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In the year before the new millenia, the world lost Ecuadorian master painter Oswaldo Guayasamin, who died that March.
Five months after his death, a class of ‘99 high school graduate arrived in Ecuador for a year of teaching. This was beginning of what my philosophy professor would later call developing “barnacles on the ship of my worldview,” as I lost my sense of calling as a missionary and began to see a broader world - the world Guayasamin saw.
In his native tongue of Quechua, Guaysamin’s name means white bird. Guyasamin, who was mixed-race, was personally impacted by the racism he experienced due to his indigenous heritage. Then, a major turning point in his life occurred when he witnessed a stray bullet kill his best friend during a political protest.
Due to his lifelong work to expose the plight of the indigenous peoples, Guayasamín is considered the pioneer of "indigenous expressionism.” He said of his work, “My art is a form of prayer, a cry...and the most elevated result of love and solitude.”
The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda later wrote of his friend: "Guayasamín is a creator of humanity in its broadest sense, of the living and historical imagination. His universe is sustaining although it threatens us like a cosmic disaster. Think before approaching his painting because it will not be easy to withdraw."
When he died, Guayasamin was mourned by the indigenous people of Ecuador and his death was marked with days of strikes Then, just months later during the time I lived in Quito, the indigenous peoples staged a peaceful sit-in to remove the President of Ecuador, and his successor was named with no bloodshed.
A quote by Guyasamin on walls of Capilla del Hombre reads, “Mantengan encendida una luz que siempre voy a volver,” which means, “Keep a light burning that I will always return.”
May we as a community move together from tears and rage to tenderness, and together, may we keep the light burning for the human spirit Guyasamin so beautifully illuminated.