The man who made Ecuador’s wooden Tigua masks famous

  • The 73-year-old artisan, woodworker, and painter takes his inspiration from Andean life for his artwork and colorful wooden masks.
  • Long a part of traditional indigenous culture, popular use of the masks has declined over time but the art of the craft remains very much alive.

TIGUA, Ecuador – Julio Toaquiza Tigasi sits at his easel in his small roadside art gallery, painting the mountains that sit outside his window. He is painting the face of the wolf emerging from the rock formations in the mountainside, with the wolf’s eyes, two lighter colored stones, peering out just above the cluster of trees bellow the mountain.

“The wolf always sleeps there,” the 73-year-old artist told Mongabay.

He’s not painting a dream or using his imagination but reflecting what is really there, something “beyond reality,” says his daughter Magdalena Toaquiza Ugsha, who also paints and works at the family gallery. She points to another mountain named Amina, which they call “The Gorilla” because its two peaks resemble the raised shoulder and head of a walking gorilla.

This is the Andean countryside that surrounds the indigenous Kichwa community of Tigua, which sits high in the mountains between Ecuador’s famous Cotopaxi volcano and the Quilotoa lagoon.

Julio Toaquiza carves masks outside his house where he can better define the details. Photo by Jonatan Rosas for Mongabay.

This countryside has long inspired the region’s art and culture, which include the vibrant paintings showing Andean life and colorful wooden masks worn at local festivals – both of which are now known across the country and appear in galleries around the world that feature indigenous art.

Toaquiza, who has been living in these mountains his whole life, is known as the first person to paint on sheepskin canvas. He is also famous for his wooden masks. The majority of the masks depict animals found locally in the Andean mountain range, like wolves and condors. But they also include lions, monkeys and a special kind of clown.

This story first appeared on Mongabay

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