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LEWISBURG, Pa. – Professor Steve Stamos discussed the teachings of Karl Marx and the theory that the working class would bring about an end to capitalism. He assigned readings to his Principles of Economics class this semester and challenged the students to consider the assertions of the controversial founder of communism and how they relate to the present.
Then, he took them to the Bucknell University art gallery.
Stamos asked the students to write an essay exploring their impressions of the exhibition "Of Rage and Redemption: The Art of Oswaldo Guayasamin," as the work relates to what they talked about in class. On display through March 27 at the Samek Art Gallery in the Elaine Langone Center at Bucknell, the exhibition includes an array of the artist's work from his early depictions of indigenous people of the Andes to representations of war and human suffering to more hopeful images of life and love.
"While you can study economics, politics and sociology, arts and poetry all become part of what you're talking about," Stamos said. "This was a way to take our class-based analysis and make it real and let them react to the images."
Making a statement
Guayasamin said he intended his work to "hurt, to hit inside people's hearts, to show what Man does against Man," according to Joseph Mella, director of the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and exhibition curator. Born in 1919, Guayasamin grew up in Ecuador and went to Quito's Escuela de Bellas Artes at age 12. He died in 1999.
Stamos got the idea to bring his students to the gallery from his colleague Bonnie Poteet, an associate professor and co-director with Stamos of Latin American Studies. Poteet, who with Stamos was involved in developing the university's yearlong "Peace & Resistance" series, suggested the artist's work could help bring to life the class readings and lectures.
Bringing 'the world' to Bucknell
The yearlong "Peace & Resistance" series is a multidisciplinary program that links the 25th anniversary of Bucknell having an art gallery, the 10th anniversary of the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua, and 125 years of co-education at Bucknell.
"This landmark exhibition, the first of its kind in the United States in more than 50 years, presents the work of the great but underexposed Ecuadorian painter and graphic artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin," said Dan Mills, director of the Samek Art Gallery.
The exhibition of Guyasamin's work provides an unusual opportunity to experience important works by an acclaimed Latin American artist whose work has seldom been in the United States.
"By participating in the exhibition's national tour, the Samek is part of an effort to elevate awareness of Guyasamin and continue our effort to "bring the world to Bucknell," Mills said.
Works reflect historic events
Paintings such as "Los Torturados," or "The Tortured," and "Reunion en el Pentagono I-V" or "Meeting at the Pentagon I-V" (1970) evoked in the students a feeling of discomfort and distress, they said. Many in Stamos' class wrote about how "Reunion" "captures the military dictators and generals that are so much (a part of) Latin America's history," Stamos said.
Others wrote about "The Tortured," a crucifixion-like interpretation of the 1973 capture, torture and dismemberment of Victor Jara, a Chilean activist and folk singer. Jara was tortured and killed by dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet following the overthrow of democratically elected Salvador Allende, a socialist leader.
"The exhibit shows how Marx influenced Guayasamin and how he interpreted imperialism and exploitation," Stamos said. "It provided a wonderful opportunity to do this sort of integration education."
An 'uneasy' feeling
First-year student Clark Bogle said Guayasamin's work gave him an uneasy feeling.
"We talked a lot about Marx and the whole idea that Marx had an idea about social class difference and how people would be exploited," Bogle said. "One of the paintings shows a group of workers – I assume they are workers because they have tools. It looks like they have a fallen compatriot. You get a feeling these people work very hard but get exploited."
Holly Schoch, a first-year student who studies Spanish and Latin American Politics, said the visit to the Samek added a different dimension to the class.
"To come and see these paintings lets people know the atrocities of the world," she said. "I think it's incredible we have this gallery."
First-year student Marcus Awakuni wrote about "Los Torturados" and the alienation of workers within the class structure of Marxism.
"It's important not just to study out of the book but to apply it and see what's going on outside the classroom," he said. "When we talked about it in class, Marxism seemed very abstract and theoretical. Applying it to a real-life situation really brought it to life."
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