INDIGENISM in Latin American Art

Indigenous people wearing ancestral attires, barefooted, callused hands, brilliant eyes and coarse facial features have been the protagonists of Latin American Art since the 20’s.  They appeared so colorful and forlorn, activated by social pressure groups that triggered two radical far-off revolutions: the Mexican and the Russian revolutions.

The Indigenist art movement spread above all in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and, of course, in Mexico with different, although similar, characteristics. The main one is that the primary objective in these four nations was the social reivindication of autochthonous communities and the revalorization of their cultural traditions. Another characteristic is that in most cases the movement was developed by middle-class, white persons, who although social and culturally far away, they were aware of this disjunction. All of them presented the indigenous world as a paradigm of authentic nationality and as the origin of a national culture.

Ecuador is one of the few countries that had an Indigenist painter who belonged to the same social group: Oswaldo Guayasamín. Son of an Indian laborer and a housewife, he rose to be one of the most international artists from Ecuador. He came from the most absolute misery, hunger, and hopelessness, but was able not only to surmount such adversity, but to engrave his name in the Region’s art history. He achieved it by painting more than his own reality by using his vigorous brush to show what human beings inflict on their equals.  He painted coarse facial features, expressing despair, poverty, hard work, and disrespect. Their eyes distorted by anguish, and hands with long contorted fingers have traveled all over the world.

Ivan Guayasamín, is part of Oswaldo’s school of art and is the last member of the Indigenist art movement. He uses similar techniques than his uncle, painting in very large formats and with large brushes and spatulas, creating his masterpieces. Ivan touches on topics like human drama, melancholy, and despair as well as the beauty inside native Latin American indigenous societies.