Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Luma The Painter of Island Past

Dennis Luma with his paintings outside his West End studio space.
He is a painter, a muralist, a book illustrator and he can even detail a motorcycle. Dennis Luma is a soft-spoken man at mid-century. He is quiet, soft spoken and unassuming. His short, curly hair is starting to turn gray, but his creative juices are flowing strong. “You can see my work all thought the island,” says Luma about his art.

Dennis was born in 1973 in Tela, and he moved with his mother Tomasa to Mango Creek, Independence in Belize when he was one year old. She worked at a banana farm and mango farm in what was then a British Colony. Dennis’ mother is a Garifuna from Triunfo de la Cruz and his father Gell is from La Mosquitia.

He is a self-taught artist. “I drew everything that is around me,” says Luma about his painting days as a young boy growing up in a Belizean seaside village. When he had no money for paints, he would make paints out of plant seeds and discarded items he would find on the street.

Luma remembers being a boy who always found a way to paint. “I was driven to do it… It was something natural in me,” remembers Luma. A Mexican couple, who were visiting tourists saw little Dennis painting and decided to pay for his education at Miguel De Cervantes art school in Quintana Roo.

After a few years he found his way to Roatan. It was 1991 and the island was just starting to register on horizons of travelers and divers. Luma struggled at first, but eventually found a way to support himself as an artist. In 1990s the island was very much off the beaten path. It was like a rich, green canvas waiting to be embraced by artists. “It was beautiful: trees and white sand beaches,” Luma remembers Roatan from that time. “Art is Life. Life is Art. Everywhere you turn around you see some beauty.” He had seen Roatan grow and develop from a sleepy island to a booming tourist destination.

Luma’s art has been echoing that beauty that is quickly disappearing and being replaced. He paints large scale murals, sometime underwater seascapes filled with color, life and sea creatures: octopi, sharks, dolphins. His murals can be seen all over Punta Gorda. “I want the people to know about the Garifuna Culture and be inspired by it,” says Luma. He recently illustrated a book about Garifuna culture.

Luma’s art has been echoing that beauty that is quickly disappearing and being replaced.

Now Roatan is booming and Luma has found his stride focusing on art that resonates with his Garifuna roots. He illustrated the book of Garifuna history. “I am creating emotion that is positive,” says Luma while he stands in the back of a nondescript apartment in West End. His studio is an inspiring backdrop as it faces a wall of green plants and trees.

Luma can’t sit still; he is always up looking for places that could become the canvass of his work. “I do acrylic, I do oil, I do synthetic, I even paint on cars,” says Luma. “It is really hard for me to stop on one thing. The world is really diverse.”

Right now, the most important things in Luma’s life are being recognized by a younger generation and creating awe. “I am proud when a youngster stops by and admires it… That fills me up with joy,” says Luma.

He works with children to create murals. One of his projects is painting a 10 foot by 20-foot mural in front of Sunrise Church in Sandy Bay. Some of his legacy is working with island youth on large murals. “I can be painting all my life, but without a legacy I am not leaving anything,” says Luma.