Expressions of Tigua at El Quinde

13/Julio/2012 | 14:33

By Lance Brashear

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This summer a slice of traditional Andean life will be on display and for sale at the El Quinde store in the Plaza Grande in Quito.  

Colorful, bucolic paintings of daily life, celebrations, and the natural geography of the region known as “Tigua,” which are currently found in the corners and display cases of El Quinde, have become a recognizable  art form in Ecuador, particularly in the tourism hot spots where artisan craft is sold.  Tigua, however, is an art tradition that is not always well understood.

Tigua is a region in Cotopaxi Province that is now associated almost exclusively with the colorful paintings that portray traditional, indigenous life.

According to “Arte de Tigua, A Reflection of Indigenous Culture in Ecuador,” by author Jean Colvin, Tigua was once a large hacienda that eventually transformed into eight small communities in the highland sierra of Ecuador. 

Colvin lived in Tigua for four months during the early part of this century, after receiving a Fulbright grant to research and write a book about Tigua Art.  Her interest in Tigua developed from previous trips to Ecuador as a director of field research programs with the University of California at Berkeley, when she discovered Tigua artwork in Ejido Park.

“I thought the paintings were charming and nobody seemed to know much about them.  Those who did know didn’t really seem to care,” explains Colvin.

Her first trip to Tigua galvanized a strong interest in their art.  She visited the community each time she returned to Ecuador and eventually directed Tigua Art exhibits in the United States and Paris.


In her book Colvin explains that Tigua artists, before they were known as such, painted images on drums, usually as part of the annual Corpus Christi celebration, a Christian tradition well-ingrained into the indigenous culture ever since the Spanish correlated it with the Incan harvest festival in order to win converts to Catholicism.

The discovery of Tigua paintings and their initial commercialization is attributed to Olga Fisch, Hungarian-born enthusiast for Ecuadorian folklore and artisan craft.   Her discovery and promotion of Tigua Art led the local artists to convert their paintings to flat surfaces, still utilizing sheepskin as a canvas and a very small format.  Colvin explains why:

“In the harsh environment of the Andes, people are frugal with their meager resources.  Sheep slaughtered for special occasions like weddings or baptisms, provide meat and wool as well as hides for painters.  The size of the sheep limits the size of the painting…Typically, one sheep hide can be cut into five 20 x 30 centimeter pieces, the most common size of the painting.”

Today, as demonstrated by the exhibition in El Quinde, Tigua art has been transferred to other surfaces including wood often carved in different forms like crosses, chests, and spoons.

Despite the utilization of new materials and formats, Tigua art continues to be characterized by simplicity in matter and technique.  It is often not to scale, making it a form of naïve art.

Initially, all Tigua paintings illustrated the Corpus Christi celebration, but as the art form has matured, themes have expanded to cover daily life, landscapes, spiritual and healing rituals, rites of passage, and in the past fifteen years significant works of a political nature have emerged such as indigenous protests and confrontations with the national government. 

The expanding themes are a reflection of the changes that have also occurred in the Tigua community.  Hard economic times have meant an increase in migration to large cities, such as Quito, particularly for artists who had better access to their market – the tourists.

Colvin indicates that by the turn of this century, 80% of the artists from one Tigua Community, Quiloa, had moved to Quito.  Painting has become an economic alternative to their tradition means of survival, which was limited to subsistence farming for the most part. 

This is also reflected in the offerings at El Quinde where all products now on display have been created by the  “Asociación Artesanal de Producción Artística de la Cultura Indígena Andina de Tigua” located, not in Tigua, but in the south of Quito.

Knowing the reality behind Tigua Art lends a sense of loss to this traditional way of life, which perhaps makes the artwork itself all the more valuable.  Though Tigua Art has become very commercial – some say diluting its impact – the paintings are still produced by those who have a connection to the Tigua community.  They and their families come from Tigua and remember another time and another reality, one that they impart to those who enjoy and purchase their works.

To see and purchase Tigua Art, visit El Quinde, located on the corner of Venezuela and Espejo streets on the ground floor of the Municipal Building.  For more information call 228-1904 / 228-3480 or email: [email protected].


Ciudad Quito

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