LONG BEACH, CA.- The Museum of Latin American Art
presents today Of Rage and Redemption: The Art of Oswaldo Guayasamín, on view through August 16, 2009. The first exhibit of its kind in the United States in more than fifty years, Of Rage and Redemption: The Art of Oswaldo Guayasamín covers each of Guayasamín's major periods-his early paintings that reflect the plight of the indigenous peoples of the Andes, his more mature work that addresses human suffering in the context of war and injus-tice, and, finally, the paintings of his last period that embody the art-ist's hopeful affirmation of life and love. No less valid today than when he was commenting on the atrocities of World War II or the Spanish Civil War, Guayasamín's art is, in its whole, often made difficult by its violent honesty. The artist himself once observed: "My painting is to hurt, to scratch and hit inside people's hearts. To show what Man does against Man." Guayasamín's work evokes strong emo-tional responses to its subjects-the horrors of war, the injustices of inequality, discrimination, and oppression-and reflects his life-long commitment to peace and social justice. The paintings, prints, and drawings chosen for this exhibition speak to issues of war and peace, social conflict, and human compassion; they relate not only to specific realities of Latin American history, but also to political and ethical problems that the world faces today.
Guayasamín has been honored with some of the top awards and prizes that any artist can receive. He won prizes at biennials in Barcelona, São Paulo, and Mexico, received the French Legion of Honor, and was recognized by UNESCO with its José Martí Prize. His art has been shown in museums across the Americas and Europe, including the Museo de Bellas Artes in Mexico, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Madrid, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Petit Palais in Paris, the Museo de Arte Moderno de México, The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Altes Museum in Berlin, and the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.
Guayasamín, born on July 6, 1919, was the eldest of ten chil-dren in a family of modest means. His father was a taxi driver, while his mother supported the family with a small grocery store, and, contrary to his father-who opposed his son's decision to pursue a career as an artist-she constantly encouraged Guayasamín to paint. In 1932, at the age of twelve, Guayasamín was admitted to Quito's famed Escuela de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts), where he could pursue his passion for drawing and painting. Guayasamín's deep-rooted connection with his mother is evident in works such as Mother and Child #1, and a later work of the same title from 1989, both of which are featured in this exhibition.
In 1932, Ecuador experienced a bloody four-day civil war, whose gore and casualties (one of his closest friends among them) had a profound impact on Guayasamín. We see this in many of his early paintings, such as Dead Children #11 (1942), a striking protest against violence that will remain a constant theme in his work.
After graduation from the school and a brief period during which he studied architecture, Guayasamín returned his attention to pursuing a full-time career in art, leading to a major exhibit in the city of Guayaquil. It was, in fact, this exhibition in 1942 that caught the attention of Nelson Rockefeller, the head of the U.S. State Department Office of Inter-American Affairs, who was visiting Ecuador. Rockefeller bought five paintings from this exhibition and arranged for Guayasamín to receive a State Department grant to tour the United States with his art for seven months. These travels enabled the young artist to study a wide range of work at the leading art museums of North America. Guayasamín's work was also included in "Latin American Contemporary Art," an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, during this period, alongside works by other increasingly influential Latin American artists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Following his tour of the United States, Guayasamín made a prolonged visit in 1943 to Mexico, where he met the muralist José Clemente Orozco and kindled a lifelong friendship with the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Guayasamín's connection with the Mexican muralists is clearly evident, particularly in his period of work known as Huacayñán, or Path of Tears. Composed of a mural and 103 paintings executed between 1946 and 1952, this series of works focuses on the main ethnic groups of Latin America: the black, the Indian, the mestizo (the offspring of Spanish and Indian parents) and the mulato (the offspring of white and black parents). The Bull and the Condor (1957), a later work added to this period, is a good example of Guayasamín's interest in depicting conflicts that to this day are inherent in a society where race and ethnic origin play a prominent role. This large painting captures a dramatic moment in a festive Andean ritual. For Guayasamín, it represents the struggle between the indigenous peoples (the condor) and their conquerors (the bull), but, in its depiction of the condor as prevailing, the long history of colonialism is reversed.
In the 1960s, Guayasamín's art became increasingly political. This period, known as the Age of Wrath, brought the artist's critical eye upon a number of world events and conditions. Paintings such as the large-scale, five-part work Meeting at the Pentagon (1970) and Napalm (1976), both included in this exhibition, reveal his condemnation of U.S. imperialism and international policy. One of the most iconic works from this period, also featured in the exhibition, is The Tortured I-III (1976-77), inspired by the brutal torture and murder of the Chilean activist folk singer Victor Jara at the hands of fascist forces a few days after a U.S.-backed military coup overthrew the socialist government of President Salvador Allende in 1973. "I have painted as if I were screaming in desperation," Guayasamín wrote, "and my screams have joined the screams that express the humiliation of so many, and the deep anguish for the times we have had to live in." From this same period, this exhibit presents Waiting III, VII, VIII (1968-69) and The Cry I-III (1983).
Guayasamín also became the artist of preference of celebrated figures-whose portraits he painted-such as Pablo Neruda (1952), Gabriela Mistral (1956), Fidel Castro (1961, 1981, 1985, 1996), Gabriel García Márquez (1984), François Mitterrand (1984), and King Juan Carlos of Spain (1985). Guayasamín painted more than 800 portraits throughout his career. In this exhibition, besides two early sketches of himself (1942 and 1943) and his striking Self Portrait (1950), we find portrayals of the renowned Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucía (1994) and Nobel Peace Laureate and indigenous leader Rigoberta Menchú (1996).
With his growing recognition, Guayasamín also began to worry about protecting his artistic legacy. Toward this end, he created the Fundación Guayasamín between 1975 and 1977. He gave the foun-dation the land for a museum and numerous paintings; over the years, he continued transferring his paintings and sculptures, as well as his archaeological and colonial art collections, to the foundation. Today, the foundation plays a major role in Ecuador's cultural life as a museum, art gallery, and comprehensive cultural center.
By the mid 1980s, Guayasamín had entered La Ternura, or Ten-derness, his term for what became the final period in his work. Paint-ings from those years are characterized by a return to themes of maternal love and a form of humanistic hope that dwells less on the horrors of mankind's past that dominated much of his earlier work. Here we see brightly colored paintings of intertwined faces such as The Lovers and Mother and Child, both from 1989 and included in the exhibition. This period also marks Guayasamín's creation of what would become his final contribution to the art and culture of Latin America, the Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man), a secular chapel dedicated to the unity of Latin America and the dignity of all human-ity, that he started but never lived to see completed, as he died, in Baltimore, on March 10, 1999.
Guayasamín opened the door to mankind's darkest heart, to mankind's bleakest tragedies and heart-rending moments of loss; throughout his work, he explored the disasters of war and the scandals of injustice; in the end, his art asserted the redemptive nature of solidarity and love. Guayasamín's art, like the man himself, was far reaching and complex: an intricate ensemble of passion, aesthetics, politics, and the talent of a true genius. --Carlos A. Jáuregui, Edward F. Fischer, and Joseph S. Mella, From the catalogue Of Rage and Redemption: The Art of Oswaldo Guayasamín.