Poustinia Land Art Park – Cayo, Belize
Most public art programs have a component to maintain the artworks since exposure to the elements can destroy materials over time. But what if that degradation is actually part of the art works themselves?
Tucked away in western Belize, near the border with Guatemala is Poustinia Land Art Park. This former cattle ranch has been converted to a sculpture garden where the works slowly become part of the landscape.
The patina acquired over time is not just rust or discoloration, but the jungle reestablishing it’s claim on the planet. Artists are invited to take up residence on the property as they create a site-specific work including choosing where to place their project within the 100 acres dedicated to art and medicinal plants.
What the Artists are Saying
The relatively young country of Belize has a complicated legacy from “contact” with the Spanish and later British colonialism that endures to this day. Exploring Belizean history is a common theme among the projects here.
During the days as British Honduras, old growth mahogany trees were harvested and sent to Britain to create furniture and flooring. Returned Parquet was created when Welsh artist Tim Davies found mahogany flooring that had been removed after over a century of use in Cardiff, Wales and was being discarded. Davies had enough wood shipped back to Belize to recreate a 40 foot by 4 foot walkway – the size of a mature mahogany tree. The mahogany has been returned to the land and is slowly being reclaimed by it.
The artist Vilma Romero is well known and awarded for her contributions to women artists in Belize. Cultures by Vilma Romero was originally located in Belize City – with four concrete human figures reflecting the dominant ethnic backgrounds of current-day Belizeans. Three of the figures have been placed together within the jungle while the female figure was used in the creation of Slavery by the Taiwanese artist Belinda. The descendants of enslaved Africans including those fathered by European masters make up one of the dominant cultures within Belize today. Belinda’s work comments on the current day racism and sexism that is part of the enduring legacy of slavery throughout the Americas.
A Selection of Works
Poustinia is off the beaten tourist track and requires a reservation to visit but don’t let that deter you from making the trek. We found it listed in Fodor’s Belize guide and it’s also been featured by the New York Times. It is just outside the town of Bengue Viejo del Carmen – just before the border with Guatemala and across the river from the Mayan site Xunantunich which is well worth a stop too.
We arranged our visit with a local tour guide that we were using for all the normal sites like Mayan ruins and the ATM cave. It was a new site for him so I’m hoping that he’ll be able to recommend it to other art lovers. The extra fee for a guided tour was worthwhile for the insight from the family that owns the property on the artworks and local politics – which are inexorably intertwined.
The artists with works at Poustinia have a personal connection with the founder Luiz Alberto Ruiz, many from his time studying and working in the UK. As such, they aren’t as well-known as public art contributors I’ve written about in other posts. I’ve managed to track down further information on some of the artists but not all. Enjoy some time exploring the links below placed in the order of the numbered site tour.
Untitled – Ken McMillan
Work shown in University of North Florida “Art in the Library” guide
Story of a collaboration to design a coffee mug.
The retired professor recently offered an art survey course.
Tower by Kjetil Berge
Breaking the Ice video I LOVED this project – the artist drove/ferried an ice cream van from London to Norway via Russia giving away free ice cream in exchange for discussing climate change in the arctic circle.
A Mention of Error (Girl in Pond) and Joust (Duende) – Santiago Cal
Magazine story that puts the work Joust in context of a larger 40 sculpture series. Associate professor of Art – University of Nebraska Lincoln
Invasion – Created to be part of a television segment on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World
The episode mentions Poustinia but the installation didn’t make the final video.
Black Cohune or Black Palm – Douglas White
This is the first in a series of works making use of trashed tire treads strewn along the roadsides in Belize.
Video with the artist discussing Black Palm as it is installed in Paris.