Coming to See El Salvador
A discussion with artist Ronald Moran
By: Danielle Marie Mackey
Ronald Moran was born in Chalchuapa, El Salvador. He has since become an internationally recognized artist who uses innovative methods and weaves social commentary into his pieces. He sat down with Waves Tours Fiestas in his San Salvador studio to discuss his pieces, Salvadoran art culture and the importance of tourists to local art.
WTF: Which media do you use most frequently in your art? Why?
RM: My studio is almost a laboratory. There is a lot of paint, scale models, photographs, objects. I choose the medium depending on the project. …Installation is where I feel closest to being able to offer a more complete message. It is what in some ways has characterized my art…. I can’t differentiate between when I was, and was not, an artist. Art chose me.
WTF: Is there a central subject in your work?
RM: There are various. There is social content in my work: there is always an experience that, in one way or another, is connected to how we human beings live; how we affect each other. Intrafamiliar violence, social violence, migration; art serves in some ways to clarify things. Many times, it can inspire questions. I’ve touched on the subject of gangs, for instance, (but) not in a superficial way. The focus isn’t on the gang itself, but on the effect that it has on society. For a piece I did 6 years ago, I saved articles, photos and editorials that I cut out from the newspaper during the time of Mano Duro*. I ended up doing an amalgam of article atop article atop article, to show the contra-information. The subject was the same in all of them, but the perspectives different, and with so many articles, it ended up as a black patch. As a reader or spectator, you end up confused. Is this a good or a bad policy? Is it good for society, or violating human rights? You end up lost, and you can’t do anything.
WTF: Why the importance of social themes in your art?
RM: Social advocacy, resentments, inequalities, violence, unemployment, migration—these are not themes that are only present in El Salvador. They exist all over the world. Art has to be something social. A landscape deals with a specific geographical location, for instance. My opinion is that art should not be selfish—it can’t only deal with my (the artist’s) interior world. Before being an artist, I am a human being, and I live in a particular social context. I am also responsible for the effects of my actions, whether they are bad or good. I base myself in even literary and philosophical elements like irony, dark humor, metaphor, which are elements that help give meaning to my art.
WTF: Tell us about a particular piece of yours.
RM: There are some pieces where I hardly touch anything, but I come with the feeling and the idea, and I work with that. For example, in downtown San Salvador, in the Morazan park, I set up one of those red boxes that you’re supposed to break in case of emergency; a (fire extinguisher) box. I put a pistol inside. I didn’t make any of the pieces involved in this one; I simply put them together.
WTF: Is there a place that is well-known for art in El Salvador?
RM: The Art Museum of El Salvador (MARTE) is the museum that has the largest collection, and has pieces from different generations. In terms of a popular place for art, we still don’t have it. I’m working with some friends to create an alternative space like that. But we have a lack of spaces of this type. That’s the thing: there is so much in this country that has been cut off, that is half-way done. There are many artists and few spaces. There is no intellectual accompaniment, like art critics or curators. Things like this slow evolution. There are problems that come from the time of colonization and we still haven’t gotten over them. Everything is in the middle of a process here. …In El Salvador, young collectors are appearing. They’re now tired of the traditional pieces their parents had. This generation has been educated in other countries, where art is part of daily life…. Little by little, the chance to have a local audience is appearing.
WTF: What is the role of tourism, and of tourists, in Salvadoran art?
RM: They should be collectors. There are many artists that live off of this cultural exchange. This is a country with a strong culture, which is small but interesting. We have rich ecological aspects. Also, those who come to visit are interesting people. I have met surfers who are excellent curators, collectors, painters, museum directors. This is cultural exchange.
WTF: In your perspective, why is it important for tourists to see your work?
RM: Art provides a chance to come together with a country. It reflects everything; it transcends politics. It is a good way to see how a society is doing. Art shows not only what is visible—it also shows the intellectual level of a country, its social fabric, its psychosocial development. It is a good way to truly face reality, instead of evading it. If you are interested in deepening your understanding in culture a little bit, this is a good link to do so. Art preserves many important pieces of a culture.
* Mano Dura literally means “hard hand” or iron fist; it was a gang policy (widely considered a failure) instituted by President Francisco Flores in 2003 and aimed to “crack down” on street gangs. The plan was replaced in 2004 by President Saca’s Súper Mano Dura initiative.
Some of Ronald Moran’s work can be found in the Museum of Art (MARTE) located at the end of Avenida La Rev- olución, San Benito in San Salvador, near the Sheraton Hotel. Look for a giant mural of a naked man with arms outstretched and you’ll know you’re there!
10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. General - $1.50
Every Sunday, MARTE is free!