Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Capilla del Hombre

My day started with a very heated discussion with Eric, whose position was that the United States generally does far more good in the world than bad, but does not get credit for its 'good works', that most of the population of the world focuses on its negative policies and actions. Although the American government contributes less aid per capita, (or in relation to GDP) than other wealthy nations, its NGO's and private donations go far beyond what the government does. I believe that the United States spends far more money waging war and destroying countries and cultures than it contributes to good works. My feeling is that the United States could easily be a force for good in the world and could accomplish so much more in peaceful ways. It is so effective in using its economic might, and could influence nondemocratic states so much more effectively if it chose nonviolent means. The wars and destruction it wages creates so much anger and antipathy all over the world, and the United States is perceived as imperialistic and self focused: the symbol of America is one of militarism and oppression of smaller and weaker countries.

I had to rush to Spanish class and arrived late, and plunged into a further discussion with Amparo. She confirmed that the policies of the American government (actually I am not supposed to say 'American', since the latter refers to all of north and central and south Americans; instead I am to say 'Estadounidenses') elicit angry and negative feelings, at least in Ecuador, and probably all over south America; examples of offenses include the war in Vietnam, the support of dictatorships and the complicity of the CIA all over south America, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Palestine, and more. It may be true that American NGO's accomplish marvelous and helpful things, but the imperialistic militarism stands out even more. Its economic power and influence is just as frightening. I think we talked for two hours about the topic!

Our visit this afternoon to the Capilla del Hombre, Guayasamin's great homage to peace and human suffering, brought significant emotion to the early political discussion. Guayasamin focused entirely on the pain and despair of the poor and the oppressed. His paintings reflect the humiliation of slavery, of suffering, of defeat, of supplication. His art is devastating to see. There is so little joy and light and hope (yet the paintings are compelling and often hauntingly beautiful). The history of the subjugation of the people of South America, of Africa, of the Jews in concentration camps, is depicted relentlessly. Yet his paintings are compelling, meaningful, thought provoking. He did not focus on only one example of loss. When he went to India, he painted a mother with her dying child, the light leaving her eyes, the agony insurmountable. The Spanish Civil War, the second world war, the 'disappeared' in Argentina, the slave trade, the devastation of poverty, the evil of Pinochet; were all topics represented. Oppression in any form graces his canvasses. I was in awe, but also horrified and depressed.

Guayasamin wanted to promote peace, and used his skill as a painter and sculptor to demonstrate all that was inhumane in the world that he knew. I found myself dejected and overwhelmed by the emotions his paintings elicited. He wanted to make a significant difference in the world, not just by painting pictures, but also by compelling the viewer to think about the injustices of the past and the present, and presumingly to take action to prevent them from occurring in the future. I thought of the unnecessary wars of the past few years and the incredible suffering and destruction that ensued and the absolute waste of money and lives. I am sad that it is the latter that people throughout the world think of in relation to the United States; accurate or not.

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