The Sculptures of Juan Sánchez Andrade, Guayaquil

“El Mono Capuchino” near Santa Ana Hill

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Among the world’s most bio-diverse countries, Ecuador is home to more than 23,000 species of animals and plants, representing a whopping 6.1% of the global total. As a tribute to this immense natural wealth, the country’s largest city, Guayaquil, has recently erected a series of whimsical sculptures, depicting native animals that still roam its urban habitat – a monkey, an iguana and a parrot.

Eons before Guayaquil evolved into the ever-expanding megalopolis it is today, the area on which the city sprawls was dominated by a lush rainforest with ample fauna. Though nowadays, all that remains of the once rich biome are a few pockets of wilderness, the city is still largely synonymous with its wildlife.

 

There is no better testament for Guayaquil’s veneration of its free-roaming critters than the oversized sculptures of animals that greet zillions of motorists and passers-by each and every day.

 

Distinguished by their playful style, the statues are the brainchild of artist Juan Sánchez Andrade. Born in Cotacachi, Andrade has been engaging in art since the age of 3, when he helped his father with his clay-work. Despite being a prodigy, Andrade’s talent was so exceptional that his art teacher at school couldn’t believe he had completed his homework on his own, accusing him of plagiarism.

 

Fortunately for Andrade, his aptitude was eventually acknowledged, first by the skeptical teacher and later, by the entire country. After creating several murals throughout Guayaquil during the 1990’s, he was entrusted with designing three sculptures emblematic of the city’s wildlife with the aim of raising awareness among Guayaquileños to the fragility of the local ecosystem.

 

Undeterred by the mammoth task, Andrade completed his first sculpture “La Iguana” in 2005 after painstakingly installing over 120,000 pieces of ceramics atop the cement and iron framework. Nestled in an unassuming lawn on the rear part of Aventura Plaza Shopping Center, the sculpted Iguana is 10 meter tall and perches on a smattering of rocks.

 

Jutting of a busy roundabout in front of Guayaquil’s CityMall, the second artwork “Papagayo” was inaugurated in 2006. Fashioned from 70,000 ceramic tiles, the 12-meter-tall sculpture pays a tribute to the parrot of Guayaquil (Ara Ambiguus Guayaquilensis), a subspecies of the great green macaw found only in the city and its surroundings, and has been on the brink of extinction for years now.

 

However, it was Andrade’s third statue that truly thrust his work into the limelight. Located in a verdant traffic island between a pair of tunnels that connects the city center with its northern outskirts, “El Mono Capuchino” depicts a white-fronted capuchin as it clings to a tree branch. Known locally as Mono Machín, it is a type of medium-sized primate prevalent in several South American countries, including some of Guayaquil’s extant rainforests.

 

The 15-meter-tall sculpture is adorned with 110,000 colorful pieces of ceramic, and much like its citywide siblings, boasts a somewhat zany appearance. Since its unveiling in 2011, the giant monkey has become one of Guayaquil’s most recognized landmarks, and with its fame came a fair share of unwanted attention. Most notably in 2011, when a group of protestors draped ropes over the statue to condemn the mass-use of fishing nets.

 

While opinions on Andrade’s work may vary, one thing is certain, the sculptures are all but ignorable.