Fidel Castro on Oswaldo Guayasamín, indigenous artist

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Tue Dec 10 18:18:59 MST 2002

Granma   December 2, 2002

'Guayasamín and his work will endure in the awareness and the hearts of the
present and future generations'


Honorable Mr. President:

Authorities from Ecuador and from Quito:

Dearest family:

Distinguished guests:

I remember that at the very beginning of the Cuban Revolution, in the midst
of all the turmoil, a man with indigenous features and a determined and
inquisitive look, who was already famous and admired by many of our
intellectuals, proposed to paint my portrait.

For the first time in my life, I was submitted to a tormenting experience. I
should stand still. I did not know if this would last an hour or a century.
I had never seen anyone move with such speed, squeezing out the paints
contained in aluminum tubes, like toothpaste, mixing them with liquids while
staring at me with persistent hawk eyes. There he was, stroking the canvas
with his paintbrush from left to right, like flashes of lightning, and
turning his eyes again and again to the astonished living object of his
feverish activity, breathing heavily like a track and field athlete.

Finally, I could see the result of all that. It wasn't me, it was what he
wanted me to be, how he saw me: a combination of Don Quixote with features
of famous personalities from Bolivar's wars for Independence. But aware of
the painter's fame, I did not dare say a word. Maybe I eventually told him
that the painting was "excellent". I was embarrassed by my ignorance of the
fine arts, as I was no less than in the presence of a great master painter
and an extraordinary person, whom I later grew to know with increasing
admiration and deep affection: Oswaldo Guayasamín. He was then about 42
years old.

Three times I lived through the same memorable experience, throughout more
than 35 years, and the last time we had several working sessions. He
continued painting with the same passion, even when his eyesight began to
experience severe limitations, which was particularly cruel for such an
indefatigable painter. The last portrait showed a face more or less similar
to the others, but with long bony hands that enhanced the image of the
Knight of the Doleful Countenance that he still saw in me almost to the end
of his life.

Guayasamín was perhaps the most noble, transparent and humane person I have
ever met. He painted with the speed of light and his dimension, as a human
being, was boundless.

I learned much from our talks, which enriched my conscience about the
terrible drama of the conquest, colonization and genocide of the indigenous
peoples in this hemisphere; a lacerating pain that he felt deep in his
heart. He was an authority in the history of those terrible events.

One day, while we were in the studio at his residence here in Quito, I asked
him how many indigenous lives he thought had been lost to the conquest and
colonization. He was quick to respond without hesitation: "70 million." His
thirst for justice and vindication for those who survived that holocaust was
the major drive of his life.

However, he felt it was necessary to struggle not only for these indigenous
peoples but also for the peoples of North, Central and South America. He
thought about the formerly Iberoamerican colonies that emerged from a
crucible of martyrdom and from the mixing of victims and victimizers, who
together with the descendents of enslaved Africans, as well as European and
Asian immigrants, formed the Latin American societies of today. There, where
ruthless exploitation, plundering and the imposition of an unsustainable,
destructive and genocidal world order kills every 10 years --from hunger,
poverty and disease-- as many people as those 70 millions that according to
Guayasamin died throughout centuries. I avoid mentioning the English
colonies because in that case, there was no crucible or mixing, only

The social data on Latin America certified by authorized international
organizations are terrifying. Suffice to mention those related to child
labor and to the sexual exploitation of children.

Actually, 20 million children under 15 years of age must work for a living;
most of them are girls, which contributes to the sexual exploitation that
many girls and boys are subjected to. In a large number of countries almost
half of the girls, usually very poor, have been victims of sexual abuse or
violence in their own homes and become active in commercial sex between the
ages of 9 and 13, while approximately 50% to 80% [of these] use drugs.

Hundreds of boys and girls live in the streets and many are also victims of
sexual exploitation. In some cities 40% of the women working as prostitutes
are not yet 16 years old. This is a small sample, among the dozens of
shameful statistical figures of what it means to be the region of the world
with the worst distribution of national income.

None of this escaped the profound thought, warmth and sense of human dignity
of Oswaldo Guayasamín. He devoted his art to building an awareness, to
denounce, fight, struggle and overcome these evils.

"I have been painting for three to five thousand years, more or less," he
told me one day with impressive conviction.

"I paint," he confessed, "to hurt, to tear and to strike at the hearts of
people, to show what man is doing against man."

"Painting is for me a form of prayer as much as it is a cry.and the loftiest
consequence of love and solitude," he sentenced.

Guayasamín wanted to leave an endurable work as a legacy to his indigenous
ethnicity and to his mestizo and multiracial people.

Today, we inaugurate the first stage of one of his most cherished dreams: La
Capilla del Hombre (The Chapel of Humankind) a majestic representation of
truth, history and the destiny of our peoples from pre-Columbian times to
date, which is an extraordinary feat of universal resonance.

This son of Ecuador born in Quito 83 years ago, whose father was an
indigenous and his mother a mestizo was the first of the 10 children of a
poor family that lived in La Tola. There, he learned from this legendary
city, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, until finally becoming a genius
in fine arts, a gladiator of human dignity and a prophet of days to come. He
placed his patrimony at the disposal of Ecuador, the Americas and the World.

 How many geniuses like him may have been lost for culture and universal
sciences among the millions of indigenous and mestizos who during the last
two centuries never learned how to read and write!

I had the great privilege of being his friend and today I have the privilege
to be here when, thanks to the endeavors of many, his most cherished dream
has become a tangible reality. I can bear witness to his courage, which
stirred the anger of the empire and to his social commitment as a man of the
vanguard, intimately bounded with the humble of the world.

And since dying is a way to continue our journeys, in 1988, in this very
treasured place, when I said a few words of greetings and humorously
referred to death, he immediately reacted by saying: "We no longer die, we
no longer die." Thus, with the inauguration of the Capilla del Hombre, to
which he devoted the last of his physical energies before departing, we can
confirm that what he said in a moment of euphoria and fraternal joy was true
for the author of that prophetic prediction.

Today, we can clearly see that both he and his work will endure in the
conscience and hearts of present and future generations.

Thank you, my dearest brother Oswaldo Guayasamín, for your legacy to the

Thank you.

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