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Quito: Proyecto DCR, and Guayasamín
We generally pack light when we travel—two small suitcases for four people. On our trip to Ecuador, however, we packed extra-heavy, with four large duffle bags, stuffed to the maximum with clothes, notebooks, pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, tape, books and other supplies for a Quito school that served street kids—Proyecto DCR.
Many of the items had been donated by students at Genevieve and Sebastian’s after-school program in California, where Genevieve had organized a fund-raiser and donation project about a month before our trip. Ben and I had been astounded at the generosity of the students and their families. This morning, we were eager to deliver our bursting-at-the-seams bags.
Proyecto DCR is a non-profit organization that was started a few years ago by Diego Recalde (from Ecuador) and Karin Ernehed (from Sweden). The letters “DCR” stand for:
“Dignity”—Receiving a good education will allow the children to make better choices as they get older; they will be able to live with dignity, instead of begging on the street.
“Consciousness”—By raising awareness of social injustices, the project hopes to inspire people to take action that will bring about change.
“Respect”—The school’s work reflects its utmost respect for the surrounding community and the environment.
Many of the students at Proyecto DCR come from unstable or difficult home environments. In addition to providing an education, the school tries to help the kids with social problems that may exist within the families. The work is often emotionally demanding for the teachers and directors. But day by day, progress is made.
The school is located in northern Quito, about an hour from where we were staying. Because our bags were bulky and weighed almost 200 pounds total, we couldn’t just hop on a crowded city bus (or even lug the bags to the nearest bus stop). Instead, we used the driving services of Diego’s mother, Pilar. She was vivacious, savvy, and engaging, and our time with her was a pure pleasure.
Sebastian, Pilar, and Genevieve:
The classrooms at Proyecto DCR were in the rear of a church. We were met by teachers Andres and Consuelo, as well as a Swedish volunteer named Caroline.
Consuelo, Caroline, Genevieve, me, and Andres:
Andres was trained as a lawyer, and has been working at Proyecto DCR for the past two years. Consuelo has been the main teacher since the school’s inception, providing the children with good instruction as well as a sense of stability. Caroline is here for three months, and she teaches the children English, among other things.
To minimize any disruption to the children’s lessons, we arrived during their morning recess period. Some of the children practiced a few words of English in greeting us. We toured the classroom area and then saw the school’s small garden, planted with tomatoes, potatoes and other vegetables.
In front of the school:
We unloaded our supplies in a back room, away from the children. Then Genevieve and Sebastian presented some cloth “peace and friendship” flags that had been created at their afterschool program. The flags were decorated with colorful birds, flowers, world globes, and figures, and many had the words “paz” (peace) and “amigos” (friends) on them.
Here are Genevieve and Sebastian with the kids from Proyecto DCR, holding the flags:
Sebastian, who had recently learned to skateboard, had his eye on a board that some boys were sharing:
He asked them if he could take a ride, and they gave him a quick turn.
All too soon, the children’s recess was over, and it was time for us to leave.
Instead of going back to our apartment, we asked Pilar to drop us off at a museum that showcased the work of Oswaldo Guayasamín, one of the most famous Ecuadorian artists of all time.
Guayasamín lived from 1909 to 1999, and his most celebrated works contain powerful imagery that speaks against poverty, racism and political oppression.
The official name of the museum was “Fundación Guayasamín.”
The museum had three galleries, two of which held collections of pre-Columbian and colonial art. We bypassed those and focused solely on the third gallery, which presented many of Guayasamín’s own creations.
It was fascinating to see how his painting had evolved from the early years up to the characteristic style for which he became most well-known.
We each picked out our favorite paintings. Interestingly enough, Genevieve, Sebastian and Ben all gravitated toward some of his earlier paintings (from the 1940’s), in which he had not yet developed his easily identifiable style.
Sebastian chose “Las Beatas” as his favorite:
(Cameras were not allowed in the museum, but I found the image above on the Internet.)
Genevieve’s top choice was a painting called “La Choza” (the Hut), which had bumpy green hills and a small hut in the front. Alas, I couldn’t find a photo of this painting online. However, I did find one of Genevieve’s other favorites, which also had green hills—“Quito Verde” (Green Quito):
Ben was drawn to the figurative works that had similarities with the paintings of Diego Rivera, a Mexican muralist. His favorite was “El Paro” (the Unemployed):
As for me, I was intrigued with the 1960’s series called “Las Manos” (the Hands), in which Guayasamín’s signature style was in full force. I especially liked the shapes and emotion found within “Las Manos del Grito” (the Hands of Anger):
(Note: The above image was taken from a scanned postcard.)
At the museum, we met one of the directors, Amparito Guayasamín, who answered all of our questions (in Spanish) and graciously provided information and context behind many of the artist’s works, including those in response to the atrocities and violence committed by political leaders. We appreciated both her warmth and wealth of knowledge.
To see more of Guayasamín’s work, we walked up the hill to reach “La Capilla del Hombre” (The Chapel of Man), a building that the artist designed and dedicated to peace and the defense of human rights.
Before reaching the Chapel, we passed buildings that reflected a blend of new and old, poor and wealthy.
We weren’t sure if we were on the right path. We stopped and asked a small group of people, who pointed up the hill and nodded, yes, just keep going.
Finally, a large wall and a sign announced that we had arrived.
This bird greeted us at the front gate:
The austerity of the Chapel's windowless stone exterior was softened by a rounded cupola on top.
The design elements were intended to reflect those found in traditional temples of the indigenous people within Latin America—the Aztec, Quechua, Maya and Inca.
Here is a close-up of the sculpture in front:
The front door opened into a large airy space, with a circular opening in the floor under the central cupola.
Within the domed interior of the cupola was an unfinished mural that Guayasamín designed in homage to the hundreds of thousands of miners who have died extracting silver under slave-like conditions within the mines of Potosí, Bolivia.
The mural is called “Potosí, en Busca de la Luz y la Libertad” (Potosí, in Search of Light and Freedom). Guayasamín did not finish the mural, as he died three years before the Chapel was completed.
Looking down to the lower level, we saw a flame burning in a large red circle—an eternal flame that burns in memory of all who have died defending human rights.
Another view of the flame from the lower level:
In the background were the words (translated into English): “I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a child who had no feet.”
Guayasamín built this Chapel in part because he wanted to show the cruelty and suffering inflicted by men on each other. He had a gift for conveying misery and anguish in the faces and figures he painted. One series of expressive faces was called “Rostros de América” (Faces of America).
“Nina Llorando II” (Crying Girl II):
“La Familia” (the Family):
These smaller faces were captured in watercolor:
One of my favorites was “Lágrimas de Sangre” (Tears of Blood), which Guayasamin painted after the death of three very close friends:
(No flash was allowed, and unfortunately I ended up with blurry photos of some of the paintings I liked best.)
Another favorite was “La Ternura” (the Tenderness), in which a mother is embracing her malnourished child:
Some longer panels spoke out against the political violence that impacts masses of people, whose voices remain unheard.
“Arrasamiento” (Devastation) conveyed the brutality of war and the futile efforts of people to protect themselves from bomb raids:
“Rios de Sangre” (Rivers of Blood) showed crimson waterways flowing around tormented skeletal figures:
“Homenaje a Nicaragua” (Homage to Nicaragua) depicted the immense suffering of the Nicaraguan people in their efforts to create a democracy:
In addition to paintings, the Chapel contained several sculptures by Guaysamín, including one called “Silla Mantena” (Chair of the Mantena):
The Mantena people belonged to one of the oldest civilizations in Ecuador, living along the Pacific Coast. The imagery carved into the chair sculpture included a double-headed serpent (only the body is visible in the above photo), an Andean condor, and a corn goddess.
Another sculpture, called “La Familia”, sat in a small reflecting pool on the bottom floor:
One interesting note is that the space for the Chapel lies right next to the expansive, hillside home where Guayasamín lived:
In a corner of the lawn, stands a tree that Guayasamín planted. It is called “El Árbol de la Vida” (the Tree of Life), and his ashes are buried at the base in a clay pot:
When he lived here, he could look out over the sprawling city of Quito:
(And now his view would include the Chapel.)
From the side of the Chapel, we watched the dark clouds stack up against the distant mountains, with occasional streaks of brilliant lightening (which were too fast for our shutter fingers).
We could even see the winged Madonna statue in the historic district, on top of the hill known as Panecillo (“little loaf of bread”):
Quito’s airport lies in the densely populated valley, and we watched plane after plane descend from the sky:
Sebastian, on the side of the Chapel:
Guayasamín’s dream for the Chapel included a new museum on the other side of the stone courtyard, which was now lined with panels containing images and some of his more famous quotations:
Without a doubt, Guayasamín’s work was magnificent, with powerful imagery and symbolism. Each one of us had connected to his work and gained respect for his art and his ideas.
As a balance for our day, we headed down to Parque La Caroline—reportedly a large park with playgrounds and activities for kids and families. The park was indeed large, with grassy lawns and basketball courts and soccer areas.
The recent rains, however, had turned most of the lawns into a swampy area.
“Mom! Mom! What’s that?!” The children took off running toward a huge painted airplane that looked as if it had been transformed into a dream play structure.
Their squeals of elation abruptly ended, however, when they discovered that the plane was surrounded by a tall chain link fence—no entry allowed.
The plane and surrounding area had a neglected air, but we still enjoyed looking at the painting and appreciating the concept:
It was hard to tell when the last child had swooshed down the slide near the plane’s nose, as the same neglected air was echoed in the scattering of dated playground equipment that was still accessible.
Genevieve and Sebastian created an obstacle course using the equipment, but they had to be careful not to fall into the moats of water next to many of the pieces.
The park was in the flight path of the airport, and there were many planes that roared over our heads.
Finding a taxi to take us back to the historic district (about 10 minutes away) was not an easy task. There were a number of taxis that drove by us as we stood on the side of the road waving, but many already had passengers. When the first taxi finally stopped, the driver said that he didn’t go to the historic district. The second wanted a large amount of money, so we declined.
We eventually started walking toward our destination, looking over our shoulders, remaining optimistic. We were in a busy area—surely there would be a free taxi soon!
Down the street was a group of demonstrators, holding bright green signs with “Sí” (yes) on them to show their support for Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s proposed political reforms that the public would be voting on in upcoming elections.
(The President’s reforms would give himself greater power and authority in governing, and were very controversial. Many people that we met in Ecuador were against these reforms, and they also were opposed to the President’s tactics during the election campaign—such as giving sheep to families that lived in rural areas to gain voter support.)
Finally, a taxi stopped and agreed to take us to our apartment. The driver was jovial and chatted loudly with us (in Spanish) during the entire trip.
Back on our street:
Here are some photos taken while wandering through the streets of the historic district.
The tiled domes of the 16th century Cathedral of Quito:
Animals decorated the façade of this old building:
An apartment building with a corner dome and beautiful balconies:
One set of wooden doors had faces attached to the handles:
A pedestrian street near Plaza Grande:
Strolling back through the Plaza after dinner, we noticed a “Quito” sign declaring the city to be the “American capital of culture” in 2011.
(There was also a figure in white underneath—a a bride, getting photographed!)
We had certainly enjoyed the culture in Quito today--the art of Guayasamín was incredible. And we had been impressed with the hard work and accomplishments of the Proyecto DCR school. Whether Quito was truly the “American capital of culture”, however, was still open for debate. We would look forward to doing some personal research and investigation to reach our own conclusion over our remaining two days here.
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