Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit el Mercado de Artesanías located at Plaza 5 de Mayo in Panama City, Panama. I was there for approximately two hours and loved every second. It was an exciting place, full of color, shapes, textures and patterns. A paradise, I might say, for an incipient photographer like myself. My eyes were always busy looking everywhere for a good shot. I got one.
It was a painting of a Kuna Indian woman sewing a mola. Molas constitute an important symbol of the Kuna culture. Molas are hand-made using a reverse appliqué technique. Several layers (usually two to seven) of different-colored cloth (usually cotton) are sewn together; the design is then formed by cutting parts of each layer away. The edges of the layers are then sewn down; the finest molas have extremely fine stitching, made using tiny needles.
Molas have their origin in the body painting. Only after the colonization by the Spanish and contact with missionaries, the Kuna started to transfer their traditional geometric designs on fabric; first by painting directly on the fabric, and later by using the technique of reverse application. It is not known for certain when this technique was first used. It is assumed that the oldest molas are between 150 and 170 years old.
As an inspiration for their designs, the Kuna first used the geometrical patterns which have been used for body painting before. In the past 50 years, they also started to depict realistic and abstract designs of flowers, sea animals and birds.
The picture below is an original painting created by Nichole’s sister. Nichole is an owner of a small kiosk inside the craftsmen’s market. She is a very attractive young lady. I loved the rich bright colors she used to highlight the Kuna culture. Nichole showed us her sister’s paintings with great pride. I selected the following picture as my favorite. I’m sure you’ll share my taste.
Here we go.
You will never know what you will find at a craftsmen’s market. The creativity of the common grassroots artist is absolutely amazing. If you return to Lingua Franca, I’ll show you other remarkable pieces of art made by humble artisans of Panama. I know you will enjoy their fine folk art. Good Day.