Guna women of Panama’s San Blas Islands have for generations created embroideries called molas that honor tradition and are passed down through local artists to future generations, showcasing the rich Arts & Culture of the region. Although mass market versions with Coca-Cola logos or pop culture images may be commonplace, local artisans keep this practice alive by preserving tradition for future generations.
Contemporary Panama is a melting pot, evidenced by its vibrant art & culture scene. From multidisciplinary artists to culinary establishments elevating traditional Panamanian dishes, here are a few highlights worthy of exploration.
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute collaborated with architect Frank Gehry to establish Panama’s inaugural museum dedicated to biodiversity: BioMuseo. Set on an island, Amador Causeway protects the entrance to Panama Canal from being struck.
Visitors enter into a gallery devoted to biodiversity with dramatic sculptural spaces and immersive audiovisual presentations that encourage exploration. After exploring, other galleries display Panama’s diverse natural habitats–Panamarama provides an introduction to biodiversity while Worlds Collide discusses how Panama rose from the sea, uniting North and South America while separating two oceans.
Visitors to the museum can also gain insight into how the interbreeding of species impacted planet Earth’s biodiversity by altering ocean currents and weather patterns across Europe and Africa. Each gallery (plus one botanical garden) in this museum serves to raise visitors’ awareness about Arts & Culture as they impact it – with an aim of encouraging visitors to protect it in turn. Since October 2014, it has been open for business.
2. MAC Panama
MAC (Museum of Contemporary Art Panama), is one of Panama’s foremost cultural centers, hosting exhibitions, performances, and collections. Situated in Casco Viejo’s historic district it remains one of the capital city’s top visitor draws.
Recent years at MAC have witnessed several notable exhibitions by female artists. Teresa Icaza and Coqui Calderon’s retrospectiva “Trazos perceptivos” (perceptual threads) demonstrated the contributions made by Panamanian women artists, while Sandra Eleta’s Portobelo showed remarkable portraits from residents in Portobelo town.
MAC has hosted various cultural events and activities for locals, such as Arte para la Vida (2000) by Olga Donde and Reflexiones sobre L’art en Latinoamerica (2003) by Olga Donde. Furthermore, its permanent collection showcases works by both international and local artists; most notably Liliana Porter from Argentina with sculptures known as Experiment Furtiva (2015) as well as 1964 installation from Jorge Lopes are some notable pieces.
3. Weil Art Gallery
The Weil Art Gallery features the vibrant artworks of Panamanian artist Barbara Weil as well as those by other contemporary Latin American artists. Her art features bold paintings and sculptures in block colors; their philosophy centers around supporting and promoting new artists – they consider themselves to be “mother galleries”.
This gallery boasts several of Weil’s early landscape paintings and striking figurative pieces, as well as later ones such as her Five Generations series commemorating her intergenerational collaboration with her mother through cyanotypes. Her pieces often focus on exploring intangible qualities of time and movement and are inspired by Arts & Culture, nature, literature, photography, or her own personal history.
Weil Art Gallery is conveniently situated within a busy neighborhood and within close reach of Metropolitan Natural Park and Paitilla R bus stop. Additionally, it is only 10 minutes’ drive away from Multiplaza Pacific shopping mall.
4. Galeria Arteconsult
This luxurious gallery, located in an old building of Panama’s Old Quarter, showcases paintings by well-known Panamanian artists like Brooke Alfaro, Isabel de Obaldfa and Perez Celis as well as handmade pieces created by native Panamanian tribes such as Wounaan and Embera tribes. Additionally, this luxurious space is dedicated to the promotion and sale of art pieces that celebrate Panamanian culture as well as Latin American traditions.
Galeria Arteconsult was established by Carmen Aleman in 1980 and boasts over two decades of experience in the commercialization and promotion of contemporary Latin American art. Over this time, its diverse exhibition program has evolved over time in response to its aim of transcending limiting categories within art.
Galeria Arteconsult offers not only an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art, but also custom framing services, art consultancy for companies, banks, collectors and independent clients, temporary exhibition space rentals as well as hosting monthly meetups between art enthusiasts from different parts of the world. In its space serves as a hub of artistic dialogue.
5. Fonda Lo Que Hay
Casco Viejo restaurant Fonda Lo Que Hay is the creation of gourmet chef Jose Olmedo Carles, who helped to introduce New Panamanian cuisine into mainstream consciousness with Donde Jose restaurant, one of its pioneers, but eventually closed it at the outset of pandemic to focus his energy and efforts solely on Fonda Lo Que Hay (meaning, “that’s all there is”.)
Just like in any fonda (an affordable local restaurant), diners select from a daily chalkboard menu and then find their table. Offerings may include tuna carpaccio on grilled cassava and onion ceviche with yuca chips; classic dishes include airy chicharron and two perfectly cooked pieces of fried chicken with silky mashed potatoes.
Fonda offers events like acoustic concerts and salsa music DJs; check their website before planning to visit. And be sure to stop by the CACAO Bar Selection for edible souvenirs that blend Arts & Culture and taste, such as culantro-flavored bite-size chocolates from Central America or aji chombo-inspired confections – both are sure to please your tastebuds!