Recently, a friend and I visited Oswaldo Guayasamin’s collection of art in the Bellavista section of Quito. My first visit to the museum was in 2005 with my Spanish teacher. The museum offers so much to see and comprehend that it is impossible to assimilate everything even after one or two visits. I would recommmend taking the guided tours offered in each building and then walking around on your own.
Oswaldo Guayasamin was born on 6 July 1919 and passed away in 1999. He was the oldest of ten children and the son of a mestizo (mixed race) mother and an indigenous father. Guayasamin’s family was poor, but his mother always encouraged his interest in art. He went on to study at the School of Fine Arts in Quito and became famous during his lifetime. Guayasamin’s art is truly moving and illustrates the social injustices of the world, particularly in the Americas.
There are three parts to the museum. All are located in close proximity of each other. First, is the Guayasamin Foundation, which houses a variety of his paintings, sculptures and jewelry designs along with his Pre-Colombian archaeological and Colonial Art collection. The second is The Chapel of Man, where most of his larger paintings are exhibited. Finally, his last home, which is not always open to the public, offers spectacular views of Quito from the garden.
The Pre-Colombian artifacts collected by Guayasamin over a fifty-year period are nicely exhibited at the Guayasamin Foundation. There are a variety of archaeological pieces including ancient musical wind instruments made of clay, figures depicting sexual positions and giving birth, jewelry, kitchen tools, bowls and funerary urns.
Guayasamin’s Colonial Art collection includes wooden statues of saints, the Virgin Mary and Christ created by artists of the Quitenian School (17th and 18th centuries). Many of the artists were indigenous people originally trained by Franciscan and Dominican monks. It is amazing how the shiny paint used to decorate the statues makes the wooden figures appear to be made out of ceramic. The graphic depictions of Christ suffering is another characteristic particular to the Quitenian style. Many of the statues show Christ’s skin torn away and profuse bleeding. Some of the figures of Christ even have small windows on his body, so you can see parts of his skeleton.
This time around we did not make it to The Chapel of Man, but I remember it vividly from my first visit. Guayasamin’s large paintings are displayed in an impressive manner and are often accompanied by his own comments written in large typeface on the walls of the Chapel. The history of human suffering and the social injustices committed against the indigenous population are clearly reflected in Guayasamin’s paintings. His thought-provoking paintings are an excellent introduction to Ecuadorian history.