GUAYASAMIN, Oswaldo (1919-1999)

Acrylic on wood panels of which three in relief; signed lower right 'GUAYASAMIN'
472 x 600 cm
Hall near Room X
Date of entry at UNESCO
Country of origin Ecuador
Donating country Ecuador
Donation made to UNESCO by the Guayasamin Foundation , Quito (Ecuador)
© Photo: UNESCO/N. Burke
All rights reserved

“Madres y niños” (“Mothers and children”) was donated by the Guayasamin Foundation to the UNESCO, where it decorates the entry hall for the Executive Board.

In this particular work, the most eye-catching element is firstly its size: with 4,72 x 6m it is indeed intimidating: there is a feeling of heaviness about the protagonists, despite their skeletal aspect and interlaced postures. Also, the yellowish color, frequently used by the artist, conveys a massy atmosphere which contrasts very well with the embossed faces and the blue color. Who are these faces? Probably suffering children from the tragic events in our world, expressing their consternation, bewilderment, and tension; this is also why the mothers seem to be petrified by the idea of letting their children face the apocalyptic-like world that Guayasamin aims to portray.

In this work, the protagonists resemble each other in their morphology and their particular gestures. In “Las Manos”, one of the most important works by Guayasamin, and part of the collection “La Edad de la Ira” (“The Age of Wrath”), twelve oil paintings represent tortured portraits in which he focuses on the elongated hands to symbolize specific feelings such as terror, silence, protestation or prayers. In the “Madres y Niños” painting, the hands serve the same purpose: to express the protagonist’s feelings, i.e. the mothers’. They cover their frightened faces in order to illustrate feelings of fear, sadness and distress. Not only the hands, but the bodies also play a significant role; their postures portray perfectly the feelings they convey and the values they stand for – such as the image of protection suggested through the woman curved around her child. Tenderness and maternity are here perfectly exemplified and are in fact often present in Guayasamin’s works, for example as in “La Edad de la Ternura”(“The Age of Tenderness”). It is not only a homage to his own mother but also to all mothers, who are for him the symbol of “struggle for life”.

In addition to his constant desire to denounce poverty, starvation, violence and torture in this world, Guayasamin also wishes to express his ideals and dreams, in bringing together suffering with patience and hope.

The expressions on their faces make us suspect a thousand tragedies, a suffering which is reflected in their pale and haggard features despite the solemn silence behind which they are hiding. These features seem to throw overboard feelings of “Fear”, “Sorrow”, “Anger”, etc… which are not only the major themes in his works but also titles for his paintings.

In donating this work to UNESCO, Guayasamin wrote: “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; children, whose eyes, livers and hearts were torn out to be sold to the highest bidder; their children, sons and daughters, victims of violence, of suppression and torture by civilian and military dictatorships and victims of bestial war; millions of children who die of starvation and from easily cured diseases walk the streets and the dry land without schooling, without homes; 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.”

Biography on the artist

Oswaldo Guayasamin was born in Quito, Ecuador, on July 6th 1919. He presents his first exhibition at the age of 23, after having graduated from Quito’s School of Fine Arts in painting and sculpture. Following his travels throughout Latin America, he becomes very sensitive to the numerous problems suffered by Latin America at the time, in particular the oppression towards the indigenous society, a recurring theme in his works. In 1971, he is elected president of Ecuador’s House of Culture and in 1976 he creates the Guayasamin Foundation in Quito, to which he offers his works and collection. He considered art as a universal heritage, and hence dedicated his entire life to art in order to express his struggle against injustice.