While I was in Quito, Ecuador’s vibrant capital city, I visited the Guayasamín museum and ‘Capilla del Hombre’ or ‘Chapel of Man’, a gallery space created by the artist dedicated to the Latin American people. It is intended to capture man’s cruelty to man, but also the potential for greatness in humanity.
Oswaldo Guayasamín is Ecuador’s most celebrated and famous artist, a master painter and sculptor of Quechua and Mestizo descent. The museum located in the area of Bellavista (be prepared for some steep hill climbs to get there) was actually his home before he passed away just over 10 years ago. The Capilla del Hombre wasn’t even finished until after his death in 2002 and it is a powerful space, filled with huge paintings and murals by the artist representing the struggles of indigenous people throughout the world – namely Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Entry to the gallery and house costs about $6, and on arrival in the Capilla, I was offered a personal tour around the space including a short video about the artist.
The paintings here are huge, almost intimidating in size (some are over 20 feet high), incredibly emotive pieces filled with pain and suffering, but also with hope and love. The themes of social and human inequality feature heavily in his work, with many images capturing the political oppression, racism, poverty and class division found in much of Latin America.
These themes are reflected in Guayasamin’s three main phases: the ‘Trail of Tears’, depicting the misery and injustice suffered by Latin American ethnic groups; ‘The Age of Rage’ which depicts some of the major tragedies of the 20th century including the Holocaust, the Vietnam war and victims of dicatorships; and his final phase, known as ‘The Tenderness’ is dedicated to themes of compassion and love, particularly focusing on the relationship between mother and child.
Due to his lifelong work to expose the plight of indigenous peoples, Guayasamín is considered the pioneer of “indigenist expressionism.”
It is impossible not to be moved by his work.
“Sorrow, fear and despair mark the faces of these women and mothers of the cities of the Third World whose children lie coldly shot dead…their children, sons and daughters, victims of violence, of suppression and torture by civilian and military dictatorships and victims of bestial war…children who grow up without a single day of happiness, their big moist eyes shining with sadness; victims who do not even understand their pain… only fear.” – Guayasamín