At the beginning of last month, the Overture Center gave visitors a wonderful opportunity to experience Latino art and culture in a close and interactive way by hosting the 9th Annual Latino Art Fair. The night was a warm celebration of Latino artistry and identity while giving the community an opportunity to buy directly from artists and get acquainted with artists in the area.
One of the artists whose work you could have perused and purchased is named Nilvio Alexander Punguil Bravo, or, Alex, as he goes by. Punguil Bravo was born in Esmeraldas and raised in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and has been in Madison for 21 years. Although he has been developing his artistic touch his whole life, Madison is where he has spent most of his time as an artist. After moving from Ecuador to Ohio at just 17 years old, and then to Madison a year later, Punguil Bravo was in a whole new environment at a very early stage in his life. What would be an intimidating situation for most was made more manageable by diving into the arts.
“I don’t like the word impossible,” Punguil Bravo told Madison365, recalling his initial experiences in Madison. “When people tell me, ‘No,’ I do the opposite. I will show you that I can do it. It took me a while to navigate the system here. I understand the different cultures, food, language, and ideologies of people in this nation compared to Ecuador, so navigating that system took me a while. I was unaware of that invisible part, but art and music helped me navigate that system.”
While Punguil Bravo initially was met with hesitation regarding his goals and aspirations, his own drive allowed him to push past barriers and naysayers alike. Punguil Bravo is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Civil Society and Community Research, a program in the School of Human Ecology at UW-Madison. The field of study is fitting as community is a large aspect of what has defined his artistic journey in Madison so far, connecting with other artists and building bridges with others. Punguil Bravo spoke to how important finding community was for settling into Madison, and how important it is for people from a diversity of backgrounds to be supported and to put themselves out there as well.
“I appreciate Oscar Mireles and Mark Fraire for their work in community arts initiatives. Something beautiful is when you have somebody in power that represents who you are; it allows people who don’t have that power to come together,” said Punguil Bravo, who mentioned being inspired by the growth of opportunity and visibility for diverse people and communities in the arts and other areas.
“Put yourself out there because we live here in this community, and we are creating a stronger one. We not only represent diversity in many aspects but the economic growth of this nation, as well,” he adds. “Economic growth, community, diversity, and the intellectual part, too, where we start seeing more diverse people in the classroom of academia.”
This message was aptly put on display by the Latino Art Fair where a celebration of Latino art and culture was made to share with anyone intrigued in the community. However, connecting the art, culture, and the community goes even further than that for Punguil Bravo, who spoke of recently getting involved in a UW residency program, Whoopensocker, where theater is used as a medium to facilitate emotional and social skills along with creative writing skills. Punguil Bravo was joyous over the opportunity to work with kids in both a bilingual and artistic aspect, and recalled some of the nurturing around his own inclinations towards creativity growing up. A foundation of creative expression, putting yourself out there, and creating community carry throughout Punguil Bravo’s approach to being an artist, scholar, and human being.
“Art has been a way to survive,” Punguil Bravo said. “I did not have any goal in mind, but it helped me to create a community. I love organizing something. For instance, organizing a cooking event where friends and new people can become friends, come together, and get to know each other. Put people together at the same table and create a new family.”
While art acted as a gateway to community, the action of creating itself is something that was clearly intimately connected with Punguil Bravo’s own personal experiences and emotions. As such, it was not until 2010 when he sold his first painting and recognized how far his passion for creating could go. However, Punguil Bravo spoke to how inspiration and the approach to starting a piece of art often can’t be forced.
“The way that I do art can come in many forms,” said Punguil Bravo. “Most of them come in dreams, even nightmares. I also write incomprehensible stuff and ask myself, what happened to me? My paintings are 100% who I am. They are my babies. It’s my energy, myself, and who I am. I don’t let it go to waste. It’s connected with something that’s going on in my head and my feelings.”
The intention of creating can often be a frustrating process, but for Punguil Bravo, the process is itself often a release. The compulsion to use the creative drive inside can even lead down interesting paths as Punguil Bravo has also done paintings with wine, beer, and honey, one he does not recommend. In his journey so far, challenging interpretation has played a large part in both his approach to art, and his approach to life goals, and Pungil Bravo suggests everyone do the same.
“Regarding art, don’t give up on what your dreams are. Fight for them, and don’t let people tell you, ‘No, you’re not capable.’ I had that a lot,” Punguil Bravo said in closing, encouraging people to keep pushing in the face of adversity.
“I’m doing a Ph.D. now. Who would have thought that? I knew I would do it somehow because I had that in mind; I must fight for it. If you need to swim against the waves, well … do it.”
To get in contact with Punguil Bravo and see some of his works, check out his Facebook page here.