Igor Guayasamín

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow since 1995
Fundación ARIG
This description of Igor Guayasamín's work was prepared when Igor Guayasamín was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995 .


Igor Guayasamin is increasing social awareness of the cultural richness and historical contributions of Ecuador's indigenous peoples by creating television documentaries about them that are based on their points of view and include them in the production.

The New Idea

Igor Guayasamin is a documentary filmmaker who has combined his talents with a vision of the power of television to change attitudes of racial discrimination. He has launched a weekly television program by and about Ecuador's indigenous and black peoples, focusing on their history, education and culture. The programs encourage them toward pride and knowledge of their heritage and tell their stories in their own voices. "Without knowledge there is no respect. The public, observing how each group uniquely confronts everyday issues, learns to respect and value the differences that enrich us," says Igor. Nearly half of Ecuador's population is indigenous or black. Igor has given these oft-ignored peoples their first systematic access to the media and the power of a technology that attains broad impact immediately.

The Problem

The Ecuadorian government and mainstream culture do not give adequate recognition to the country's cultural diversity. Forty-five percent of the Ecuadorian population is indigenous or Afro-Ecuadorian, and there are eleven formally recognized nationalities with distinct languages and cultures. However, most Ecuadorians have little knowledge of indigenous people or interest in learning about them. "This means," says Igor, "that there is a strong element of racism [in Ecuadorian society], accompanied by economic and social discrimination, maintained across the years since the colonial epoch." Such discrimination is reflected in the disproportionate poverty of most indigenous peoples and their inadequate access to health, education and work opportunities.Despite recent increases in indigenous people's national presence, they have not had access to mass media or any means of spreading their ideas through mass communications.

The Strategy

In order to improve Ecuadorian society's perceptions of indigenous peoples and indigenous people's perceptions of themselves, Igor is producing a series of documentary programs for national television. The series focuses on indigenous cultures and is being produced with the participation and support of the most important indigenous confederation in Ecuador (CONAIE). The Art-Image Foundation (ARIG), of which Igor is founder and president, began shooting the first of thirty programs in July 1996.Each film shows an indigenous community from its own point of view: its history, fundamental beliefs, language and customs. Igor uses universal themes–the shaman, for example, or birth rituals, the forest, the river, fishing and hunting–to help the viewer enter the indigenous culture and feel greater respect for the diversity and value of Ecuador's cultures.Igor ensures the accuracy and sensitivity of the documentaries by involving indigenous people at all levels of production. He trains indigenous technicians in preproduction, production and post-production of television programs. Indigenous-staffed technical teams are trained to produce the programs in the field. CONAIE provides a network of reporters and commentators. The television production studio provides state-of-the-art materials and equipment. The program will be broadcast through two national TV channels and to secondary schools and interested associations. Igor is negotiating for international transmission "with a view to revealing any audience that is interested in knowing better Ecuador's cultural and ethnic reality."

The Person

Igor's work combines the two great forces that shaped his life: his indigenous background and his artistic bent. As a child, he was strongly affected by the discrimination suffered by his mother because of her ethnicity. During his adolescence, he decided to assume the identity of his mother's indigenous culture rather than the Western identity of his father. Igor's artistic talents were recognized early in his life. After playing music with a group in high school, Igor turned to film-making. Through a scholarship granted by the Mexican government, he studied filmmaking in Mexico between 1975 and 1980. He has participated in several training courses and workshops on movies and videos. During his many experiences in this field, Igor has directed and codirected documentaries and short-length feature films. He has been a director of photography as well as sound technician in other short films. As a director of videos, Igor has worked in at least twenty projects as both a director and a producer of several programs for various institutions, dealing with an array of subjects along the way. The awards he has won include prizes at the XII International Film Festival in Moscow, the IV Iberoamerican Film Festival in Huelva, Spain, and the Second International Festival of New Latin American Films in La Habana. Because of his strong links to the indigenous population, Igor has received the trust of these indigenous communities who have high expectations for their work with Igor.