"We had an artist here from Panama (Oswaldo De León) for about a year and his work ethic rubbed off on some others... He painted every day and he had a real vision of what he was accomplishing in his work."
Director, The Arts Project
quoted in London This Week, Wednesday November 19, 2003
Oswaldo De León came into the public eye when Luis Méndez, Olonigdi Chiari, Ologuagdi and Julián Velásquez had already established their work. Like them, his paintings are intimately related to the themes of Dule culture. However, little by little, he has created his own pictorial grammar and with it has developed a very particular style, which we can appreciate in the paintingsNuchu conversing with Madame Time, Achu uka gi, Guardians of Mother Earth, An demar sapi, An demar galu, Nuchu sourgukualedgi, Achu barbad ukagi, to name a few.
Nuchu conversing with Madame Time is one of the paintings that most resembles classic drawings of Dule sailas. The big ledgerbook used by the businessman to keep track of his accounts is used by the saila to create works of art, to draw. Nuchu conversing with Madame Time is the idea of death's journey to the final homeland. Nuchu, a type of totem, in this painting represents a deceased person who has already been buried. Instead of using a coffin, the dead are traditionally wrapped in a hammock for their burial. The soul travels to its eternal paradise in a canoe that voyages through rivers before finally arriving at the great celestial fortress: the Galu. This painting allows us to note that Dule visual arts are gender-centred activities: women sew the mola and men draw, particularly sailas.
This is a most human and yet also a veritable cosmic struggle in which the many spirits of the universe join, in an attempt to maintain balance in the world. Similarly dramatic rituals unfold in each painting, dreamlike, full of movement and suggestive designs, with spirit figures like cocoa woman or tobacco woman, the burnt offering of plants to Mother Earth. In Kuna myth, the earth is the source of imagery, as well as humans, and inspired shamans and healers.
De León Kantule has said that art must be for the community (not for commerce). His community, the Kuna, must find these paintings vivid reflections of their world and beliefs. There are symbols here that will speak to indigenous peoples across the Americas. The paintings will also reverberate for those of other cultures who see parallels with the modern European paintings of Paul Klee and Joan Miró. No matter what we each bring to our attentive study and appreciation of the works in this exhibition, for us all, it represents a special opportunity: to learn about another culture, with a history of image-making that goes back to several millenia - to consider how traditional modes of thought can be maintained and transmitted through contemporary modes of expression.
Art Historian, University of Western Ontario
Keynote speaker at Our Ancestors, Our Future, 2002
Oswaldo De León Kantule is an artist that breaks away from traditional, primitivist-inspired Kuna painting, creating works of great strength and emotion, with bold lines that are born out of the evocation of religious rites, that have their roots in his culture but are liberated from all formal constraints.
Some of his figures appear to move through space, propelled by magic beliefs, oblivious to the forces of gravity and logic.
Graciela Quelquejeu de Eleta
Panama City, 1996