Guna Art Today: An Artist Talk By Oswaldo De Leon Kantule

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Guna Art Today: An Artist Talk By Oswaldo De Leon Kantule
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The traditional art of the Guna, an indigenous people from Panama and Columbia, is based on a number of elements: duality, repetition, abstraction, multi-dimensionality, the use of metaphors in spoken and sung language, and the search for the essence of things or the guague (heart). Visual abstraction and metaphors are both used to communicate a message that is intended to be incomprehensible to enemies, whether physical or spiritual.

Like traditional Guna artists, Oswaldo DeLeón Kantule is inspired by his natural, human, and spiritual environment. His process is one of fusion: combining the sacred symbols found in Guna pictographs, traditional rites, and ceremonies with those found in other indigenous cultures, as well as in urban culture, recodifying them to create his own visual language.

This talk will focus on the traditional elements of Guna art and how they are fused with contemporary symbols to communicate the artist's message.

Visit to learn more about this program and the special exhibition, Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, Gold and Ceramics in Ancient Panama.



Oswaldo DeLeón Kantule, also known as Achu, is a visual artist from the Guna nation of Panama. He graduated with Honors from the University of Panama with a degree in Fine Arts in 2001 after winning Panama’s National institute of Culture’s national painting competition in 1996, and has shown his work in more than 20 individual exhibitions in the Americas and Europe, in addition to many collective shows. In 2004 he was the recipient of the prestigious Research Grant from the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of the American Indian. There he carried out research on nuchus, molas, ceramics, and other artifacts that are not available to the public at large. This research has helped Oswaldo to further his knowledge of Guna art, especially molas, and he has subsequently worked with a wide network of specialized museums, mola collectors and artists to document this art form. He has added this knowledge to that which he learned as part of his community: from his father, Saila (spiritual guide) Tomás DeLeón, and other holders of traditional knowledge. He is also the great-grandson of Nele Kantule, a great seer and one of the leaders of the Guna Revolution of 1925, which resulted in territorial autonomy for the Guna people.
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By: Gardiner Museum

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