Monday, May 5, 2014

Oswaldo Guayasamin

Mural of Misery 2
Acrylic and wood
244 x 122 cm
Guayasamin Foundation Collection, Quito, Ecuador
-Fair use-

Oswaldo Guayasamin (1919-1999), born in Quito, Ecuador, was an iconic Ecuadorian master painter and sculptor of Quechua and Mestizo heritage. Besides being Ecuador's most famous artist, he was also a politically active intellectual who supported the causes of the poor and victims of slavery, exploitation, wars, famine and other tragedies on the continent. He was a close friend of Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fidel and Raul Castro, Francois Mitterrand and Rigoberta Menchu, among other important progressive figures from the second half of the 20th century. Most of his pieces express a profound sense of sorrow, which can be interpreted as a condemnation of the suffering that millions bore because of social injustices and wars. Despite this, his art is strikingly beautiful.

He was born to a native father and a Mestiza mother, both of Quechua descent. He was the first child of ten children in his family. His family was poor and his father worked as a carpenter, taxi and truck driver. He showed an early love for art and he graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Quito as a painter and sculptor. He also studied architecture there. While he was attending college, his best friend died during a demonstration in Quito and this event helped him to form his vision about the people and the society that he lived in. In 1957, at the Fourth Biennial of Sao Paulo, he was named the best South American painter. He traveled to many of the diverse countries in Central and South America, visiting Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and other countries. Through these travels he observed the indigenous lifestyle and poverty that appeared in his paintings. In Quito, he built a museum that features his work.
His images capture the political oppression, racism, poverty, Latin America lifestyle, and class division found in much of South America. He dedicated his life to painting, sculpting, collecting; however, he was an ardent supporter of the communist Cuban Revolution in general and Fidel Castro in particular. He was given a prize for "an entire life of work for peace" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

His death on March 10, 1999 was marked by a day of national strikes by the indigenous people (whom he spent his life supporting) and other sectors of society, and was considered a great loss to Ecuador. He is still lauded as a national treasure.