Panamanian artist Oswaldo DeLeón Kantule works featured in exhibit at The Arts Project

Oswaldo DeLeón Kantule, a member of the indigenous Kuna nation of Panama, has lived and worked in London Ontario for the past ten years. In his exhibit, Between the Jungle and the Sea of Delirium, he presents a collection of recent works that reflect his origins and issues facing his people. The exhibit can be seen at The Arts Project from January 8 to 19.

Known as “Achu”, Oswaldo DeLeón Kantule was born and raised on the tiny island of Ustupu in the Caribbean, where his people depend on the ocean and nearby mountains for transportation, food and water.  He first began painting as a self-taught artist and later graduated with honours 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. He has shown his work in more than 16 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.

Kantule finds inspiration for his art in Kuna spirituality and cosmovision, using the ancestral symbols of his people, which are very much present in everyday Kuna life. Since myths, art, religion and ceremonies use symbolic and metaphorical language, they are often misunderstood by many people; however, this language, though it has existed for thousands of years, can help to explain the realities of today’s societies in which crises, intolerance, violence, racism and the destruction of the environment abound.

Oswaldo’s paintings often depict animals or beings that are representative of spirits, both good and malevolent. Evil spirits often try to steal someone away, while the good spirits usually try to protect them. In many cases these representations should not be interpreted literally but rather may indicate things such as alienation, a loss of identity, acculturation, or intolerance. He believes that art is universal, providing a language for people from different realities to communicate with each other.

“My work is inspired by the issues that prevail in my consciousness, such as the unbelievable contamination of the oceans," says Kantule. "When you live on a small island, garbage and contamination is always on your mind as garbage from afar washes in with the tides. This is a global problem and affects all human beings and the creatures that live in and from the sea.”  

This show is a collection of more than 20 paintings in oil and acrylic, some very large, that fuse the ancient symbols of his people with modern symbols.  It is Kantule's first individual show in Canada since 2002, when he showed his works at King`s College. 

Artist Statement:

The process of creation that I use is based on the principles of traditional Kuna art:  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). In all Kuna art forms, visual abstraction and the use of metaphors are both used extensively to communicate a message that is intended be incomprehensible to enemies, whether they be physical or spiritual. 

Like traditional artists, my art is inspired by my natural, human and spiritual environment. As a human being of the 21st century with deep roots in Kuna ancestral culture, I integrate symbols from many different communities and realities into my work. My process is one of fusion: I fuse the sacred symbols found in Kuna pictographs, traditional rites and ceremonies with those found in other indigenous cultures and also in urban culture, recodifying them to create my own visual language.
In order to complete this process of fusion and re-codification, I first internalize the symbols and reflect on them in a playful way, to create a personal language full of esthetic and oneiric sensations that communicate the chaos and environmental and visual contamination we face today.

If You Go:

What: Oswaldo DeLeón Kantule: Between The Jungle and The Sea of Delirium Exhibit

Who: Oswaldo DeLeón Kantule, Panamanian-born artist now living in London

Where: The Arts Project, 203 Dundas St., London ON

When: January 8 to 19, 2013. Opening Reception, Friday January 11, 6-9pm.



Sol Clay
Talbot Centre