The tiny car winds through the cramped streets. As I attempt to explain why I am going into the guts of a Santo Domingo neighborhood, my Spanish and Italian vocabulary insist on co-mingling. Luckily, my stilted language skills only spark laughter from my hosts.
Tomorrow, I head off to meet Grupo Garabato in Moca, but for today, I have a mission. To meet an artist in Santo Domingo. To talk about why art is important in the Dominican Republic. To explore this city as thoroughly as possible for the short time I am here.
A mutual friend had put Maximo Ceballo and I in touch just before I hopped on the plane to the DR. When we accidentally find Maximo’s studio, I hop out of the car to find that somehow he magically knew I was arriving and was waiting in the doorway with a smile.
Climbing the stairs, chills prickle my skin despite the oppressive humidity: this is a place I know. Maximo’s idyllic studio setting harkens to second-story studios all over the world — dust, flaking paint, whirring fans, echoes of honking car horns, and brilliant sunlight pouring in from every window.
Just through his studio windows, I can see crumbling ancient walls: El Monasterio de San Francisco built in 1508. Yes, this city has history.
Maximo lives near an art school so that he can teach sculpture classes to a few individual students. In the middle of the workshop sits a massive bust in progress. He pulls his paintings out of storage, and we have a pantomime conversation filled with awkward pauses and frustrated resorts to Google Translate. When he invites me to help him work on the sculpture, the tensions relax, and we realize that when it came to matters of passion and inspiration and creative expression, many sentiments can surpass the language barriers.
Below are some snippets of our two hour ordeal (and please excuse any awkward translations — they are my fault):
Art is important because it is the best media for expressing oneself and one’s culture, the best way to reach the most people.
Dominicans are a mixture of all races, and my art explores investigates and shows the beauty in this unique blend.
We Dominicans don’t have much, but we are always happy.
Artists are sensitive and perceive more than things than most people can imagine.
Art is the most noble sentiment.
(Featured Image: “Maquina de guerra”, 32” x 42” acrylic painting by Maximo Ceballo)