An indigenous Bolivian of Aymara decent, Roberto Mamani Mamani is widely regarded as the country’s finest painter. His vibrant and colorful artwork expertly uses Andean symbolism to tell the story of his fascinating indigenous traditions. Read on to learn more about this Bolivian legend’s history, artwork, and accomplishments.
Born in 1962 to an Aymara family in Cochabamba, Mamani Mamani started drawing and painting as a toddler when he was barely able to speak. Aged five, he left Cochabamba to live in his parents’ home town of Tiwanaku where his grandmother lovingly taught him about the traditions of their people.
It was then that his artistic flair really began to flourish, as he started to paint colorful interpretations of his proud Aymara heritage. As a young man, Mamani Mamani moved to La Paz to study in the more profitable field of agronomy, but his love for art never dwindled. With no money to buy supplies, he used to draw sketches over the top of old newspaper clippings to ensure his skills remained intact.
Above all else, his work is instantly recognizable for its vibrant colors, a style that has been influenced by indigenous Bolivian weavers. Each painting is chock-full of elements symbolizing Andean heritage, such as cholitas, condors, mountains and llamas. Many of his symbols also contain a hidden meaning. For example, a yellow sun represents masculinity while a blue moon portrays femininity. Mamani Mamani’s psychedelic, abstract art is a uniquely modern representation of indigenous heritage. It is his vision of his people through texture, character, emotion and feeling.
As for materials, he insists on only using natural paints, including oil-based paints, which he mixes himself. Some works are done on canvas, while others use special paper imported from France. So as not to forget his roots, Mamani Mamani still sometimes sketches on old bits of newspaper, much like he did as a broke university student many years ago.
For a man who is completely self-taught, Mamani Mamani has had phenomenal success in Bolivia and on the international stage. He has been featured in 58 exhibitions since 1983 (52 of those entirely in his name), won countless awards and has been covered extensively in the international press. These days, Mamani Mamani spends most of his time traveling around the world to exhibit in cities like Tokyo, Munich, and London. When he is in Bolivia, he likes to visit local schools to encourage youngsters to pursue their dreams.
One of his more recent achievements was designing the giant murals that cover the entire façade of the Wiphala community housing project in El Alto. The initiative was commissioned by president Evo Morales to provide dignified living quarters to some of the city’s poorest residents.
Originals, prints, and merchandise of Mamani Mamani’s work can be seen and purchased in the following places:
Galería Mamani Mamani, Jaén 710, La Paz, Bolivia, + 591 2 290 6294
Tienda de Arte, Independencia #66, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, + 591 7308 2988