City LivingSan Jose

Public Art With A Big Heart in San José

I love downtown San José. The parks are pleasant places to while away the hours, and the pedestrian malls are bustling gathering places for shoppers, workers, street artists, and tourists. I especially enjoy the sculptures. You’ll find public art dedicated to families, street sweepers, firefighters, farmers, and more. Two of my favorite pieces are near the western end of the Avenida Central ped mall, near the Mercado Central. These are tributes to a singer who played a toy guitar and sang unintelligible lyrics, and street dogs.

Marito Mortadela and The Song of San José

Anyone who walked along Avenida Central in Costa Rica´s capital city before 2014 knows who Marito is. With an impish smile, he sat on the street and played his guitar. Lindsey Fendt writes in The Tico Times about Mario:

Born Mario Bolaños Quirós in 1955 in a San José slum, the mentally disabled man began playing music along Avenida Central forty years ago to make a living.

Known for his unintelligible lyrics and plastic toy guitar, Marito became a fixture in the capital. He once said the lyrics to his ditties were dedicated “to his mom in heaven” who died when he was 14.

Marito died in October, 2014, but his memory lives on with this cow. In 2008 the “Cow Parade” arrived in San José. Cow Parade offers artists a white cow that each artist transforms into something of their own. The artist Mario Solano Gilberto Quirós made one for Marito, which he placed near where Marito usually played. Marito loved his cow, and although the other cows were eventually removed, the Municipality of San José has left Marito´s in his old spot.

In case you are wondering, “Marito Mortadela” would translate roughly to “Lunchmeat Larry,” as mortadela is a pressed meat often used in sandwiches.

Street dog sculptures in San Jose, Costa Rica
Downtown has a series of sculptures that pay tribute to specific street dogs that were rescued.

Street Mutts Live On

A bit further west you’ll find a series of six abstract sculptures that resemble dogs. It’s a touching tribute to the ubiquitous zaguates, or street mutts, that roam the streets of many Costa Rican towns. The piece in the foreground is “Tábata,” and the plaque on the statue reads “Tábata was abandoned and hit by a car on the highway, where she lost one of her back legs.” Each statue tells a story about the inspiration for the piece, and Costa Rican artist Francisco Munguía created them in 2009.

Both of these sculptures offer a glimpse into both the Municipality of San José’s commitment to the arts, as well as a uniquely human way of paying homage to some of the characters that we see every day, but often walk right past. These aren’t generals, presidents, or explorers; Marito, the dogs, and many others are part of the landscape and are what makes San José such a unique place. Now thousands of people recognize them every day.

Don’t miss this unique piece of Costa Rican art during your strolls downtown.

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