Horn Dance. Hugo Cifuentes
have mixed feelings as I write about dad. I have often asked myself
how to begin this recollection in order to describe him through
the memories of our shared experiences and his explorations through
I think about him, sensations I had while growing up next to him
drift inside me. I see myself through the memories of times when
love and admiration, as well as fear and anger, came together under
the imprint of his strength and complexity.
had an extremely critical spirit within the medium and the time.
He was honest and upright in work, creation and life in order to
be loyal to his ethical principles. He was severe in his judgments,
arousing provocation as well as fear or even hatred against the
medium's inability to transform itself and overcome its conformity
to regional limits.
also have the memory of a distant and withdrawn father who passed
harsh judgment on our lives, who wanted his children to have a critical
outlook, even though his own words deeply marked our sensibilities.
am the youngest of his children. I lived through an important period
of his life as an artist, particularly when he was a photographer;
I was still very young at other key moments when as a painter he
played a leading role in subversive artistic movements in Ecuador.
can talk about Dad through my memories. I can talk about his explorations
through photography, many of which I have learned to understand
with time, as I have wanted to know more about his passion for artistic
father thought that without ethics there could be no aesthetics.
This was why his commitment to art had an ethical grounding that
made him search for new forms and contents in painting, drawing,
collage and photography. The nationalist discourse inherited from
the social and indigenista art of the thirties, vindicated our culture
as a lost cause.
representation of the human figure in art portrayed natives as conquered
and defeated beings, enclosed by feelings of pain and grief. For
Dad, reality was a living and changing entity, and therefore creation
was in constant movement.
cultural wealth of the country is found in its historical conscience,
which the artist must grasp in order to extract the elements with
which to create meanings of his or her own. Through the study of
ancestral symbolism, Dad worked with painting and collage within
a conceptual framework.
through documentary photography, his aim was to show the country's
cultural reality, rich in the diverse traditions and experiences
that are expressed in every human manifestation. That is why the
beauty of Dads photographic work lies in the way he approached
the country's inner life to capture the experiences and emotions
present in rites and in everyday life.
man is the protagonist of his time, charged with historical memory
and expression in each of his acts, from the inner space where he
lives and works as in El peluquero de La Esperanza
(The Barber of "La Esperanza") (1983) or in Petra
y la Claraboya (Petra and the Skylight) (1984)- to feasts
and religion are of great importance in the lives of the people
and communities of the country, particularly in the Sierra, where
Dad took a great number of his photographs. The feast preserves
the tradition of community life in Andean cultures, where dance
and music are elements of collective participation. Many feasts
are related to dates in the Catholic calendar that celebrate a patron
saint, or to the religious fervor of the processions during Easter.
was aware of the great significance that feasts and religion have
in popular culture. Thus his photographs reveal moments of splendor
and emotion during celebration and devotion, such as in Danza
de la bocina (1978) or in Procesión
see musicians in his images and I rapidly become aware of a very
personal connection to his life. He devoted part of his life to
musical composition; therefore musicians and dancers are characters
who frequently appear in his photographs and drawings.
thought that an image's originality was found in the way it makes
us see beyond the visible, in the way in which the absurdity and
banality of an everyday moment can become astonishing, unforeseeable.
What makes many of his compositions wonderful is also the measure
of humor, or even mischief, he applied to them by using suggestive
titles that invite the viewer to look at things differently. This
is why I have always been fascinated by Pudor (Modesty)
worked with photography most of his life. At first, he made portraits
in the studio he opened in Quito as a very young man, and he later
produced documentary works, mainly during the seventies and eighties
after he abandoned painting. I remember however that it was during
the eighties that the documentary aspect became more pronounced.
was precisely the time when he discussed with other Latin American
photographers the outlook and breadth of creative photography in
Latin America. He shared experiences and ideals with other colleagues,
among them Pedro Meyer, Graciela Iturbide, Mario García Joya
(Mayito), María Eugenia Haya Jiménez (Marucha). He
also shared with Ecuadorian photographers the desire to promote
a new conception and treatment of photography in the country.
was truly remarkable because of previous key moments in his artistic
life. For quite a while, Dad had kept himself from attending gatherings
in Quito with other artists and intellectuals. This was after a
period of intense activity when, as a painter, he played a leading
role in several important events in the history of Ecuadorian art.
promoted the creation of Grupo VAN (Vanguard of National Artists)
and the creation in 1968 of the Manifesto as a vanguard movement.
He also promoted the Art Anti-Biennial in reaction to the Art Biennial
as a way of countering the mainstream of established art forms in
the country. The breakup of the group led to a period of complete
isolation as he took the decision of working on his own.
a critic, Dad was absolutely radical. Just as he could devote himself
completely to changes in criteria within art, he could also withdraw
from the press and critics. I witnessed on many occasions how he
categorically refused to give interviews or make public statements.
His withdrawal was itself a form of critique against the mediocrity
of the country's cultural institutions, which blocked any desire
to transform prevailing artistic criteria, as well as being critical
of the lack of conviction of his colleagues and intellectuals to
produce concrete transformations.
was uncompromising when judging the criteria of artistic work. While
recognizing the strength of the work of certain artists, he did
not hesitate to take distance from those he judged had fallen into
the hands of dogmatism, or he would simply let his indifference
be more eloquent than his words.
Barber of "La Esperanza".
and the Skylight.
the beginning of the eighties, sharing expectations and needs with
other photographers meant for him the possibility of changing the
way photography was being produced in the country. In 1982, Dad
created the Sección Académica de Fotografía
de la Casa de la Cultura in Quito along with other Ecuadorian colleagues,
whose goal was precisely to stimulate creative work in the country
and to further dialogue and exchange with foreign photographers.
same year, together with my brother Francisco, Dad produced Huañurca,
an essay that obtained the Casa de las Americas award the following
year in Cuba. Huañurca, a Quechuan word meaning "He
has died", deals poetically with death by following every step
in the burial of a small Indian boy from the community of Otavalo.
The photograph, with the same title as the essay, captures this
feeling delicately by giving this child his last farewell.
award, as well as the publication of the book Sendas del Ecuador
in Mexico in 1988 by the Fondo de Cultura Económica, closes
an important period in Dad's work in documentary photography. His
documentary work became widely known for the first time through
this book. Since Dad decided to abandon photography a few years
after the book was published, it is also an anthology of his work.
have always thought that his artistic life was cyclical in nature:
he left photography to return to painting and drawing, which he
had left to devote himself to documentary photography. I believe,
however, that it was through photography that he achieved an aspiration
he had always had: the transformation of art in Ecuador. Through
his work and inspiration, he certainly gave birth to a new era in
Ecuadorian photography by turning it into a creative discipline.
I recall my life with Dad in the privacy of our home, emotions become
stronger than reason. I lose myself in memories that make me feel
a longing for closeness and affection, and when I try to describe
them I become dazzled. The last years with him were a jumble of
emotions: watching him grow old and tired after he left photography
and went back home; seeing him secluded in his room, which had always
been his small universe; observing him paint and draw even as he
was starting to lose his pulse, and watching how disease gradually
took over his body and mind.
strength of his personality intimidated me for a long time throughout
my life. It took just a glance or a word to confirm that any further
comment would be a mistake or an absurdity. I could never pierce
through the shell that surrounded him and made him appear distant
and withdrawn. How many times would I have liked to talk to him
about my misfortunes and achievements, or feel his presence and
share whatever grief I was afflicted with, free to express myself
without fear of being in error, or feel his proximity during his
illness or in any circumstance of emotional need. His voice became
alive when he demanded we form our own criteria and not fall into
the medium's mediocrity, even though he could overshadow us on many
occasions with the weight of his own words.
of his words still spring abruptly to my mind. I feel warmth and
I shiver when I remember him telling us: "I don't want my children
to be geniuses, I want them to be human". His voice could also
trample any castle and turn it into sand, or cast doubt on our ability
to achieve concrete results.
was the force and defiance needed to face the adversity of the medium,
the force and sensibility to create, but also the strength and emotional
distance that marked our life at home. I felt overwhelmed when the
disease gradually consumed his strength and I saw how his memory
was silenced with each passing day, and when I felt the frailty
of his body as we embraced to say goodbye in Quito before I left
for Germany. I was crushed when I saw the void in his eyes.
was 76 years old and I was 32 when he left us forever. Two years
have passed since his death. It has not been easy to realize that
there is still fear inside me; and that even if time seems to lessen
grief, memories can awaken emotions that can take me over the edge.
Dad is present in everything, in who he was, in his creations, in
the emotions I carry with me, in the memories that bring him close,
in that place where memory leads me back to them.