Studying Art in Cuenca, Ecuador

“For the children that death took while playing, for the men that dreamed while working, for the poor that failed while loving, I will paint with the scream of a shotgun, with the power of thunder and the fury of battle.” Osvaldo Guayasamín, Ecuadorian Painter

What are the predominant styles of art in Ecuador?

For centuries, the indigenous cultures of Latin American have crafted works of art. The Kichwa people of Tigua, Ecuador, have painted decorated masks and drums for centuries; recently, their depictions of daily life on sheepskin have become cultivated worldwide. The indigenous of Otavalo, in the north of Ecuador, are masters in drum making, weaving, painting, and woodwork. Otavaleños travel the world sharing their craft and learning from the creations of others. Jewelry work of the Shuar features seeds and parts of plants as beads; they are still used to ward off negative energy. The tradition of art among the indigenous has always oscillated between the functional and the decorative.

To this day, many indigenous communities have crafted and passed down their own methods of painting, ceramics, weavings, textiles, and sculptures. The tapestries and clothing can be found around the country in small markets, as well as leatherwork, jewelry, woodcarvings, and baskets. The most notable handicraft of the indigenous artists is the Panama hat, which is, despite its name, actually from Ecuador. These hats were first made in the 16th century; they are created from weaving native plants together. The tight weaving lattice in the highest quality hats makes them ideal for sun and rain protection.

Who are the contemporary Ecuadorian artists?

Many moderns artists from Ecuador have incorporated the traditional methods into their contemporary pieces. The Quito School of Art in the 17th and 18th century produced many artists who painted extreme representations of Catholic motifs. In fact, the intersection of indigenous beliefs and Catholic rituals is as prominent theme throughout the centuries since the Spanish arrived in Ecuador. In contemporary work, Ecuador’s most famous visual artist is Oswaldo Guayasmín. A Quiteño-mestizo, Guayasamín is often called the “Americanista Picasso” for his Cubist work. In Quito, students can visit his studio in his home as well as La Capilla del Hombre, the Chapel of Man, a museum that bares testament to the suffering of mankind throughout history.

In Cuenca, various museums showcase art throughout the history of Ecuador, as well as modern pieces. There are more than a dozen museums devoted to various artistic expression. The Modern Art Museum has rotating exhibitions of Ecuadorian and Latin American artists. The Pumapungo Museum dives into the textiles and ceramics of indigenous cultures. The recently-renovated Museo Remigio Crespo explores the architecture and interior design of Cuenca throughout the centuries.

Courses for art at CEDEI are taught by Cuencana Jobita Aguisaca. Her philosophy on art, and teaching art, can be read in this interview. 

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