The Ecuador Chronicles - 2011-27
A Review of Oswaldo Guayasamin;
Capilla del Hombre;
A Few Final Thoughts on Guayasamin's Life
Live Well Ecuador presents a three part series on Ecuador Artist Oswaldo Guayasamin. We will cover:
We continue this week with the Capilla del Hombre.
by Ray Almand
Capilla del Hombre
The Capilla del Hombre is considered to be the culmination of Guayasamin's life work. Guayasamin did not live to see its completion - but he did lay out the design, and work was underway before his death. The Capilla del Hombe is sort of a combination of monument and museum. The major themes of his work are expressed in the artistic displays: poverty, political oppression, class division - the pain and misery of many people around the world, but more specifically relating to the Andean region.
Some of the paintings depicting war, poverty and oppression are quite disturbing. One of the most famous works on display is El Condor y El Toro depicting the forced fight between a condor and a bull in which a condor is tied to the back of a bull in an arena. I had never heard of this but after a bit of research I discovered that this ritual is still practiced to this day in parts of Peru - usually in association with a bull fight. And of course, as with everything these days there is a YouTube video. While the mural is quite dramatic, I found the reality very unappealing - even though it was explained that these days it is supposedly not a fight to the death. The condor is set free at the end.
Guayasamin saw injustice in the world and fought against it through his art. As an indigenous Ecuadorian from a modest family he no doubt experienced injustice himself. Guayasamin fought against dictatorship and claimed to be non-political - but he clearly aligned himself with left wing dictators and seemed to view communism as a valid way forward for mankind. He was great friends with Fidel Castro - and Castro supported his artistic endeavors.
So how does this happen? There is certainly no way to defend this - but perhaps it can be explained. Well, first let's assume he was a decent, sincere man seeking to make the world a better place - it seems that he was. We have discussed the Lines of History in earlier Chronicles. The Lines of History that lead to 20th century Latin America are very different than those that lead to North America and other parts of the Western world. Guayasamin was born into a world where poor indigenous people had very limited opportunity - it had been that way for centuries. Dictatorships with arbitrary legal and institutional systems would have seemed designed to continue oppressing the oppressed. Then throw in the Cold War, which lead the Western world - in particular the United States - to align with and support unsavory dictators to keep them on our side. In this Cold War fight against communism we believed that the end justified the means (very different from our current reaction to the "Jasmine Revolution" in the Arab world).
So, while we enjoyed significant individual liberty, property rights, economic freedom - Life, Liberty and the Prusuit of Happiness - we were supporting the opposite in many parts of the world. This did not go un-noticed by people like Guayasamin. So it would be easy, even for a sincere and intelligent person to make the decision to support the other side. The thing that is difficult to understand is how such a person would not finally see the reality of left wing oppression - in particular the life draining subservience that it demands of every individual - and fight against that.
Think about it - Guayasamin was tolerated in Ecuador even during these turbulent times, and although still controversial, is today honored. His art was and is respected throughout the
Western world. Can you imagine Guayasamin as such a dissident in Castro's Cuba - he would not have been Fidel's great friend. He would have been in prison - or dead.
Below you will see former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet depicted in a derogatory work of art. I will not defend Pinochet's dictatorship with its record of "disappeared" people - Chile still suffers the scars of his time in power. But, the economy was put on a sound footing. Many ordinary Chileans improved their lives during this time, and while not living in freedom, were also not completely under the life depleting thumb of government hedgomy. In the end Pinochet handed the government back over to democracy - today Chile thrives and is moving into the ranks of the developed world. Dante suggests there are different levels of hell - Castro certainly deserves a much lower level than Pinochet. But you will see no such negative depiction of Fidel Castro in Guayasamin's work - they were, after all, great friends.
Here are a few photos of La Capilla del Hombre:
Capilla del Hombre
View Up from the Lower Level
El Condor Y El Toro
Guayasamin - With His Friend
Guayasamin's View of Augusto Pinichet
The Tree of Life - Guayasamin's Ashes were Placed Here
Would You Like to visit Ecuador and learn about a controversial artist. Find out how at: