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Arts & Culture

VISUAL ARTS

Artists of the Ecuadorian Andes
The artists of Tigua are renowned for their colorful paintings depicting village life high in the mountains of rural Ecuador. Living much as they have lived for centuries, families herd sheep and llamas and cultivate a variety of potatoes and grains in small communities perched on the windswept slopes of the Andes mountains. Their language is Quichua, the language of the Incas. Though they have acquired many modern ways, their customs, and indeed their paintings, still reflect this ancient heritage.

The paintings, mostly done on sheep hide, depict the customs, festivals, myths and dreams of indigenous people. The art form originated with the painting of small drums used in traditional festivals and ceremonies. In the early 1970's, one of the local artists, a community leader named Julio Toaquiza, began to paint on hide stretched over a flat frame. Since then, he has inspired a whole generation of artists. Many of the frames are also painted with intricate colors and designs.

History of Tigua Art
Traditionally, the Quichua people of the highlands decorated drums and masks for festivals and fiestas. Painting on a flat surface is a relatively recent development. This art form began in the early 1970's when Julio Toaquiza, encouraged by a Quito art dealer, began painting pictures of daily life using sheephide stretched over a wood frame and a brush made from chicken feathers. Over the years, Julio has encouraged his children Alfredo, Gustavo, and Alfonso as well as many others in Tigua to paint. Despite their lack of formal training, the artists of Tigua, have gained renown throughout Ecuador and beyond for the vitality of their paintings and detailed rendering of nature and traditional life in the remote highlands.

Many paintings have decorative frames that also are painted by the artists. Originally, all of the artists used enamel paints because they are more readily available and relatively inexpensive. Now, however, some of the more successful artists use oils or acrylic paint. Most Tigua paintings are relatively small, mainly because they are limited by the size of the sheep skin.

Tigua art reflects life in the highlands
Tigua paintings typically depict scenes of village life, festivals such as Corpus Christi, a festival which combines elements of both Inca harvest festivals and medieval Christian religion, Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) and Tres Reyes (Three Kings). Shamanic rituals also are depicted in Tigua art as well as historical and political themes. The more sophisticated artists increasingly depict political themes such as the celebrations following the election of Ecuador's first indigenous representative to the national congress, marches protesting indigenous rights and scenes of environmental destruction resulting from oil development in the Amazon basin. Pachacama, protector of the earth and the most important Inca deity, is sometimes portrayed as a kind of floating head in the background. This image is also an expression of pride and validation of indigenous culture.

In recent years, Tigua art has been shown at major exhibitions at the Organization of American States in Washington DC, the University of California Hearst Museum, the Museum of Man in San Diego, California and at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. As the appreciation and renown of this art spreads, so does the stature and respect for these artists of the Andes and their colorful representations of indigenous life in the past and present. 

Aside from the native forms of art, there are a number of Ecuadorian contemporary artists who have made a huge impact on Ecuador, and the rest of the world. A couple of these artists are Oswaldo Guayasamín and Oswaldo Viteri.

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