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Inside the Mind of Salvador Duran

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  Despite a recent death in his family, Salvador Duran was still willing to open the doors of his art studio, and spill his thoughts on music, what's screwed up in the world, and the importance of artistic freedom in people's lives. 

Salvador Duran has been a local painter and musician for more than a decade. But prior to performing on his stomping-box in the patio at Club Congress, Duran spent most of his adult life in Mexico City, where he studied and began his work as a singer and painter. Personal conflicts pushed him to emigrate, and abandon the artistic career he had longed for in his native country. But art has always been an important element in his life. Duran constantly expresses its importance in developing a wider, more positive panorama of the world. And he believes art is a tool to help create social consciousness.

"Art always leads you to question the aspects of life," said Duran. "Aside from verbal language, artistic language is a means to denounce, to communicate."

Duran's studio consists of a very small room inside a gallery and music venue called Solar Culture. It is where he spends hours painting. Duran unleashes his thoughts and concerns to the tip of his brush and onto a canvas. Many of his paintings are inspired by tragedies, whether personal or foreign. As Duran speaks, he turns to the one he is currently working on. It was inspired by one of his close friends and her experience with sexual abuse as a child.

Duran believes that art is a tool to channel the negative and convert it into something good. It is a therapy he uses to deal with the loss of an uncle or brother, a friend's grief, or the many screw ups of society.

"Art opens us up and makes things easier," said Duran. "It is a gem. It is a tool that can help us deal with a conflict. A work of art distracts us, at least for a couple of seconds, from tragedies like losing a mother or the recent passing of my uncle. It frees us for a couple of seconds."

Duran was born in Cananea, Sonora, a mining town no more than two hours from Nogales, Ariz. Most of his adult life, however, Duran worked and studied in Mexico City. He attended the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), and studied sociology and political science. While in UNAM, Duran became involved with various student and humanitarian movements in the 1960s and 1970s.

"In Mexico, I had the fortune to reflect, question, and participate in humanitarian affairs," said Duran. "I participated in student movements. They were syndicates that proposed reforms to improve working conditions. This allowed me to create a conscience with people. Each person has a commitment, or almost an obligation, to participate in activities to better society or the community they live in."

The 1970s gave rise to social movements all over Latin America. It was like a domino effect. A social movement in one country gave rise to another in a neighboring country. The youth, especially students, rebelled against a system that was not giving people what they needed. They proposed alternatives to improve their living conditions. And Duran believes music and art were key triggers to the revolt.

"Rock in the 1960s and 1970s was very much involved in social movements and political critiques," said Duran. "The lyrics were like incentives for people to think and reflect about the world we were creating. Art was the amplification of language needed to convince and involve people in these freedom movements."

Later in his life, Duran was disenchanted with the environment he was surrounded with. He underwent a divorce and the disappearance of his 33-year-old brother. Duran speaks of these events with a certain sadness in his eyes. He points at a small sculpture and says, "Es mi hermano." "He's my brother." It is a tragedy in his life that is still hard to talk about.

Duran was also very unhappy with the superficiality rooted in the Mexican media.

"There were impositions of subliminal ideologies through the media," said Duran. "They were false morals. They put us in a box and they don't want to let us out. They don't let society live freely, and live in a more fraternal way."

Individualism aches Duran. He dislikes living in a society where people don't acknowledge educational, economic, and cultural problems if they don't affect them directly. Duran holds the mentality that we are all on the same boat. What affects our neighbors affects us too.

"People think that when facing a crisis they will unite to fight against it," said Duran. "But no, it has the opposite effect. People individualize."

We lack the sensitivity to sympathize with others' problems. We know about poverty and violence, but if these issues do not occur in our backyard then why try to fix them. Well, Duran has a huge problem with this mentality. He believes art opens up our hearts and vision. It makes us more sensitive to the world and its problems.

"Everything exposes us to reality," said Duran. "There is one reality, and we have to learn to understand it and decipher it. Art is an element very important to the life of a human. It widens our perspective of the world, stretches our horizons."

When Duran felt like he had drained his humanitarian efforts in Mexico,he decided to move to the United States.

Immigrating to the U.S. was completely circumstantial. Before making the decision to move here, Duran had been involved with student exchanges in Canada and sometimes in the U.S. He decided to move north more than a decade ago. But Duran's original plan was to start a life in Vancouver, British Columbia. He had a contract to work with a hotel chain.

"I felt like I had exhausted my work, my enthusiasm, my participation in Mexico City," said Duran. "And I had the urge to move somewhere else. Even though I wasn't that young anymore, there was still that restlessness to move."

Fate really wanted him to stay in Tucson. This was merely a short stop in his journey to Canada. But more than a decade later, he's still here.

"A lady saw some of my paintings at an exhibit and said 'I want them,'" said Duran. "She bought my paintings and later she wanted me to paint her a mural. And all of that delayed my trip to Vancouver."

Duran's local singing career was also an accident. He hadn't intended to become a full-time musician. When he first moved here, he would perform at small house parties, but never full-scale shows. How this came to be takes us back to Solar Culture.

Duran rented a studio next door to the gallery. He also worked at Zee's Gallery cutting mineral rocks and making deliveries. Zee's owner knew Steven Eye, Solar Culture's owner. And when Eye needed a musical act for one of their art exhibitions, Duran's name came up. Turns out, Joey Burns, one of the founding members of Calexico, was in the audience. And he ended up inviting Duran to open a show for them.

"I told him I would love to," said Duran. "But I told him that I didn't sing in English, and he said it didn't matter."

The show exposed him to Club Congress's owner. And nowadays, Duran is a recurrent act in the Club's patio. Duran never planned for any of this to happen. The universe just really wanted him here, singing and stomping his way through local and national venues.

Here's a video of Duran performing in the patio at Club Congress. He has also performed at the World Music Festival in Chicago.

"Being on stage is a festivity," said Duran. "It is a way to speak without the necessity to wait for an answer. It is an intoxication."

In his eyes, we all have the capacity to be artists. Which is why it is so important to him for society to make art a priority in our education.

"We all have the capacity to paint, to sing, to dance," said Duran. "We all have the capacity to say a beautiful phrase, to be kind. Art is a language that we posses since the day we are born. We all have that spark."

Written by Maria Taracena

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