Artist brings Nicaraguan war to Oak Park

I was interviewed by journalist Jonh Huston for the Pioneer Local Press in Oak Park about my show Años de Miedo / Time of Fear. So here is part of this interview.

How’d you get hooked up with the Oak Park gallery Expressions Graphics?

I moved to Chicago from Nicaragua last year. My wife and I were looking for a good place to live, so we found a place in Oak Park and walking around I found Expressions Graphics – a non-profit Printmaking Cooperative and Fine Arts Gallery – so I became a member. Since then I have been involved in some projects and outreach programs in the Oak Park community with them.

How long have you been painting? Exhibiting your art?

Well, I grew up in an artistic environment, my mother is descended from an important family of artists in Nicaragua (poets, painters and musicians) and my father dedicated his free time to writing poetry, painting watercolors and playing guitar. In fact my two older brothers, Robert Barberena and Cesar Barberena, are artists as well; they studied fine arts in Nicaragua. I think that helped me get involved in arts. But it was in 1990 that I was really interested in artistic knowledge because it allowed me to revisit my memories, so I began to take art seriously and started showing it. I am a self-taught visual artist, I never attended fine arts school, because when I was a child I did not like the way the “art academy” teaches, sometimes was too archaic, so I left.

Preso Politico

This exhibit, you say on your web site, is based on your memories of war in Nicaragua in the ’70s and ’80s. Did that experience inspire you to get into art in the first place?

Yes, of course. I mean, I was already attracted to art because of my family, and living the terrible experience of war and exile hit me, so I got seriously into art one year after the war finished. During this period of time I worked in a variety of different styles, but in 1999 I started to work on a big show “Años de Miedo/Time of Fear,” (that was) a manner of reflection about war and its effects and how these memories and fears affect our lives not only physically but also in psychological terms, and for that show I produced more than 70 pieces in different techniques, but I only exhibited 50 pieces. I presented this show in Casa de los Tres Mundos Cultural Center and Praxis Gallery in Nicaragua in 2000, and at the National Gallery in San Jose, Costa Rica. So now I made a Print Portfolio inspired by sketches and drawings that I did not show before. Also, recent world events have given me new material to draw on.

I hope it’s not cliched to say that I look at your work and think about Picasso’s “Guernica,” though you definitely have your own style.

Well, Picasso’s “Guernica” is one of my favorite paintings, and I considered that I have some influences by Picasso and I have taken advantage of… But I think this series has its own essence. In fact, sometimes I like to play with words and I have a nickname for this series “Guerranica,” which is similar to “Guernica” and means Nicaraguan war.

Your Twitter page says “Nicaragua/Chicago,” do you live in Chicago now?

Currently I am living in Oak Park. I plan on living in Chicago for the next few years, if not longer. But we will eventually move back to Nicaragua, either permanently or continue to move back and forth.


And, last but not least, the open-ended and up-to-your-interpretation question: How important is art?

For me, art has been important because it has given me the freedom to travel over the ocean of my memories, permitting me to express my sentiments and through this, dig deeply into the vastness of human knowledge; knowledge which has helped me to better understand the world that surrounds us. With my work, I seek to be a vector of change, collecting images that pertain to our collective memory and that, in certain form, make reference to painful events in the history of my country and of the world.

For more information about Carlos’ art and upcoming exhibit, visit his web site.