The island of Curacao is incredibly varied: There are idyllic coves and secluded beaches, a fascinating history, amazing food, and a capital city that UNESCO put on the list of World Heritage. And there is this impressively large community of artists adding to the island’s natural beauty with their ingenious and colorful creations. In this post, I’m introducing the best in street art Curacao has to offer.
- Urban Art Projects in Willemstad
- The Artists
- Girigorio Afelio Adriana aka Papy
- Sander van Beusekom
- Carlos Blaaker
- Darrick da Silva Marchena aka FOOL
- Annemieke Dicke
- Johanna Franco Zapata
- Jean Girigori
- Joan of Arts
- Jhomar Loaiza
- Viangelo Lomp
- Garrick Marchena
- Mr. Garek
- Luis Alberto Muñoz Zabala aka Aerografia Luis
- Pop Eye
- Guenn Ramon Gustina
- Nena Sanchez
- Francis Sling
- Omar Sling
- Bagira Tizraoui
- Merly Trappenberg
- Nina Valkhoff
- On Instagram
- Pinnable Pictures
Together with Aruba and Bonaire, Curaçao is one of the three so-called ABC islands. While it is geographically part of the Leeward Caribbean Islands, it has remained a part of the Netherlands with Willem-Alexander being King of State. The island looks back at a bloody colonial history and the long-term consequences.
Not only is Curaçao the largest of the ABC Islands, the capital Willemstad is the largest city in the Dutch Caribbean with 125,000 inhabitants. So it is not surprising that Willemstad also has to solve all the social and economic problems that every other big city suffers from: Environmental problems, social inequality, drug trafficking, and petty crime. Also, since many everyday goods have to be imported, the cost of living is relatively high and it’s difficult for many locals to make ends meet.
Curaçao is beautiful, but it’s not paradise.
Especially in its capital city Willemstad, Curaçao is facing severe social and demographic problems. And as you know from many of my posts on street art, embellishing a neighborhood with colorful and positive murals can be the first step in upgrading an entire community. Obviously, people in Curaçao know that. In this post, I’m introducing two major art projects that were established over the past years and have transformed parts of Willemstad into an open-air gallery.
Urban Art Projects in Willemstad
The noticeable difference between the cute little capital of Kralendijk on the laid-back island of Bonaire and the hustle and bustle of Willemstad, Curaçao’s capital, is immediately perceptible to everyone. And to the extent that the energy of the cities differs from each other, so does the street art of the two islands. Not so much in style, as some of the artists worked on both islands. No, it’s the sociocultural background that makes the difference.
While everything is relaxed and cute on Bonaire, the street art there is also primarily decorative: quirky beach scenes, the rich underwater world with colorful fish and fantastic sea turtles, and lovely portraits.
In contrast, the street art scene in Willemstadt grew out of social pressure. It is not surprising that the two projects that I am presenting in this post were artsy measures in times of hardship, albeit of different types. Even if the motifs rarely reveal it, the murals in Willemstad were not just painted for decoration.
I’ve introduced many similar projects in my former post on urban art: Whether IF WALLS COULD SPEAK: The Best Street Art Project in Amsterdam, Best Street Art in COPENHAGEN: The Open Air Gable Gallery in Nordvest, or ARUBA: The Powerful Murals of San Nicolas – the weapons of choice against urban decay and misery have oftentimes been paint brushes and spray cans.
Kaya Kaya Festival in Otrabanda
The inner city of Willemstad consists of two major parts: Punda and Otrabanda, today connected by two bridges. Otrabanda was founded west of the Sint Annabaai in the early 18th century. Traditionally, this district was considered a poorer part of the city.
Although the district had to endure poverty, decay, and even criminality, it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. After all, Otrabanda has unique architecture as well as rich artistic and most importantly musical tradition.
The listing enabled the community to cherish its roots and restore the original charm of its neighborhood. Today, Otrobanda stands for culture, tradition, and also for resilience.
In 2018, local entrepreneurs Kurt Schoop, Raygen Zuiverloon, and Clayton Lasten initiated the first edition of the Kaya Kaya Festival. With their art project, not only do they promote local talent. At the same time, they strengthen the community’s sense of belonging and identification with their neighborhood. All of this leads to the preservation and maintenance of the area.
Window Art Punda
However, there are also murals popping up on the eastern side of the Sint Annabaai, namely in the lively district of Punda. While many just depict Curaçao’s beauty, numerous are dealing with social topics like poverty, racism, neo-colonialism, and environmental problems.
In 2020 as Covid hit planet Earth – including Curaçao, obviously – the project Window Art Punda was installed. Since then, artists paint the windows of vacant commercial buildings in the center of Punda with murals. This project aimed at promoting local artists but also intended to make the shopping district prettier despite the economic crisis.
While it’s certainly a wonderful idea and makes this part of the city look even more lively, not all pieces are of great artistic value. Actually, it’s a wild mix of truly impressive art and pieces from painters that should by no means quit their day job.
I know it sounds mean, but at the end of the day, the look at art is also something very subjective and everyone is entitled to an opinion. This being said, I consider the pieces that I’m introducing in this post part of the great talent team.
Over the past years, I have put together many posts on street art: From painted walls all over Berlin to an abandoned hotel ruin on the island of Naxos. From socio-artistic undertakings in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Paris to a glamorous art project in Morocco’s capital Rabat – the world seems to be covered in breathtaking murals by renowned artists.
And while urban art is also huge in Curaçao, the standard of the works varies greatly. You’ll get to see murals by internationally renowned artists next to paintings that arose from the sheer joy of creating and the love for this beautiful Caribbean island. While they might be artistically less valuable according to academic standards, they are by no means any less appealing.
I haven’t divided the list of artists according to the projects since many of them contributed to both. Instead, I’m listing them in alphabetic order.
Girigorio Afelio Adriana aka Papy
Girigorio Afelio Adriana was born in Curaçao’s West Ronde Klip area in 1956. Due to the father’s death, the family had to endure a difficult economic situation. Nevertheless, his creative talent was noticed at a very early age, yet, due to unfavorable circumstances, Papy was not able to pursue an artistic career.
Instead, he began working in the banking sector, still painting in his spare time. In 2000, however, an exhibition of his work takes place at Otrobanda’s community center. It turns out to be a major success. More national and international exhibitions and commissions followed.
Papy depicts traditional Curaçaoan homes and portrays local people. Based on his own impoverished past, his motifs stem from social realism. As a matter of fact, the artist is well-aware that his personal economic and social transition is by far not the norm in Curaçao.
In 2006, Girigorio Afelio Adriana establishes the Adriana’s Academy for Arts & Science. He develops an extensive curriculum with different levels. Students can graduate after 3 years of training.
Sander van Beusekom
Sander van Beusekom studied at the Junior Academy for Art Direction in Amsterdam. Today, he is a co-owner of a graphic design agency in Willemstad.
In 2019, Curaçao Tourist Board commissioned Sander to create a mural promoting the island in Miami’s street art district Wynwood. He also designed large murals for the Corendon Mangrove Beach Resort as well as a mural on three walls of Willemstad’s tourist office building. For Curaçao’s post office CPost, he created a series of stamps in 2020.
Sander van Beusekom was one of the founders of the urban art project Street Art Skalo, an assignment whose mission was to refurbish the Scharloo district in Punda and to promote local artists. Therefore, his participation in the Kaya Kaya Festival was only the logical consequence of his artistic activities. In this context, he created several large murals in Otrobanda.
Although Carlos Blaaker is rather famous for sculptures than for murals, he absolutely deserves to be listed in this post.
Before moving to Curaçao, Carlos lived and worked in Suriname and the Netherlands. With his sculptures made from bronze, polyurethane, steel, polyester, and wood, he intends to bridge the gap between sculpture and painting.
But most importantly, his passion is to tell stories. People in his own neighborhood are his inspiration. You can actually feel the deeper meaning in his unique sculptures. Depicting oftentimes the so-called underdogs, he does not shy away from social issues and criticism of society.
Darrick da Silva Marchena aka FOOL
Darrick is the son of Curaçao’s most celebrated muralist Garrick Marchena whom I introduce below, obviously. Garrick’s then-girlfriend had their son during their college years in Pittsburgh. As the couple split up, Garrick kept his vital role as a father. After moving back to the island, he took his son to live with him in Curaçao. However, today, Darrick resides in Orlando.
It’s certainly not easy following in his dad’s giant footsteps. To be active in the same field while developing your own signature and following your own path requires not only great talent but also determination and strength. But Darrick did it.
Darrick has the same great talent as his father, but his style is quite different. For that, too, he deserves the utmost respect. Just as Garrick Marchena’s works are immediately recognizable, so are Darrick’s murals.
In 1967, Annemieke Dicke was born in the Dutch town of Santpoort into a family of painters, sculptors, and musicians. Hence, her calling was to become an artist, too.
Annemieke’s work is actually always about people. She depicts their tough yet at the same time beautiful life. Real people with real stories inspire her paintings as well as her sculptures.
Johanna Franco Zapata
Johanna Franco Zapata was born in Colombia and has resided in Curaçao since 1993. She graduated from the Instituto Buena Bista in Willemstad. Eventually, she has been working with the IBB since 2014 as a student advisor and artist.
Her work oftentimes deals with the colonial past of Colombia as well as Curaçao. Her colorful paintings and murals can be found in Willemstad and beyond.
Jean Girigori was born on a boat in the Caribbean Sea to a Dominican mother and a Curaçaoan father in 1948. She used to live in Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Haiti where the well-known painter George Paul Hector encouraged and supported her in developing her talent. A first exhibition took place in Haiti followed by shows in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Today, Jean Girigori is one of the leading painters in the Caribbean.
Her vibrant and expressive style is inspired by West Indian culture and religion. Particularly women’s rights are a vital topic of Jean Girigori’s paintings.
Jean Girigori has galleries in Punda’s Passaatstraat as well as in the Kwartje neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of town.
Joan of Arts
Joan of Arts was born 43 years ago in what’s today the Republic of Congo to Belgian parents. Eventually, the family moved to Ecuador. Hence, she’s not only an offspring of three nations, but actually a child of three continents. As this makes her also kinda rootless, she can just ignore frontiers and is a citizen of the world. After having lived in many countries, Joan of Arts currently resides in Curaçao.
As an artist, Joan of Arts is an autodidact who has created murals for many years now. Oftentimes, private individuals as well as businesses commission her to paint buildings and walls. Her biggest mural is found in front of the Radulphus College in Willemstad. My absolutely favorite, however, is the building in Otrabanda where she very cleverly combines Dutch and Caribbean heritage in the classic style of delft blue tiles.
Joan of Arts claims that painting murals is the love of her life…besides her love of her husband and her kids, she quickly adds.
Jhomar Loaiza was born in Venezuela in 1977. He showed great artistic talent already as a child. While he is mainly an auto-didact, he was taught professionally at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas Tito Salas in Caracas for a very short time back in 1996. However, some local artists in Venezuela influenced and prepared him.
He resides on the island since 2018 and has created a large number of murals. But he has completed and shown his work also in Venezuela, Mexico, and Spain.
Jhomar Loaiza was also awarded some prestigious prizes for his art.
In Curaçao, he has participated in the Kaya Kaya Street Festival as well as in the Window Art Project. But quite honestly, Jhomar Loaiza doesn’t need a special event to take out his paintbrushes and start decorating.
Since Viangelo Lomp is not a professional – even not a semi-professional – artist, I wasn’t able to find more information about him.
However, he painted a beautiful portrait of the Brazilian soccer player Aldair and Dutch-Curaçaoan singer and songwriter Izaline Calister on the wall surrounding the Johnny Vrutaal Baseball Stadium in Otrabanda.
Way to go, Viangelo!
Although he had shown great artistic talent already as a child, he first studied civil engineering at the University of Pittsburgh on his father’s advice. After his bachelor’s degree, he actually began working as an engineer but quickly resigned. Marchena preferred working as a freelance graphic designer in his younger brother’s company.
In 2009, he created his first mural Urban Angel in Willemstad. This work is actually said to be Curaçao’s very first large-scale mural. Since then, he created many wonderful portraits mainly in Curaçao but also in Aruba and Bonaire.
While technically speaking, Marchena’s first works were illegal, he now is regularly commissioned to create murals. His favorite subjects are children and animals. Also, many of his murals include birds as a symbol of innocence and freedom.
Whenever in doubt if a mural is by Marchena, look for his self-designed font inspired by the Native American petroglyphs, combined with Californian Cholo font from the 1950s. This iconic lettering will definitely give him away.
I introduced Garrick Marchena’s murals also in my posts ARUBA: The Powerful Murals of San Nicolas and BONAIRE totally unexpected: Street Food And Urban Art Tour.
Jean Betancourt aka Mr. Garek was born in Venezuela. There, he graduated from the Instituto de Diseño de Caracas in 2013. Since then, he has worked as an illustrator, designer, and animator. As an urban artist, he has participated in several international festivals in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and his native Venezuela.
He was the curator of an art festival in Venezuela, bringing together 120 national and international artists in 2015. The following year, he was featured in Latino Colors, a book published by the University of Palermo in Argentina‘s capital Buenos Aires which introduces some of the best Latin American illustrators.
Luis Alberto Muñoz Zabala aka Aerografia Luis
Luis Alberto Muñoz Zabala aka Aerografia Luis is originally also from Venezuela, namely from Puerto la Cruz. However, he currently resides in Curaçao.
Due to the proximity of both countries and given Venezuela’s political and economic situation, it’s not surprising that so many Venezuelans – among them many artists, obviously – make their homes in the ABC islands.
While Luis was a graffiti sprayer during his teenage years, he eventually became an airbrush artist.
Aerografia Luis contributed paintings to the Kaya Kaya Street Festival as well as to the Window Art Project.
Nina studied art and graduated from the Academy AKI in Enschede in 2007. She’s using different techniques for her artwork such as acrylic on canvas as well as screen printing. However, her greatest love remains street art.
Under her nom de paintbrush Ninapaintina, she has already embellished various facades in the Netherlands and other countries.
I was very surprised to learn that Ninapaintina also designed some cool merch for the legendary soccer team FC St. Pauli in Hamburg.
Dennis Bonsen aka Pop Eye is artistically rooted in the traditional graffiti of New York City. He later visited an art school but eventually brought his talent back to the streets.
His iconic winged eyes are put in different, cleverly composed scenarios; double meanings are Dennis’ strong suit – not only when it comes to his nom de paintbrush.
Guenn Ramon Gustina
Guenn Ramon Gustina is a creative Jack of all trades. He’s acting, singing, and dancing. He expresses himself in photographs and videos, in poetry and visual arts, obviously.
Calling himself a poeta krioyo, a Creole poet, his artistic career began actually with music. He was the youngest and shortest member of a vocal group known as the Angelitos, the little angels.
Although he has a great talent when it comes to painting, murals seem to be just a side hustle for Guenn.
Nena Sanchez was born in Curaçao in 1943. Already at the age of 18, she participated in an art contest organized by the Department for Culture and Art. The twelve best paintings – among them Nena’s portrait of an old man – were exhibited in Mexico and the Caribbean.
In 1966, Nena Sanchez was elected Miss Curaçao. Henceforth, she represented the island at various international events. After 25 years abroad, she moved back to Curaçao where she began experimenting as a self-taught artist with different materials such as canvas, paper, and wood. In her works, she depicted flowers, fruits, wildlife, and people of Caribbean sceneries in bright colors.
She also participated in the project Arte Para Todos in Seville. I’ve introduced it in my post Street Art in SEVILLE: Arte Para Todos in the San Pablo District
Nena Sanchez opened art galleries in the heart of Punda as well as at the former plantation house Jan Kok near the village of Sint Willibrordus.
Sadly, the artist passed away in 2017.
Francis Sling was born in Curaçao in 1979. From 2000 to 2004, he studied graphic design at Grafisch Lyceum Amsterdam.
He is a musician, painter, muralist, and poet who uses the paintbrush to create colorful poetry on canvas as well as on walls. However, Sling is also sculpting and carving wood.
As a musician, Francis loves playing string and percussion instruments. So if his career as a painter had failed, he would have pursued a career in music, it’s as simple as that.
Visual artist Omar Sling was born on the hilltop of Seru Fortuna in 1976. Today, he lives and works just a couple of meters from his birthplace surrounded by many members of his family.
After having studied design and multimedia at the Graphic Lyceum of Amsterdam, Omar returned to the island in 2007. For three years, he was working for a graphic design company when he was invited to participate in an exhibition in Fundashon Kas di Kultura Kòrsou in Willemstad. Participating in this show completely changed his life as it encouraged him to make a living as a visual artist.
Today, Omar is a multimedia artist who works with a lot of different materials and techniques. He is a painter, works with ceramics, and has created an amazing series of sculptures called Koko Yoko. Nevertheless, he still works in his original field of graphic design and is also a skilled animator. But he’s mostly famous for his sculptures made of all kinds of recycled materials.
Bagira Tizraoui aka The Only Bagira You Know was born to a Hungarian mother and an Algerian father. Therefore, she grew up in Algeria, Hungary, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In 2014, she relocated to Curaҫao. At 27, she’s a self-taught visual artist and also a mom.
While she was working as a sales agent, Bagira became aware of her artistic talent at the age of 21. Funny enough, she first painted on walls using eye shadow. Two weeks after her first commission, she quit her job and hasn’t looked back ever since.
Today, having travelled a lot and being familiar with many different cultures enables Bagira Tizraoui to develop deep and very touching motifs.
Being an autodidact gives Bagira the freedom to experiment with different styles and techniques. However, she’s mostly painting with acrylic on wood and canvas. Recently, she also began to experiment with AI and NFT. And finally, her murals can be spotted in many places around the island of Curaçao.
Merly Trappenberg was born in Venezuela in 1955. In 1993 she relocated to Curaçao.
Already as a teenager, Merly intended to become an artist. Yet, complying with her parents’ expectations, she completed training in civil engineering. However, immediately after finishing her apprenticeship, she began her career as an artist and never looked back.
Merly Trappenberg is most famous for her portraits of voluptuous ladies, yet she’s also known for vivid sceneries with people in bright colors and full of joy. She paints the island’s landscapes, traditions, and people. This is her contribution to the local community.
You’ll notice that although her curvy ladies all are dark-skinned, they have blue or green eyes. This is Merly’s way of underlining the large ethnic and cultural diversity in the archipelago.
In addition to her mixed media work and paintings, Merly Trappenberg also creates ceramic sculptures
Nina Valkhoff is an illustrator and muralist from Rotterdam where she studied illustration at the Willem de Kooning Art Academy. She has been working as a professional muralist for over 20 years and created works in Argentina, Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, as well as the Netherlands and Curaçao, obviously.
Valkhoff enjoys covering walls with exotic plants and animals in bold’n’bright colors. However, apart from painting walls, she also depicts those animals on vintage leather bags. This way, she upcycles them into unique pieces of art.
To dig deeper into the subject and see more of the amazing art the above-featured artists have created, you can just check out their Instagram accounts:
Girigorio Afelio Adriana aka Papy
Sander van Beusekom
Darrick da Silva Marchena aka FOOL
Marianne Faydherbe Hagedoorn
Johanna Franco Zapata
Joan Of Arts
Luis Alberto Munoz Zabala aka Aerografia Luis
Guenn Ramon Gustina
This map should help you to find the murals I’m introducing in this post. Clicking on the slider symbol at the top left or the full-screen icon at the top right will display the whole map including the legend.
Impressive Street Art was only one of the amazing things I got to see on my visit to the island of Curaçao. To read about the rest, go to this comprehensive guide where you’ll find further valuable information that will make your own trip much smoother and more enjoyable. To learn also about the other ABC-islands, my post As Easy As ABC: Island Hopping Between ARUBA, BONAIRE, and CURACAO has you covered.
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