Oswaldo Guayasamín was born in Quito, Ecuador, in 1919. His mother was mestizo, and his father was of indigenous (Indios) ancestry. Guayasamín experienced the struggles of the repressed and underprivileged indigenous people throughout his childhood as the oldest of 10 children. His art fervently reflects his exposure to this suffering, as well as his social and political awareness of the 500 years of resistance by the poor indigenous communities.
The name Guayasamín means “white flying bird” in Quechuan, the Andean language of his ancestors in Ecuador. Appropriately, he soared in his lifetime as a political figure and artist who fought for his people and dreamed of a united and peaceful Latin America. Although he never belonged to a political party, he supported socialism and dedicated a great part of his life to the study of the social and political problems of the Andean people. Both his work and speech condemned oppression, discrimination, racism, poverty, and the class division found in Latin America. These political tendencies led to his friendships with many famous individuals, including Nobel Prize–winning authors Gabriel García Márquez and Pablo Neruda, as well as Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú. Fidel Castro said of him, “He was a man of Latin American conviction and a fighter for democracy. His work reflects his deep commitment to social progress and to people who have been ignored and exploited.”1 He added, “Guayasamín was perhaps the most noble, transparent and humane person I have ever met.”1
Tollefson TT. Oswaldo Guayasamín's Madre y Niño. Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2006;8(4):288-289. doi:10.1001/archfaci.8.4.288