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Guatemalan painter finds family, friends in Spokane

Benedicto Ixtamer shows "Reverberation," a painting on families.

Guatemalan artist Benedicto Ixtamer, who came on extended visits in 2014, 2018 and 2023, now feels at home in Spokane and considers the people and community to be his family. He has displayed his work at various U.S. communities since 2004.

He told of ties with some of his Spokane friends and family.

With Barry Moses (Sulustu) of the Spokane Tribe, he shares a commitment to preserve his Indigenous language.

Benedicto met Brian and Sandi Thompson-Royer of Bethany Presbyterian in his hometown when they were learning Spanish. Their Resilient Threads fair trade enterprise takes them to Guatemala. He stayed with them in Spokane.

Maria Cuc and Felipe Gonzales of Maya Color and Maya Coffee in Spokane work with many coffee growers in the area where Benedicto's family is in the coffee business.

Benedicto has participated several times in Spokane's Fair Trade Festival Thanksgiving Weekend at the Community Building with Kizuri, Ganesh Himal, Conosur Imports, Trades of Hope, Resilient Threads and Maya Color.

He was artist-in-residence from mid-November to mid-December at the Community Building, which commissioned him to create a painting depicting the building's Blueprints preschool.

From mid-November through the end of December, his paintings were on display and for sale at the Community Building foyer, where he demonstrated his painting techniques and visited with those coming and going.

Benedicto, who has come several times for four to six weeks in Spokane, also toured and sold his art in Portland, Ore., Santa Fe, N.M., and Telluride, Colo., except during COVID.

His art not only offers a different perspective of his Mayan culture, history and people, but also builds connections on the issues people face.

"My art gives a bird's-eye view and fish-eye view, as well as a normal view of people and their lives," he said. "I paint my town, San Juan Laguna, Guatemala, which is on the shore of Lake Atitlan, because I want to rescue its stories as a way to teach and share through art about the lives of people there and my life."

From talking with elders and people in town, and from his own observations, he captures stories of the culture, history and everyday life in vibrant colors and textures of oil paint as "the best way to share my culture," he said.

"I am a visual historian. I bring to life stories of people visually," said Beredicto, who is a self-taught artist, beginning by drawing on cardboard and school notebooks as a child.

"It's important to share with people in Spokane and in the Spokane Tribe information about Mayans as the Indigenous people in Guatemala, comparing our cultural and language experiences with their experiences.

"I feel at home," he said.

With Sulustu, Benedicto met participants in the Salish language immersion program in Wellpinit and shared about his efforts to preserve the Mayan language and culture.

"I found that the structure of our languages and some of the ways they sound are similar," he said.

He also feels at home because several people in Spokane speak Mayan.

Benedicto also described several paintings and how they tell stories about people and issues they face.

• One painting is of a woman holding the world. Her arms stretch around the top of the glowing circle representing the globe. At the bottom, her feet are bound. It expresses that women do not have many opportunities for education and jobs even though they hold the world together with their talent, knowledge and committed lives.

"In our country, women do not have the same opportunities as men, but I know women hold the future of the world. Their spirit keeps them going even though they hurt," Benedicto said. "We should work together to give more opportunities to women and girls. With their feet bound, they cannot walk, speak freely to raise their voices.

"Here people have more freedom to speak than in my country and women have more opportunities," he said.

• A second painting he described is "Reverberation," showing a family of three, two parents and a child at the center of the painting, which is made from  a fish-eye view.

His message with this painting is that "if we can exist as family in love and peace, that love and peace will reverberate everywhere," he said. "If we show our love, who we are and where we come from, there will be deeper reflection through the world.

"I have a great experience here with people. I know that sense of family. I feel I am a brother. I feel at home here," he said. "The Spokane community is my community."

Benedicto said that is also the spirit he finds among those who work at and visit the Community Building at 35 W. Main in downtown Spokane, a hub of nonprofit agencies serving the community and region.

• The Community Building commissioned him to do a painting to hang on the wall near the entrance of the building.

"I taught a few classes to the kids, coloring and putting together forms from paper to create the bird's-eye view, while I paint as an artist in residence. Their parents visited when they came by to drop them off and pick them up," he said.

The bird's-eye-view painting shows children flying kites that represent the colors of flags of the different countries of their parents. The flags include the Spokane city flag, flag of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, and flags from Canada, Italy, Burkina Faso, Japan, Peru, Georgia, Guatemala and the United States.

"It is beautiful that children of different backgrounds are learning together," he said.

• Other paintings showed women weaving, because weaving is important for Guatemalan women. His canvases are woven by his mother and other mothers in his town. Weaving is the primary job for women.

"One painting shows mothers weaving and children making the yarn into balls," he said. "I create texture with the oil paints."

• Another painting shows someone who learned healing from Mayan culture healing a broken bone. Still another painting shows mothers and children making tortillas, the main food in Guatemala.

"Paintings are how I share my ancestral knowledge," said Benedicto, who believes it is important for people of different nations and cultures to learn each other's languages and visit each other.

"Being an artist-in-residence is a good strategy for building relationships with people in another country, to share and teach knowledge from my culture," he said.

• Finally, he spoke on the painting, "The Innocence of the Water," sharing the message that it's sad there is less water and humans are damaging water that runs in lakes and rivers. He said, "While we have traded in it and contaminated it, water is innocent. Water gives us life, but we do not take care of it. We dump trash in it. We need to work together to protect water, because it is key for life for humans, plants, animals and the world."

Benedicto and his wife, Maria, share income from art sales with people in need in their community, so "a buyer becomes part of the story and life of our community," he said on his website.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January 2024