Capturing the Nicaraguan people in six portraits

By Char J. Stoever
Dec. 7, 2015

In August 2014, I moved away from home to teach English in Nicaragua. 

I've also painted more than I ever have in my life here. While I’ve had an on-and-off-relationship with art, painting is my favorite hobby. I even take my paints with me on trips. When every day brings twists and turns, painting helps me feel in control. Painting has been one of the most natural and fun ways for me to integrate in my community. I have a weekly art class where my students and I relax and let our creative sides come out.

I live in a sunny, mountainous region of Nicaragua. There’s amazing weather, lighting and some of the most photogenic subjects. Since moving here, I’ve done six acrylic portraits of Nicaraguan people I’ve met, each with one word that represents them:

Abigail: Friendship

“Have a Gatorade and some crackers,” Abigail said, after I’d gone through a long distance break-up. “It will make you feel better.” We’ve seen each other at our best and worst. Although she’s twice my age, this artisan has become one of my best friends.

Abigail, an artisan and friend who paints piggy banks.
Abigail, an artisan and friend who paints piggy banks.

Elena: Vulnerability

In both my art and my writing, I’m interested in exposing the fact that vulnerability isn't weakness. Traveling has made me an incredibly vulnerable person since I’m constantly being thrust into new situations. It’s this vulnerability that makes me accept the challenges that come my way, pushing me to ask, “What can I learn? What do I have control over?” I enjoyed painting Elena because she looks so comfortable with her own vulnerability.

Elena is the daughter of an Italian and Nicaraguan couple who are active in the feminist community.
Elena is the daughter of an Italian and Nicaraguan couple who are active in the feminist community.

Saviera: Mischief

Some pieces are harder than others to create. This one was the most difficult because of the lighting. I took a picture of Saviera in March, and I didn’t complete the portrait until September. She always has a mischievous smile on her face, and bounces around from room to room as if she’s up to something. I wanted to capture that look and give it my own spin.

Saviera, the spunky daughter of my school's secretary.
Saviera, the spunky daughter of my school's secretary.

Girl from the Caribbean Coast: Optimism

Just like Saviera, she captures the Nicaraguan spirit of optimism despite everyday challenges that come with being in Latin America’s most impoverished nation. This is the first time I’ve painted something in black and white, and it’s the only painting I’ve kept for myself.

My friend and fellow Volunteer Eliana took a photo of this girl. She didn't catch her name.
My friend and fellow Volunteer Eliana took a photo of this girl. She didn't catch her name.

Mita: Nourishment

I gave this painting to my host grandma for her birthday to thank her for dedicating herself to making sure her family never goes hungry. She offers me whatever she can, whether it’s beans and rice or a surprise pastry she bought from the corner store. I’m grateful to the host families who have fed thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers like myself during our service. It wouldn’t be the same without them and their fried plantains, soup and tortillas.

Mita, my host grandma, making beef soup on a Sunday.
Mita, my host grandma, making beef soup on a Sunday.

Alejandro: Innocence

After Alejandro's mom saw Elena’s picture, she called me, telling me how much she loved it. She asked me to paint her son. He turned out not only to be my first male subject, but my first male subject with curly hair.

My friend Karla, Elena's aunt, asked me to paint her son.
My friend Karla, Elena's aunt, asked me to paint her son.

A final image: Self-Portrait

This photo is of myself at three years old, immigrating from Mexico to the U.S. I chose to have the Mexican flag in the background to show that even though I left Mexico and my family there, the country and its people continue to be engraved in my memory.

Self-portrait
Self-portrait
Char J. Stoever

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