20 February – 11 july, Madrid:

Cecilia Vicuña. Seehearing the Enlightened Failure, presented jointly by Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam, and CA2M – Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo – is the first retrospective of this Chilean artist’s work to be held in Spain. The foremost exponent of Latin American art on the international scene, Vicuña has long been considered to be a leading performance artist, but she is also a writer, poet, activist, and visual artist. She was distinguished with the Spanish art award Premio Velázquez de Artes Plásticas 2019 for her outstanding work and her multi-dimensional art, distinguishing her as one of the essential figures in contemporary Latin American art.

Since the 1960s, Cecilia Vicuña (Santiago, 1948) has been offering a radical view of the relationship between art and politics through her writing, and through her artistic creation. She worked in different parts of the world after leaving her native Chile for London in 1972, eventually settling in the United States in 1980. For decades, this poet, visual artist, and activist has been forging a varied and multi-disciplinary body of work, built using words, images, environments, and a combination of languages, media, and techniques.

The exhibition, curated by the Peruvian Miguel A. López, brings together more than one hundred works – shown for the first time in Spain – reflecting the artist’s ongoing commitment to themes ranging from eroticism, colonial legacies, the struggle for liberation, collective joy, indigenous thought, and environmental destruction. Starting with words, she constructs huge installations and paintings that draw from certain indigenous languages while also focusing on her relationship with nature and feminism. She also compiles different types of documentation that narrate part of her journey, making her work timelessly radical.

The military coup that took place in Chile in 1973 had a profound effect on Cecilia Vicuña (Santiago, 1948), shaping the structure of her emotions in her formative years, and that of the entire nation. Her work is linked to political resistance, and feminist and sociological precepts, dialogues with indigenous culture, and environmental justice permeate her work.

The curator, Miguel A. López, highlights Vicuña’s convictions in his interpretation, selection, and presentation of her art, whose function is not to colonize or dominate, but to foster change in social and emotional structures: ‘Her desire to dignify rubble, the tiny fragments and the things we throw away, focuses the question on how to reconnect the scattered parts of what we might today call ecological justice – an assembly of many worlds and multiple forms of awareness.’

Cecilia Vicuña began painting in the mid-1960s. She was influenced by Andean and mestizo painting produced by the Cuzco School in the 16th and 17th centuries, which appropriated iconographic elements of European art in order to preserve Andean beliefs. Her encounter with the painter Leonora Carrington in Mexico in 1969 was also significant.

Drawing on these influences, Vicuña’s paintings included nude women protesting in the streets, references to animism, Andean philosophy, folklore, and popular myths, as well as depictions of important left-wing figures and feminist and civil rights activists. It was a continuation of colonial images of saints painted by mestizos – a Spanish tradition with a Latin American twist – that offered a glimpse into the syncretic Latin American culture of today. Although such works were exhibited in museums and nationally acknowledged, they also proved to be controversial, such as ‘Ángel de la menstruación’.

Vicuña’s desire to dignify rubble, the tiny fragments and the things we throw away, focuses the question on how to reconnect the scattered parts of what we might today call ecological justice – an assembly of many worlds and multiple forms of awareness. In that awareness lies the poetics of enlightened failure, the possibility that the ordinary can become an event. In this sense, the fate of much of her work underscores disappearance as the thing that generates the entirety of her poetics. Her poetry-actions, her precarious, her spatial metaphors, her collages and art hangings, her songs and her living quipus, insist that there are no successions, only returns.

For this exhibition retrospective developed by guest curator Miguel A. López, and co-presented by formerly known as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (now Kunstinstituut Melly) and Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, MUAC, a number of artworks, documents, and ephemera are presented for the first time. Often drawing from personal experience, here showcased is Vicuña’s long-standing engagement with topics ranging from eroticism, colonial legacies, and liberation struggles, to collective joy, indigenous thinking, and environmental devastation.

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