By Jeanine Barone
This museum, the only contemporary art museum in Panama, hides well. The concierge at my hotel in Panama City had never been there and didn’t know any guest who’d ever wanted to visit. And my taxi driver spent 20 minutes getting lost just trying to find it.
But, as an aficionado of contemporary art, I’m glad I didn’t pass up this museum, which is said to hold the best collection of works by Panamanian artists.
Their current exhibit, Women in Art, displays photos, watercolors, oils, and sculpture work by and about women.
Guatemalan Artists Too
The low-slung building at the foot of Ancon Hill is surprisingly spacious with several rooms exhibiting works not just by Panamanian but also a few Guatemalan, Colombian and Chilean artists. Probably the most surreal work is “Maternity of the Cosmos” by Colombia Gloria de Arellano.
In this piece, a woman’s swirling hair is indistinguishable from the roots penetrating underground where the woman almost resembles a potato. A sculpture by Chilean Ernesto Ortiz reveals a voluptuous woman whose hair resembles a mushroom.
(Curiously, I gravitate to images of hair that resemble biological objects.)
Normally I steer clear of obvious tourist attractions but I’m a sucker for living history museums and Mi Pueblito doesn’t disappoint.
Panama City Culture
Three mini villages strung along a spacious property snuggled at the foot of Cerro Ancon represent a cross-section of Panama’s cultures. First, I wander into a picturesque central square rimmed by replicas of a 19th-century colonial building, including a whitewashed church and a telegraph building complete with an old switchboard.
I examine the elaborately stitched garb displayed in a compact museum devoted to the pollala, Panama’s traditional dress that’s worn for various festivities.
In another village, brightly hued wood-frame houses that encircle a gazebo are the type imagined to be the dwellings of the West Indians who labored on the Canal.
Since I arrive just as the property opens, I sit alone in the sun and enjoy the calm. Later, I meander around this plaza and find a series of thatched huts — some quite spacious — that represent those of the native Indians of Panama’s San Blas Islands.
This section of Mi Pueblito is perhaps the most authentic where I watch the indigenous people craft and sell an array of handicrafts, such as molas, a traditional blouse, as well as animals carved from tagua nuts. The Indians do actually use these abodes, including one for the ceremonial nose and ear piercings and another for tribal meetings.
Panama Museum’s Times and Prices
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays: 10 am to 5 pm
Thursdays: 10 am to 8 pm
Sunday: 10 am to 4 pm
General visitors: $3
Ages 6 to 18: $2
Under 6: Free
For more information visit the Museum of Contemporary Art Panama.
Jeanine Barone is an independent travel and food writer and consultant who specializes in off-the-beaten-track travel. Visit her blog: The Travel Authority