, this is a great opportunity to meet someone so very amazing."

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