The unique depiction of the pain and plight of the indigenous people of Latin America is what makes Guayasamin’s art so captivating.
A few days ago I had the privilege of visiting Museo Guayasamin, in Quito, with an Ecuadorian art enthusiast and close friend. As we walked through the most complete collection of his work she told stories of his lifelong goal to bring global recognition to indigenous oppression throughout Latin America. Many of his art works are inspired by poems which he wrote about indigenous suffering.
He graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Quito in painting and sculpture, holding his first exhibition in 1942 at just 23. Thirteen years later he was awarded first prize at the Biennial of Art in Barcelona. 1957 saw him named the best painter in South America by the Biennial of São Paulo.
His most controversial work sits above the Ecuadorian Congress and comprises of 23 individual panels across 1600 square ft. The panels show key moments in the history of Ecuador including its heroes, dictators and central pair of hands reaching towards the pre-Columbian sun.
The controversy surrounds the centre left panel which depicts a skeleton wearing a Nazi helmet with the letters C-I-A . This caused an upset in the United States of America. The mural still maintains its original aesthetic.
Guayasamin’s passion for his subject matter is evident in the drama and contrasts he brings to his work. Seeing his work up close, one can really get a sense for the anguish and suffering of the indigenous people he represents.
“This is my form of fighting,” he said. “I cannot take up a rifle but, damn it, I fight this way.”
His art sends a message from Latin America to the world.
As an Ecuadorian master, Guayasamin is regarded as a national treasure. It is therefore forbidden to take any of his oil paintings out of Ecuador. International collectors need to search for works which have previously left the country. Guayasamin died in March 1999.
The warehouse-style museum experience exposes the sheer scale and intensity of his magnificent art. Something I will take with me when I leave Ecuador.