Oswaldo Guayasamin-Oppression, War & Human Suffering

Oswaldo Guayasamin-Oppression, War & Human Suffering
September 3, 2011 Lainie Liberti

A Conviction of Conscience

Some Say Indigenous Expressionism – I Say Haunting Impressions

Oswaldo Guayasamin

Hands down, the highlight of our short time in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, was our visit to Oswaldo Guayasamin’s: The Chapel Of Man Monument . Prior to arriving in Ecuador, I had not experienced Guayasamin’s art, but from our first step in the nation’s capital, the importance of his work to the  collective consciousness was clear, reminiscent of the role Joan Miro plays in Barcelona, Spain. Reproductions of Guayasamin’s art were everywhere, sucking me into the haunting images, eyes begging for justice, stories of human suffering being told as though the  the cheap reproduction posters that hung in every hostel and restaurant throughout the city were a cry for help.

We had put Sunday aside to visit his museum, as we needed to return to our volunteer post the next morning in Banos. We had learned that not only there was a  Guayasamin Museum in Quito, there was a very special place dedicated to Oswaldo Guayasamin, his former home and homage to human struggle called  ‘The Chapel of Man’ Monument. We set out to visit both, but discovered the museum was not open on Sundays, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since we did not expect the emotional impact that was to come.

Our taxi guided us up a steeply winding road leading into an upscale neighborhood,  where we arrived at ‘La Capilla del Hombre’ or The Chapel of Man Monument. We learned that the building was designed by Guayasamin himself specifically to house his collection of paintings that pay tribute to indigenous peoples of Latin America, and their suffering spanning the pre-Columbian world through conquest, colonization and integration.

Upon entering the ‘The Chapel of Man’ we felt the heaviness of the larger than life primal images, feeling overwhelmed by the surge of raw collective raw anguish. Miro and I both were struck with emotions, and on more than one occasion, I viewed the powerful images through misty eyes.

I have always believed an artist’s primary purpose is to provide a first hand commentary on surrounding  life, an interpreter of reality, recorded for all time to experience. Equally, I believe an artist has good fortune to be born during times of great tribulation. Artists are defined by, and define their times, through their unique interpretation. In my opinion, such was purupose of Oswaldo Guayasamin’s life, to share these experiences with all of humanity, and tempt us to never forget.

Many say Guayasamin’s art is considered Indigenous Expressionism, strongly influenced by the art of Pablo Picasso.  I was struck by his piece  ‘Manos de la Protesta’ (in ‘The Chapel of Man’ in Quito)  echoing Picasso’s famous ‘Guernica’.

The native born Ecuadorian, was of Maya, Quechua Indian and Spanish decent. Presumably Guayasamin’s background of poverty & loss coupled with the geo-eco & political events coinciding with the worldwide depression of the 30’s, influenced the artist more than we can imagine, turing  an already antiauthority rebellious soul into a crusader against oppression, cruelty and injustice. The body of work that we saw at the Chapel of Man, hauntingly portray universal images of human suffering. His art is visceral and highly charged with emotion. It is difficult to be in to be in the presence of his paintings without experiencing an emotional response, and forming your own commentary in reaction to brutality and tyranny inflicted on others.

As a release, Miro and I were able to be playful, under the ‘Tree of Life’, the very location  Oswaldo Guayasamin’s ashes rest. His art will forever haunt my consciousness  and pepper my memories of our visit to Eucador.

From Wikipedia:

Guayasamin Biography

Oswaldo Guayasamin, was born in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, on July 6, 1919. He graduated from the School of Fine Art in Quito as painter and sculptor. He carried out his first exhibit when he was 23, in 1942.

He achieved in his youth all National Awards, and was credited, in 1952, at the age of 33, the Grand Award of the Biennial of Spain and later the Grand Award of the Biennial of Sao Paulo. His last exhibits were personally inaugurated in the Palace Museum of Luxemberg in Paris, and in the Museo Palais de Glace in Buenos Aires, in 1995.

He died on March 10, 99, when he was 79 years old.

His work has been shown in museums in all capitals of America and in many countries in Europe, for example, in Leningrade (L’Ermitage), Moscow, Prague, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, and Warsaw. He carried out 180 individual exhibits, and his production was fruitful in paintings, murals, sculptures and monuments.

He has murals in Quito (Government and Legislative Palaces; Central University; Provincial Council); Madrid (Barajas airport); Paris (UNESCO headquarters); Sao Paulo (Latin American Parliament). In his monuments “A la Patria Joven” (To the Young Country) (Guayaquil, Ecuador); “A la Resistencia” (To the Resistence) (Rumiñahui) in Quito.

His humanist work, marked as expressionist, reflects the pain and misery that the larger part of humanity has endured, and denounces the violence that every human being has had to live with in this monstrous 20th. century marked by world wars, civil wars, genocide, concentration camps, dictatorships, and tortures. He had been working on his top work ” The Chapel of Man ” when he died.

Also, please be sure to the read the article and view the wonderful photography by Alisha Roberts, from the blog SmallWorldPursuits.com We actually experienced the the day together. Her article is called The Presence of Artist Guayasamin: Quito, Ecuador


If you like to read more about  art we’ve encountered on our travels, be sure to check out these article:

Big, big, bigger Botero

I met the Guatemalan Picasso

Guatemala City, Art & Capitalism?

Podcast Episode #9 – Reflecting on Culture Through the Arts




  1. Audrey Bergner 13 years ago

    Great quote! And I like the raw emotion of these paintings!

  2. Audrey Bergner 13 years ago

    Great quote! And I like the raw emotion of these paintings!

  3. Gil Gronowski 13 years ago

    Like Picasso meet’s Goya,very cool……

  4. Philip Johnson 13 years ago

    Hi guys, haven’t checked in here for ages but really love what I’ve read here this time round. This blog just gets better and better.nnBummer though, I’d never heard of Guayasamin and in Cuba passed up a chance to go to his casa/studio/museum. Wish I’d known who he was or seen some of these images earlier; I would have gone well out of my way to check him out.nnAnyway thanks for sharing. This blog really is wonderful…

  5. Kevin Castro 12 years ago

    I am very pleased to see that my country´s heritage can be interpreted by others, thats why Guayasamin is one of the heroes of my Childhood, he could easily make others fell what he suffered, so his memory will rest in the mind of anyone who can understand his paintings.

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