Honoring an artist with a giant heart

If you’ve ever strolled through an art fair in Costa Rica – or a San José neighborhood, for that matter – you’ve almost certainly seen the work of Francisco Munguía, the artist Costa Rica is mourning after his untimely death this week from causes not yet made public. He was 43.

His work was playful and instantly recognizable. It almost always brought a smile to the viewer’s face: you might remember his animal parodies of famous works of art, as in the featured image. However, he also put his skills at the service of social and environmental causes that needed visibility. Even during this COVID-19 crisis, he used his art to remind us that the #stayathome reminders ignore the many people for whom the shelter of a home is only a dream:

He was the official illustrator of animal rights, selling paintings and products celebrating dogs and earning money for their protection. One of his most viewed works was surely “Monumento al zagüate (perro callejero),” a series of metal sculptures of street dogs that graced the Avenida Central in the heart of San José to remind us to be kind to abandoned animals.

He also raised awareness of dangers to wildlife. He made us think about why marine life depends on us to think about fishing practices when we choose what to put on our plates, and why forest animals count on us to provide safe crossings across our highways:

According to the many tributes following his death, his favorite thing was to share his art with communities, and paint more than 100 murals around the country, focused particularly on low-income neighborhoods.

He’s left a whimsical, lasting, poignant legacy, but it’s clear he will be deeply missed.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookIf you want to learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section, updated regularly – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

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