Swasey, in his speech, documented the history of culture and art, especially sculpture and stone work, in Belize. He demonstrated that Belizeans, and definitely the Belizean artists, are searching for a cultural identity. These are artists hunting with hunger. This is the hunger that keeps them on the constant quest to find out what are the Belizean identity, the Belizean artist, and finally Belizean art. He showed those present that there has always been sculpture in Belize, from the great Mayan architecture, to the more recent Joseph Chaing structure at the round-a-bout. Still, there are some new public sculptures that have sprouted on the city’s greens like unsightly weeds. The question posed to the audience during his presentation was: which sculptor was consulted before constructing the public structures? Moreover, in the face of the new ‘public art’ crisis in Belize City, what will we hunt? Will we hunt hungry, or are we already full?
I spoke with Anthony ‘Rojo’ Vaccaro, one of the Belizean artists, who participated in Sculpture Symposium as a featured artist and presenter. Rojo, as he prefers to be called, is a sculptor who operates out of Maskall village. He works in stone, wood and bone and makes small and large scale pieces. Rojo’s pieces can be found in galleries, fine hotels and art shops all over the country. I wanted to know what his experience in the symposium was. Rojo said that honestly his experience was not good and that the only reason he stayed was because, he says, “As a Leo, the worse they treat me the better I perform.” Most definitely I was intrigued by this stance; I also have not had the best experience at NICH. I have witnessed firsthand, the shabby way in which they treat artists. I know this having interacted with the institution since 2009, both as an artist and an employee.
When I asked him to elaborate, this is the account he gave. Rojo said that the apprentices who were hired flocked after the European and North American artists, and as a result he was forced to work on his own. He says that he was surprised at the lack of support he received from NICH as it was this same institution who invited him to participate. Rojo claimed that he had explained to them that he would have liked to participate but he had no tools with which to work. He said that the organizers of the event had promised to provide him with all the necessary tools. Yet, he claims that he has not been given any tools to date. Rojo also claims that his stipend payment was late and could not cover all his expenses, since he travels everyday from Maskall, with the apprentice he eventually hired to assist him. Rojo said that beyond the lack of support and other discomfort, the worst part was that “they did not treat me as an artist.” He went on to say “I am staying for my people and country. I am also staying because my family, my wife and daughter, especially, have begged me not abandon the project. I do not like leaving things unfinished”
“I think sacrifice is the most ultimate at the end of the day” says Anthony ‘Rojo’ Vaccaro. He says this because, despite the obstacles, he will finish carving and sanding his 9 foot long by 46 inches wide piece. He is sculpting a head from the Mayan temple Lamanai. He claims it is the largest piece which will be presented at the end of the symposium.
Here is a classic case of an artist, a Belizean artist, who is hunting with hunger. Rojo hunts with a hunger for recognition, respect and an opportunity to do an even better piece than the previous one. How many other artists are willing to do this? How many of us are willing to sacrifice our dignity and pay checks in the search of that next Piècederésistance?