Coca Cola, Art Or Artifice?
Coca Cola is one of the biggest global brands - and with no real challenger in Belize - its probably the biggest local brand as well.
This year, Bowen and Bowen is celebrating 50 years of bottling Coca Cola in Belize.
And to make it memorable, they invited 50 painters to conjure up quote, "moments of happiness with Coca Cola."
Now, patrons are nothing new to the arts - but 50 artists? This one seemed a little over the top - and so we had a few tough questions for the patrons and the curator when it opened at the House of Culture today:...
Jules Vasquez reporting
The ubiquitous logo of the global corporate mothership on every piece of art - one nation under a carbonated beverage.
That's the impression one gets when he or she views the show - and Coca Cola makes no apology for it:
Shelley Bowen Stonesifer - Marketing Coordinator, Bowen & Bowen LTD.
"The idea behind the project is that we've been bottling Coca-Cola in Belize for 50 years, and we wanted to do something celebrate 50 years of Coca Cola."
It is where commerce meets creativity, the blurring of the line between art and artifice - which is some cases can make for an interesting twist:
Melody Sanchez Wolfe - Artist
"So, I am looking at this flag, and I said, 'Who would enjoy Coke more? Who would really enjoy a Coke because it's open happiness? That was the theme, and I said that those guys have been in there since the 1900's. And once it was time for them to take a break, I took them down, and gave them a Coke, and I even had the ship come in."
And once the corporate flag is intact and aloft, don't worry about the national one. Make no mistake, it is a tour de force, 50 artists including many masters such as Pen Cayetano, Carolyn Carr and Nelson Young.
Gilvano Swasey, Curator/Coordinator
"What they were looking for was the feeling that Coca Cola gives us, but most importantly, what I emphasized to them was that I begged the artists to keep the ideas in their own style. So, when you look at the work, you don't see Coca Cola first, you see Terryl. You will look and you will see Carolyn Carr before you see the Coca Cola bottle."
But the panel of judges found that none were better than Teryl Godoy who won the first place prize of five thousand dollars and was more than a little incredulous:
Terryl Godoy - 1st Place Winner
"It's the best feeling, and I am trembling. I just stopped trembling a little while ago because I've never won anything in my life. You really think I won it fairly."
"Yes, fair and square."
"Well, if that is really true, that is great to know. I have to give thanks to God again."
And while the artists were genuinely pleased - for the purist, or maybe even a casual critic, all this branding and kissing of the corporate ring - well, it seems a bit like overkill:
"Well, you're forcing the artists to prostitute themselves for a commercial cost."
Shelley Bowen Stonesifer
"Well, I can see your point, but no one was forced to participate in the competition or painted under duress. We asked if they'd like to be part of it, and they agreed. We financed the painting, the canvass, and they chose to do it. I kinda like it."
"I would expect that you would, but speaking specifically, obviously, mixing in Coca Cola - that corporate logo, I find it a bit jarring. That's my opinion. How would you respond to it that I am offended by that?"
Shelley Bowen Stonesifer
"Well, that's your opinion. It's fine with me that you feel that way, but if you look around Belize, and you see that snap shots of Coca Cola are there."
"If you noticed in that painting, everything comes in naturally. The 'bread and bun' on top of the little Coke sign, that's how they used to do it. The little shop didn't have Coca Cola big on it; it said 'Daddy's', right? That's how it used to be in the 60's and 70's, and I am painting from my mind - this painting doesn't exist - a lot of people wants to know what street that was. Well, because it's so familiar, you can mistake it for one of those areas, but it's directly from my mind about how it used to be."
Melody Sanchez Wolfe
"I didn't feel exploited at all. I heard you ask Shelley that. No, they gave us $350 to do the painting, and it's - we own paint brushes, canvass, and everything. Plus, they gave us a canvass, so a big thank you to them. I was honored to be a part of it."
"How would you answer the criticism that you're just encouraging your entire artist clan to sell out to one of the biggest corporations on earth."
"I used to always think about corporations, about how they are always using the most talented to sell their product, and just to keep you buying and buying. But, I never had the opportunity to this artist, Bobby Dredd, who did - I think it was 15 years ago - who did Coca Cola Olympics sculpture with the big Coke, and the national symbols. I remember my good friend, Yasser, said that Coca Cola gave homage to prostitution - I think it was, which was the same question that you asked. But I never got the opportunity to ask Bobby Dredd about how he felt. I meet him this weekend, and of course, over a couple glasses of black berry wine, he confessed that he was so proud. I saw it as Belizean artists getting an opportunity to express themselves because as you know, everything is in a state of coma right now. I don't even want to be an artist, I don't know if I will sell a piece tomorrow. So when the opportunity comes to express yourself, and we're going to pay you for it to express yourself. How can you resist."
Indeed, the lure of a prize, recognition and working materials in a post comoatose art scene is enough - and the prizes did produce many genuione moments of happiness today.
Student Representing Maud Williams Highschool - 1st place, Schools
"Everyday, we see Belizeans after work, they go to drink a Coke. During dinner or lunch, they would also drink Coke. So, that's how we came up with the idea. And since it's culture and tradition, we did it in the name of the kitchen in Kriol, 'Fu Wi Kitchin'."
Student Representing Maud Williams Highschool
"I feel very proud. Maybe society will look differently and have a different perspective of Maud WIlliams. Maud Williams does have talent. They really put in themselves into the art. It brings out what we speak of our expression and our emotion into it."
Shelley Bowen Stonesifer
"Everyone stuck to their stars, and they created - with Coca Cola in it, granted - but I think they could compete internationally. They're beautiful."
Carolyn Carr won second place and Papo Alamilla won third.
The show is a travelling showcase and runs from May to October.