On bright shores awash in warm gulf, Caribbean and Pacific waters lies a land of dormant volcanoes and kaleidoscopic coral reef formations that tropical fish, turtles, whales, eels, sharks and a rainbow of other aquatic creatures call home. Panamá.
With local treasures shining brilliantly in the sun all around, in the form of tremendous biodiversity and an inviting mix of cultures old and new, Panamanians don’t separate everyday life from art much. And it seems they never really have or ever will.
Indigenous art, mola objects, traditionally very intricately depicted familiar animal species and flora and fauna in a richly coloured, flattened way using interwoven fabrics of various kinds. Native Kuna women beautifully worked mola panels into the fronts and backs of their blouses and other attire, blending wonderfully into their lush surroundings.
Mola traditions are still alive and well today, maintaining their roots and taking cues from urban life, political happenings and pop iconography. Indeed, vibrant design and music scenes continue to be a natural, inseparable part of the modern Panamanian way of living, eating, sleeping and working.
Take for instance the rooftop bar Gatto Blanco in Casco Viejo, a gentrifying quarter of old Panama City, which hosts a thriving tattoo studio on its spacious premises. It’s a place for chilling, soaking up live entertainement, being a gourmet, perhaps getting inked and strolling along admiring the captivating architecture and colour palettes of the city below. Gatto Blanco isn’t just a hip hangout, but a sophisticated example of the how contemporary forms of creativity are converging more and more in Panama City.
In certain hotels, like the American Trade Hotel and Hall, fine art of many different kinds of media is being presented in fashionable salon restaurants. Historic buildings and landmarks are being preserved and restored at an encouraging rate. The Biomuseo, the only Latin American work by architect-extraordinaire Frank Gehry, takes inspiration from Panama’s abundant environs and is an outstanding piece of art in and of itself.
And in both favellas with little mobility and well-manicured public plazas more and more art is being commissioned and simply popping up, interpreting social questions in unique and needed ways. Though some transitions and discrepancies aren’t easy to change or even disguise, things could be become so much more beautiful in many meaningful ways in Panama with a more formalised rise of art institutions, a settling of bigger permanent collections, forward-thinking venues with world class programming and, hopefully, more interest to follow in art and all its mind-expanding manifestations.
For dealers, artists, serious collectors, and creative professionals of all types, Panama can offer up viewers primed to accept and engage with pioneering cultural endeavours. Within a somewhat enclosed, harmonic place resting in the waves between nature’s intuitive methods and man’s expansive ways lies a locale ready and waiting for a truly thriving international art scene.