9 South American Artists You Should Know

South America is a continent that is as diverse as it is colorful. Here are nine South American artists you should know.

May 31, 2024By Agnes Theresa Oberauer, BA Drama & Philosophy

Artwork by South American Artists

Given its history of colonization, South America is a place that brings together the culture of its European colonizers with rich Indigenous culture and African traditions. While many places in South America continue to grapple with poverty and violence, this cultural melting pot has given rise to an incredibly diverse range of artists. Here are nine extraordinary artists from nine South American countries.


1. Jesus Rafael Soto (Venezuela) 

jesus rafael soto sculpture walkable kinetic art
Soto, by Jesus Rafael Soto (Photo by André Morain), 1960, Source: Jesus-Soto.com


The sculptor and painter Jesus Rafael Soto was an experimental artist whose work plays with the dissolution of the line between the viewer and the object. Born in 1923, the Venezuelan artist is best known for his immersive art installations. Many of his sculptures invite visitors to enter them, turning people into a crucial part of the artwork. By doing so, Jesus Rafael Soto challenges the colonially imposed worldview that separates the subject and the object. Instead, Soto´s artworks form the physical manifestation of a worldview wherein everything is one.

Instead, Soto´s artworks form the physical manifestation of a cosmology wherein everything is one. Jesus Rafael Soto himself expressed this sentiment as follows:


We are not observers but constituent parts of a reality that we know to be teeming with living forces, many of them invisible. We exist in the world like fish in water: not detached from matter-energy. INSIDE, not IN FRONT OF. No longer viewers, but participants.


2. Roberto Mamani Mamani (Bolívia)

colorful buildings murals indigenous art mamani mamani
Buildings and Murals, Roberto Mamani Mamani, Date and Photographer Unknown, Source: ourcraftyworld.com


Roberto Mamani Mamani is an Indigenous Bolívian artist and his colorful artwork is heavily influenced by the aesthetics of the Aymara people. His colorful artwork is heavily influenced by the aesthetics of the Aymara people. Ever since the colonization of the South American continent, Indigenous culture and art has been suppressed and undervalued, making his international success all the more significant. But Roberto Mamani Mamani´s art is not limited to the world of art galleries and museums. He has also painted several murals covering entire buildings in various cities across the world.


3. Tarsila do Amaral (Brazil) 

Morro Da Favela, Tarsila do Amaral, 1924, Source: Catalogo Das Artes (Galeria Paulista)


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Born in 1886, Tarsila do Amaral has influenced the national identity of Brazil’s art world like no other artist. She has influenced the national identity of Brazil’s art world like no other artist. While her artistic style went through numerous phases, she is best known for her painting Abaporu, which shows a human being with huge feet. This painting, which some see as the most famous painting in Brazil, gave rise to an artistic movement her circle of friends came to call the Anthropophagia movement.


Anthropophagia means cannibalism and refers to the Brazilian incorporation of various cultures. In the view of the artists who sparked the movement, the unique blend of Indigenous, European, and African influences resulting from its history of slavery and colonialism has carved Brazil into what it is today. By figuratively eating up cultural practices from across the world, Brazil has created a unique identity that can no longer be controlled by colonial power structures.


While her contribution to Anthropophagia already earned Tarsila do Amaral a firm place in the Brazilian art world, she continued to experiment with various artistic styles until her death in 1972. Her body of work pays homage to the fluidity and diversity of Brazil´s colorful national and artistic identity.


4.  Fernando Botero (Colombia) 

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A Family, by Fernando Botero, 2016. Source: Opera Gallery


The self-proclaimed most Colombian of Colombian artists was born in Medellín in 1932. Fernando Botero´s signature style has not only gained the Colombian artist international acclaim but even earned itself its very own name—Boterism. The artist’s sculptures and paintings are defined by the exaggeratedly fat features of his subjects, giving a dimension to his work that is both critical and humorous.


Today, his paintings are found in galleries across the world, and you will come across his sculptures in places like Yerevan, Singapore, and Jerusalem. While Botero continued to visit his hometown of Medellín until his death, he spent the last decades of his life living in Europe. He died in 2023 at the age of 91.


5. Pedro Lira (Chile) 

pedro lira painting sick child women chile
The Sick Child, by Pedro Lira. Source: Biblioteca Nacional Digital


Pedro Lira has not only gone down in history as a painter of women but also as a key figure in the creation of Chile’s artistic scene. Born into a wealthy family in 1845, his portraits of women from different social classes document the reality of 19th-century Chile. He also co-founded Chile’s National Museum of Fine Art, proving his commitment to his home country.


6. María Freire (Uruguay) 

Forms, by María Freire, 1971. Source: Uruguay Educa


The Uruguayan artist María Freire was born in 1917 and is best known for her colorful, nonfigurative paintings.  Her style is influenced by her study of African masks and the art of Indigenous South American populations, giving rise to a unique artistic language that transcended the colonially imposed aesthetic of the time. Together with her husband José Pedro Costigliolo, she founded the Grupo De Arte No Figurativo, which has influenced the world of art in Uruguay and beyond. She died in 2015.


7.  Ignacio Núñez Soler (Paraguay)

Image Caption: Asunción Mercado, Ignacio Núñez Soler, 1940. Source: Imagoteca


Born in 1891, the Paraguayan artist Ignacio Núñez Soler’s artwork was marked by his concern with social justice. Being a firm believer in worker’s rights, he created paintings showing the reality of life in Paraguay. He also refused to submit himself to the patriarchal societal standards, which is why he decided to use his mother’s last name when signing his paintings. Until his death in 1983, the artist continued to document the street life and culture of Paraguay, depicting markets, public squares, and folkloric scenes.


8. Pablo Amaringo (Peru) 

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Image Caption: Untitled, Pablo Amaringa, Date Unknown. Source: Mmaracuja


Born in 1938, Pablo Amaringo was both a shaman and an artist, which may explain why his depictions of hallucinogenic landscapes are as colorful as they are hypnotic.  The Peruvian painter started drinking the plant medicine ayahuasca at the age of ten, and his work as a shaman places him at the intersection of art and spirituality. Given that his paintings are based on his visions during Peruvian plant medicine ceremonies, they give the Western viewer a visual taste of Indigenous cosmology and spiritual wisdom.


9.  Araceli Gilbert (Ecuador)

araceli gilbert portrait ecuardor painter artist
Araceli Gilbert, photographed by Catherineau Lille, 1955. Source: Mandragorateatro


Araceli Gilbert is considered the most important Ecuadorian painter of the 20th century. She was born into a wealthy family in 1913 and spent several years studying and working abroad, which exposed her to various artistic influences. Upon her return to Ecuador during the 1950s, she quickly became one of the key figures in Ecuador’s intellectual scene. Like many artists of the time, Araceli Gilbert identified with left-wing politics. She died in 1993 and left behind a legacy as one of the pioneers of Ecuadorian modern art. Today, she is mainly remembered as the first artist who introduced nonfigurative art to Ecuador. 


The Future of South American Artists  

While most South American countries gained independence in the 19th century, their colonial history cannot be erased. The scars created as a result of the slave trade, the exploitation of the land, and the violent suppression of Indigenous cultures that went along with the European colonization of the continent can still be felt. And yet, its painful history of colonization and oppression has also turned South America into a place that brings together the cultures of three continents, resulting in unique cultural phenomena like capoeira, salsa, tango, and samba. As South America starts to reclaim all parts of its heritage, including indigenous culture, its artistic scene is bound to become even richer.

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By Agnes Theresa OberauerBA Drama & PhilosophyAgnes Theresa completed her BA in Drama and Philosophy at the Royal Holloway University of London in 2014 and is currently finishing her MA in Physical Theatre Performance Making at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. She works internationally as a writer, performance artist, theatre director, and performer. Born in Austria, she has lived in six countries (Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Germany, Estonia, and the UK) and traveled many more, always seeking to expand her horizons and challenge her preconceptions. Her interests range from Greek philosophy to capoeira, posthumanism, and Nietzsche.