A True Ecuadorian Legend - Guayasamín
by Juan Francisco Carrasco
Recently I had the opportunity to visit The Man’s Chapel Museum. This place houses the most important artworks of Oswaldo Guayasamín, an Ecuadorian indigenous artist that was known around the world for his humanist and expressionist art. In this article I will tell you more about his history, his trajectory as an artist, and his legacy which has formed the biggest heritage of contemporary art in Ecuador.
Oswaldo Guayasamín was born on July 6,1919. He started painting and drawing at the age of eight and sold his art to tourists to economically help his family. His mother was the only one that believed he would succeed as an artist but sadly died at a young age and never saw her son become an established artist. Even though his father didn’t support him in becoming an artist, Guayasamín studied at the Quito School of Fine Arts where he stayed for nine years and finally graduated as a painter and sculptor in 1941. His love for art allowed him to save enough money to pay for his studies.
At the age of 23 he had his first exhibition in Quito and sold many paintings.This gave him enough money to travel to the United States where he studied and traveled to many museums learning about different types of art. Afterward, he traveled to many Latin American countries, from Mexico to Argentina, where he gathered ideas and drawings for what would be his first collection of 103 paintings called Huacayñan, which in Kichwa means “the crying path.” This first collection of paintings reflected the social struggles of many indigenous communities of South America and their fight for rights, equality, and freedom. Guayasamín’s first collection also allowed him to connect with his own indiegenous heritage, since his father was indigenous. This first collection represented a political criticism about the oppression of minority groups, a reality that he saw through his journey around South America.
In 1964 Guayasamín started his second and best known collection, “La Edad de la Ira” (The Age of Anger). This collection took him 20 years to finish and reflected on the cruelties that the human beings have done to other humans. From World War II to the Spanish Civil War and the genocides of the Chilean dictatorships, Guayasamín covers and protests against all the pain and suffering that our own society has created while calling for peace.
The Age of Anger collection was very important to him because he had a very difficult life and endured many harsh realities that we usually ignore as a society. For Guayasamín, this collection was the perfect opportunity to show people the tough truths of our society and protest against them through art. Paintings like Los Mutilados, Lagrimas de Sangre, Los Torturados, Manos de la Protesta, Potosi, El Guitarrista and Los Niños Muertos are examples of the agony and grief that he embodied in his art.
All the paintings of this collection brought Guayasamín strong emotions and often he needed to disconnect from all the pain and suffering he painted. Because of this Guayasamín designed jewelry, painted flowers and portrayed the city of Quito more than 200 times in different colors and perspectives to clear his mind.
After “La Edad de la Ira” Guayasamín made a last collection called “Mientras Viva Siempre Te Recuerdo” (As I Live I Always Remember You), better known as “Ternura” (Tenderness). This last collection was dedicated to his mother and all the mothers of the world, including Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). He dedicated it to the mothers because as mentioned above his mother was the only one that believed in his art at the beginning but she died at a young age without seeing her son succeed as an artist.
This collection contrasts a lot with the previous one because we can clearly see the change in the color pallets. In “La Edad de la Ira” the colors went from darker colors such as gray, black, and red, colors that symbolized the pain of the social injustices, to lighter ones, like blue and yellow, symbolizing the love of the mothers and kids innocence. Guayasamín started painting this collection in 1996 and dedicated his time to it until he died in 1999. Some paintings of this collection include Familia, Meditación I, Meditación II, and Ternura.
Last but not least, in 1995 Guayasamín started his most important work, an architectural work called “La Capilla del Hombre” (The Chapel of the Man). This place, located in the neighborhood of Bellavista in Quito, was built next to the artist's house and now, along with his house, is a museum open for everyone that wants to learn and see Guayasamín’s artwork. He started this project as a tribute to human beings and especially to the history, fights, and accomplishments of the Latin American people. Sadly, Guayasamín died before finishing his works, but his family decided to display everything as he left it, including some of his incomplete works.
Before he died, Guayasamín realized that most of his artwork was located outside of Ecuador and when he passed his sons would be gifted e
verything, leaving nothing to his country. This convinced him to create the Guayasamín Foundation through which he donated all his paintings, drawings, his pieces of colonial and pre-Columbian art, and even his house (which included The Man’s Chapel) to the country of Ecuador. By doing this he assured that his legacy would be preserved and displayed to the citizens of Ecuador and the world.
After his death UNESCO declared The Man’s Chapel as “priority for the culture” and posthumously he was recognized as an “Ibero-American Painter” by the International José Martí Prize. Also, in 1991 the Ecuadorian government gave him the Eugenio Espejo prize, a recognition given to people that stand out in Ecuadorian culture. Now, by his request, Guayasamín rests in the Tree of Life, a tree that he planted in his house where he wanted to be buried. His best friend, the Ecuadorian writer and politician Jorge Enrique Adoum, was also buried there.
If you visit Quito I highly recommend that you visit the Guayasamin Foundation and The Man’s Chapel to learn more about the life of this wonderful Ecuadorian artist.