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Oswaldo Guayasamín

Born in 1919 to humble, indigenous parents, Oswaldo Guayasamín would later mature into Ecuador’s most famous artist. His striking art portrays the humanity and suffering of the repressed classes and people of the Americas. Considered an expressionist, Guayasamín used bright colors, symbolism and images of pain and torment to create truly unique and memorable works.


By the time he was middle aged, Guayasamín was awarded numerous artist and humanitarian honors and his art had been exhibited in the U.S., Italy, Spain, France, Brazil, the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, and other countries. Some of these exhibits were in prestigious locations, such as the Palais de Luxembourg (Paris, 1992) and the L’Hermitage Museum (Saint Petersburg, 1982). In 1978 he was named to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Spain and in 1979, to the Academy of Italian Arts. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) gave him a prize for “an entire life of work for peace.”


In spite of these lofty awards, Guayasamín never lost his connection with the common people of Ecuador, who adored him. Toward the end of his life he began work on La Capilla del Hombre (The Chapel of Man), which he dedicated to the races of Latin America, although he never lived to see it finished. He passed away in 1999. Artists from around the world continued to complete the master’s plans.


Nor did Guayasamín never lose his artistic edge. Commissioned to do a series of murals for the Ecuadorian Congress in 1988, he painted 23 panels depicting his nation’s history. One of the panels features a black-and-white painting of a horrid, skeletal face wearing a Nazi-style helmet with the letters CIA on it. The painting caused an international incident between Ecuador and the U.S. The artist held firm and the painting remains.


Today, Guayasamín is still very popular. His works are on display in his museum and at the Capilla del Hombre. If you go shopping in the Mariscal area, you’re likely to see many knockoffs of his works for sale in a variety of mediums. His works are easy to spot: They are colorful and feature people with distinctive twisted hands and faces.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Ecuador: Art and Painting in Ecuador, Ecuadorian Literature, Culture in Ecuador and Quito's Street Food.

07 Sep 2012

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