Arte Naif: Naive Art

In the remote highlands of western Guatemala lies spectacular Lake Atitlán, ringed by volcanoes.

In 1929, coffee plantation worker Rafaél González y González mixed aniline dyes used by the weavers with sap from a tree and began to paint images reflecting traditional Maya life.  Some of his sons and grandsons also became artists, expressing in vibrant oil paintings a rich indigenous culture that has survived 500 years of brutal oppression.

Thus began in Guatemala a new cultural phenomenon known as Arte Naїf, or Naive Art.  With rare exceptions, the painters have not attended art school, but are self-taught.  Younger painters may have apprenticed briefly with more experienced ones, and the few women artists have learned from their husbands, uncles, or other family members.

This collection, focused upon the life of indigenous Maya women, presents original works from many of the most creative contemporary Maya artists.

The Maya Artists

Today, the Tz’utuhil Maya villages of San Pedro la Laguna, San Juan la Laguna and Santiago Atitlán are centers of creative indigenous art.  Rafaél González y González’ grandsons Pedro Rafaél, Mario, and Mariano González Chavajay are among the most prominent of the artists working in San Pedro la Laguna.  Their works have been exhibited nationally and internationally.  A number of younger artists have studied with them, and gone on to develop their own styles.  Rafaél’s son José Antonio González Chavajay is a well known painter in Guatemala City.

In the Kaqchikel Maya town of San Juan Comalapa, Andrés Curruchich also began to paint in the 1920s.  By the 1950s his work was exhibited in Guatemala City and internationally.  His son Vicente Curruchich and his granddaughters Maria Elena Curruchiche and Rosa Elena Currichich became well known painters, and many young Kaqchikel artists apprenticed with him.  Today, perhaps the most exciting artist from San Juan Comalapa is Paula Nicho Cumez, who learned from her husband, Salvador Cumez Curruchich—also a fine artist.

Internationally recognized as one of the finest Kaqchikel Maya painters, Paula Nicho Cumez was born in Comalapa, Chimaltenango. In 1985 she began to exhibit her paintings as a member of the Kaqchikel Surrealist Painters group. She has received many prizes for her work.