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Pedro Gonzalez is from San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan. He is in his thirties and started painting in 2000. Before that he worked in the fields and carried firewood from the mountains to survive and support his family. He had to climb up steep and slippery paths. It was hard on his body and he was often hungry, thirsty and exhausted. He decided he needed to find another way to survive and started to go to night school on top of working long hard hours to learn painting. His teacher saw great talent in him and encouraged him to pursue a career as a painter, but he could not afford the monthly costs of the classes, so he decided to continue practicing on his own and as he says - “with the help of God I was able to develop my skills and be successful as a painter”. He now has taken up painting as a career and says it is a way for him to get out of poverty and support his family. He lives with his mother and other family members and the income he makes helps to put food on the table. He is also teaching his cousins so they can also benefit from the extra income that painting can bring them.
Pedro does not take personal credit for his talent. Like most Mayan people of San Pedro, he is deeply religious and gives credit for his painting talent to God. He believes his paintings derives from a “spirit” of their own, speak for themselves and are essentially a creation of God.
Painting is very important to him as a way to transmit knowledge and appreciation for his Mayan way of life, values and beliefs and in that way to help preserve his culture. There are a number of subjects and themes that are important to him. One of the predominant subject matter of his paintings are women. He likes to portray women wearing their traditional “trajes” (elaborately embroidered blouses). Almost all the women still wear these and this represents how they continue to honor their customs. Another subject is the women going to market with their goods to sell on top of their heads. This shows how important the traditional “mercados” (open air markets) are for the daily life and for making money or trading goods to survive. Often he will paint women carrying their children because he wants to honor how important the women are in raising the child – how the mother speaks to the child, cares for the child and how the child learns from their mother. The importance of women in the Mayan family and society are common themes for many of the painters.
Another important message he would like to send with his paintings is uniting the people of the different villages. There are many different Mayan groups and a long history of competing and sometimes warfare among them. He would like to see more unity and cooperating and so often his paintings show the people from different villages together.
He also cares deeply about nature and his Mayan roots teach, mother earth should be revered and respected and cared for. Some of his paintings show Lake Atitlan which is currently very challenged by pollution. He hopes his portrayal of the beauty of the lake will help people to take better care of it.
Pedro hopes that his paintings will speak to and inspire his own people and help people from other parts of the world to better understand and appreciate his Mayan values, history and culture.
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