Mayan dreams


U of R painter blends indigenous culture into his art

Megan Narsing

Christian Barreno started painting when he was around 13. As a youngster he thought he wasn’t good enough to make a living off of painting but nonetheless pursued it on the side. At that time, he mostly painted the familiar and popular things of his culture. Since then he’s grown a tremendous amount.

Barreno grew up in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. In the summer of 2002 he came to Canada in search of better opportunities and to improve his skills. His brother – U of R professor Leonzo Barreno – had already been living in Canada for quite some time. Barreno wanted to pursue a career in visual arts. As an indigenous Mayan, Barreno expresses his culture through his art. With the vibrant and various colours in all of his paintings, The Fifth Parallel gallery has come alive with Mayan culture and beauty.

The move to Canada has changed Barreno’s art. “I painted things everyone was doing back there [in Guatemala] but in a way I was trying to move myself away from that by coming here. Something told me to expand my horizons in terms of concepts and different things, which I really enjoy now. I’m combining traditional artwork from back home but at the same time I’m blending these new concepts that I have been learning here in Canada.”

Art doesn’t come easily. Sometimes Barreno wouldn’t paint for months due to lack of inspiration. It’s also difficult for him to produce such masterpieces in only the span of a couple of months. “It’s a struggle sometimes [to do art] being in school and working at the same time. It’s been a challenge also because I don’t have a studio. I basically paint in the basements of where I live or in my apartment. But it always works out at the end of the day.”

His most favoured piece in the gallery is “Ixchel.” Ixchel is the Mayan people’s goddess of childbirth, medicine, and textiles. Barreno’s painting is of Ixchel – a woman with a snake wrapped around her head – with the Mayan calendar in the background. Barreno wanted to bring attention to the Mayan calendar in this piece. With lots of recent discussion of 2012, he wanted to clear up the misconceptions following the year.

“Right now there is a lot of talk about the Mayan calendar and everything revolving around 2012. It makes me very upset because places like Hollywood go straight to making money out of it. Misleading a lot of people as to what 2012 really means. It’s actually the end of our cycle that will bring humankind to reflect on what we have done in the past and what our future generations will take from us. So for us 2012 is actually going to be a big party because there will be a lot of good changes that will happen. Of course not everyone will be happy [with the outcome]. Stuff like that brought the concept to my head about doing a painting and getting people interested and talking about it. And that's how that painting came to be.”

Barreno often incorporates women into his paintings. They are an important part of Mayan culture, are greatly respected, and are seen as the leaders. The snake is also an important symbol representing protection, as it is the only land creature able to make itself into a circle. The image of the snake is also related to the Mayan calendar.

Apart from painting, Barreno expressed that he’d also like to dabble in other mediums such as sculpture and photography. He’s received a great deal of encouragement being showcased at The Fifth Parallel. This being his final year, Barreno shared that the exhibit for him is sort of like a graduation from the process.

If you haven’t had a chance to view this amazing artist’s work don’t be afraid to stop by the Fifth Parallel Gallery and take a peek. Barenno’s exhibit, In Between Dreams, will be open to the public from Oct. 26 to Nov. 12, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.

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