Elena Landa was born lucky. First, she is Peruvian. Second, she is bicultural. Third, she is an artist.
She was lucky her parents knew how to feed her soul. Both were educators and as an only child, she did “everything they did.” From her father, she inherited his love for writing, storytelling, oratory, painting, and music. “He would play guitar, he sang, wrote poetry, wrote stories, he was very bohemian,” Elena explains.
She grew up in a very artistic environment. “My mom, she loved dancing. She was all about reading and dancing.” Elena grew up reading and reciting poetry from Spain and Latin America, encouraged by her father. She narrated one of her father’s favorites by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Rhyme LII, aka "Dark swallows will return"45 :
|Volverán las oscuras golondrinas
en tu balcón sus nidos a colgar,
y, otra vez, con el ala a sus cristales
Pero aquellas que el vuelo refrenaban
tu hermosura y mi dicha al contemplar,
aquellas que aprendieron nuestros nombres...
esas... ¡no volverán!
Volverán las tupidas madreselvas
de tu jardín las tapias a escalar,
y otra vez a la tarde, aun más hermosas,
sus flores se abrirán;
Pero aquellas, cuajadas de rocío,
cuyas gotas mirábamos temblar
y caer, como lágrimas del día...
esas... ¡no volverán!
Volverán del amor en tus oídos
las palabras ardientes a sonar;
tu corazón, de su profundo sueño
tal vez despertará;
Pero mudo y absorto y de rodillas,
como se adora a Dios ante su altar,
como yo te he querido..., desengáñate:
¡así no te querrán!
Dark swallows will return
to hang their nests on your balcony
and again with their wings will rap playfully
on its windows.
But those who checked their flight
to contemplate your beauty and my happiness,
those who memorized our names,
those... will not return!
Dense honeysuckles will return
to climb the adobe walls of your garden
and again in the afternoon even more lovely
will open their flowers.
But those drops of dew
that we watched tremble
and fall like tears of the day...
those... will not return!
Ardent words of love will return
to sound in your ear,
your heart will perhaps awaken
from its deep slumber.
But mute and entranced and kneeling,
like worshiping God at an altar,
like I desired you..., don't kid yourself,
no one will desire you like that!
Listen to Audio 94: Recitation of Rhyme LII, by Elena Landa. Audio by Rafael Casco.
Elena’s family traditions included a mixed religious background. Her dad was Jewish and her mom was a Protestant. She learned Hebrew prayers, and Christian Psalms. But the constant was music. She continues her tradition with her son. “We have a ritual each night, we say our prayers in Hebrew: Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam o de Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Ehad." In English it would be something like "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one." Elena thinks this is very natural for him, as it was for her in the past.
Her mother loved folklore. And she encouraged Elena to dance. “First I learned to dance marinera. It is sort of a Spanish waltz but acholado,” she chuckles, meaning mixed with Native American. The marinera is a coastal dance. “The dance I developed, my passion, is Afro-Peruvian folk dance. To me, that dance is the most beautiful in the world.”
Elena brags that everyone loves dancing in Peru. Male and female learn folk dancing. If she were in Peru, her son would be taking dance lessons. Her son. “He does not fear those things he does not understand. He is learning Hebrew, English, Spanish.” For her it is important he learns his background, and he has represented Peru at HoLa Festival several years. “Once he was the Inca, next year he was a rainforest native.”
When asked what type of artist she is, Elena cannot commit. “Well, it depends. I try to find that passion, that flame. Sometimes the flame is about painting. But other times I feel the flame in various ways.” If the flame is dancing, that is all she will do. “Since last November, that flame, that passion, came in the form of a story that I am trying to finish writing.” It is a 400-page novel, about archaeology, in Spanish, for young adults. “It is a cross of Indiana Jones and X-Men,” she jokes. She has ideas for illustrating it, and next she wants to write children’s books.
HoLa provides an avenue for her to connect to other Latino artists and exhibit her work.
Elena enjoys teaching art. At Centro Hispano she was co-teacher of a series of youth workshops on Latin American crafts, including traditional mask-making. This project was funded in part by a Folklife grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission. “We also did a project like a village, in jute. The fabric was dyed in different tones of red, or yellow. Then pieces were cut and glued to form the village. Like a puzzle.”
Elena, multifaceted artist. World traveler. We are lucky she lives here.
Photo 91: Elena Landa by her paintings, 2012. Photo by Rafael Casco.
Photo 92: Elena Landa dressed in Afro-Peruvian attire with son dressed as the Inca, at the Parade of Nations, HoLa Festival, 2008. Photo by Jon Gustin.
Photo 93: Jute art work by Elena Landa's students at Centro Hispano, made by dying jute fabric and assembling as a puzzle. Photo by Rafael Casco.