Ecuador: Light of Time

Contemporary Artists from Ecuador

Ecuador: Light of Time (2016) by Contemporary Artists from EcuadorImago Mundi

Light of Time 

Ecuador, the smallest of the Andean states, takes its name from the equator that crosses it, and is a wonderful concentrate of biodiversity and different microclimates. Just a day’s car ride along the Pan-American highway takes you from the Amazon basin to the snowy volcanoes of the Andes. Or from the heart of the rainforest to the warm waters of the Pacific coast. Squeezed between Colombia and Peru, Ecuador is home to about forty volcanoes,  many of which are active, like the Cotopaxi, which is nearly six thousand metres high and culminates in an ice crater. 

Vanity, Marcos Restrepo, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Vanity (2016)
by Marcos Restrepo

“All you need is Ecuador”, the slogan of the promotional campaign for tourism, captures the spirit of this small land whose culture is incredibly varied and no less rich than its geography.

Found Faces, Christian Mera, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Found Faces (2016) by Christian Mera

In the pre-Incan age three distinct cultures flourished here, in the high Andes valleys, on the Pacific coast and in the forests to the east of the Andes. Between the middle of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth, the Andean and Pacific coasts were conquered by the Incas, and during the reign of Huayna Cápac, the ancient indigenous city of Quito became the capital of the northern province of the empire. After the death of Huayna in 1525, the division of the empire between his two sons (Atahualpa to the north and Huáscar to the south) and the subsequent civil war, facilitated the Spanish conquest. Occupied by the conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar, one of Pizarro’s captains, the Ecuadorian region became part of the viceroyalty of Peru, which was founded in 1542, and later, in the first half of the eighteenth century, of the viceroyalty of Nueva Granada.

Shameful, Allan Jeffs, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Shameful (2016)
by Allan Jeffs

In 1822, Ecuador joined the Republic of Gran Colombia. Founded by Simón Bolívar, liberator of the Americas from Spanish rule, the Republic also comprised Colombia, Venezuela and Panama. It was only in 1830 that Ecuador was finally proclaimed an independent republic.

River, Mauricio Valdiviezo Carrion, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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River (2016)
by Mauricio Valdiviezo Carrion

Today, Ecuador is a very young country from a demographic perspective and is highly ethnically diverse. About 65% of the population is composed of Mestizos and 25% is indigenous.

Risks of Fire, Fanny Eugenia Moscoso, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Risks of Fire (2016)
by Fanny Eugenia Moscoso

The Amazon rainforest, for example, is home to the indigenous Amerindian Waorani tribe, unknown until the ’60s. Continuing to reject modernity, they do not wear clothes, practice polygamy, know no forms of writing or numbers above ten, but are capable of navigating the jungle better than the most modern GPS system.

Star, Xavier Patino, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Star (2016) by Xavier Patino

The wild and green land of Esmeraldas, on the Pacific side of Ecuador, is home to the country’s highest concentration of descendants of African populations: on these coasts, in the middle of the 1500s, a Spanish galleon transporting slaves from the black continent ran aground. The shipwrecked survivors took possession of the territory, forming a true colony whose customs, language and folklore grew stronger by the day. This event provided inspiration for the poet Adalberto Ortiz, one of the greatest Latin American writers of the twentieth century, who sang the poetry of his land and its costumes like a marimba melody, that unmistakable tun tun that recalls the rhythm of the slaves:

Seven, Gary Vera, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Seven (2016) by Gary Vera

How could I hold his voice and the wind, wind that ravages the light, the light of time.

On the economic front, Ecuador adopted the US dollar as its currency in 2000, thus containing the hyperinflation that historically characterised the country. But today, growth has slowed following the terrible earthquake that hit the northwestern area of the state in April 2016 (the effects of which have been further compounded by the risk of contagion from the Zika virus) and, above all, as a consequence of the fluctuating trend in oil prices.

Existence, Esteban Garcia O., 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Existence (2016) by Esteban Garcia O.

One of the main problems faced by the Ecuadorian economy is, in fact, a growing dependence on oil exports, whose contributions amount to about 20% of GDP. The country has the third largest reserves in Latin America (about 8 billion barrels) behind Venezuela and Brazil; it is fourth for exports after Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil. Ecuador’s dependence on crude oil production is reflected in its energy mix, 85% of which is oil consumption. Despite these difficulties, the vitality and courage of the people of Ecuador is unrivalled, protected from on high, in the capital Quito, by the Virgen alada. This 45 metre tall statue, that stands on a dragon resting on a globe, was described by the Italian writer Giuseppe Catozzella in an article for L’Espresso magazine in October 2016: “This great Virgen is both hyperrealistic – like all Ecuadorian sacred art, the statues of saints and Christs and Madonnas with mother-of-pearl buttons set in wide and frightening eyes, hair that is real and dry, mirrors placed in mouths to simulate the translucence of saliva – and magical at the same time, a reality that dances between this world and the other, that symbolic world of divine correspondence.”

Intimate Landscape, Maria Perez, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Intimate Landscape (2016) by Maria Perez

More prosaically, for its recovery the country can count on a range of excellent agro-food products, in particular chocolate, shrimp, bananas and the ancestral grains that grow in the rarefied air of the Andes. Ecuadorian chocolate, produced from the Arriba Nacional cacao bean, is reputed to be the best on the planet. The same is true of the noble banana, of which the country, with a production of over 24 million tons, is the largest exporter in the world. And on the artisan front, let’s not forget the Panama, the iconic hand-woven hat made from fibres taken from young leaves of the toquilla palm, which, despite its name – it was the headgear of choice of the workers who built the Canal – is produced in the provinces of Montecristi and Cuenca, in the heart of the Ecuador mountains. In 2012, in fact, the traditional weaving process of the Panama hat was included in UNESCO’s intangible verbal heritage list.

Untitled, Natalia Demtchenko, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2016) by Natalia Demtchenko

The origin of these examples of excellence can be found in the magical light of ancient times, a result of the complex path of the cultural contamination of various civilizations. The pre-Columbian populations of the country were skilled in the arts of ceramics, painting, sculpture and gold and silver work. Engraved or painted ceramics, in particular, present some similarities to the Japanese works of the Jōmon period. This rich artistic and archaeological heritage can be traced back to these indigenous inhabitants (from 3200 BC), to which the contributions of the Inca empire and the culture ‘borrowed’ from Spain were added over time. It is only since independence that Ecuador has sought to re-acquire a defined identity in the artistic, political, social, economic and cultural fields.

Woman / Enigma, Mo Vasquez, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Woman / Enigma (2016) by Mo Vasquez

After an initial phase in which some indigenous painters followed the Mexican example of expressing social realism through murals, artistic investigation in the twentieth century aimed at the creation of something new, a free, independent Ecuadorian art. As in the case of the painter and sculptor Estuardo Maldonado who, through the observation of flora and fauna, expressed his love for nature and his people, revealing pride in descending from the pre-Columbian civilization. A culture that the artist was able to revive through the Precolombinismo movement, which gave ancient art a contemporary language. Maldonado, for example, chose stone for a limited series of works, symbolic of these archaic origins: stone “was an inseparable companion in man’s struggle – he said – no one had ever dedicated a tribute to its existence.”

Migration, Raul Medina Villacis, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Migration (2016) by Raul Medina Villacis

In the exhibition Souvenir d’Ecuador at the Cervantes Institute in Rome in 2013, eight Ecuadorian artists in turn illustrated the country in a journey through history, creating a varied, multifaceted image, articulated around the themes of memory, community, tradition, ethnic identity, and historical reconstruction. Almost as if the reading of places and things, even when mediated by purely artistic languages, cannot elude comparison with the dimension of belonging. One of the videos shown, the intense Cuando tú te hayas ido by Paúl Rosero Contreras – pictorial, in pasty tones of black and white – addressed the theme of memory, “without memory, no truth”, reminding us how the difficult process of historical elaboration, social conscience and demands for civil rights, must first proceed through a recovery of the facts, exploiting the memory of suffering as a force for the future.

Tita’s Worlds, Fabiola Cedillo Crespo, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Tita’s Worlds (2016)
by Fabiola Cedillo Crespo

The project has produced a wide-ranging vision that encapsulates and represents Ecuadorian art today, as highlighted by the critic and curator Hernán Pacurucu Cardenas: “Within the new Ecuadorian artistic productions, we came across what we might call their origins, all dependent on artistic practices of three very different areas that act as carriers of the flag and precursors of this type of art.”

When They Hear the Cry in the Mediterranean, Pavel Eguez, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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When They Hear the Cry in the Mediterranean (2016)
by Pavel Eguez

The capital Quito, Guayaquil, the economic heart of the country, and Cuenca, its cultural centre, assure the wealth and biodiversity of a contemporary Ecuadorian art that also aspires to moral commitment and revolution. A wide- ranging, dynamic, free art. Modernity viewed through the light of time.

Luciano Benetton

When the Brothers Meet, Servio Zapata, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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When the Brothers Meet (2016)
by Servio Zapata

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