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Guadalupe Maravilla (studio image courtesy of the artist)

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Guadalupe Maravilla

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Provocations: Guadalupe Maravilla

Nov 9, 2019 – Jul 1, 2020

The second commission in the ICA’s Provocations series will be created by Guadalupe Maravilla, an artist who, at age eight, immigrated alone to the United States from El Salvador in order to escape the Salvadoran Civil War. Combining drawing, sculpture, and performance, Maravilla’s installation, Disease Thrower, draws on his own experiences with illness, migration, and the anxieties experienced by undocumented peoples.

On Saturday, November 9, the exhibition begins with an overnight opening performance which includes the activation of ceremonial gongs, soothing teas, and an overnight sound bath. For this opening ceremony and throughout the exhibition’s run, the ICA’s True Farr Luck Gallery will be transformed into a space of ritual, dialogue, hospitality, and healing.

Provocations: Guadalupe Maravilla is curated by Amber Esseiva and organized by the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University

Combining drawing, sculpture, and performance, Maravilla’s installation, Disease Thrower, draws on his own experiences with illness, migration, and political anxieties. For Disease Thrower, Maravilla will produce four large totemic sculptures made of steel, gongs, and materials that he collected around the U.S.-Mexican border and Central America—retracing a portion of his own migration path. These sculptures will be activated through performance, rituals, and workshops that use sound, movement, and human-to-human connection as a vehicle for healing and exchange.  

The installation also includes banners designed by Maravilla. On each, disembodied limbs and clenched fists are embroidered along with images of flowers, dripping blocks of ice, and skulls. For Maravilla, these fictive icons become emblems for ongoing resistance against persecution and trauma. Suspended in the space is a serpentine sculpture made of agave and wood. 

Maravilla will also create a large scale wall mural that draws on two key sources. A line-drawing game played by Salvadoran children, Tripa Chuca (Dirty Guts) combines play, logic, and strategy, while the sixteenth-century Azcatitlan Codex narrative drawings told the story of the occupation, migration, and displacement of indigenous Aztec people during the Spanish colonial period. Both Tripa Chuca and the Azcatitlan narrative drawings map real and imagined routes. Inspired by those sources as well as his own memory and intuition, Maravilla has devised collaborative drawing exercises that combine map-making and play to explore stories of migration. These drawing exercises will be dedicated primarily to recalling the stories and experiences of both asylum seekers and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients living in the region. 

As a migrant himself, Maravilla is acutely aware of the anxieties often experienced by undocumented peoples. He was one of the large group of undocumented children who migrated to the U.S. during the 1980s in order to escape the Salvadoran Civil War, and he now lives in Virginia, home to the fourth largest Salvadoran population in the U.S. Disease Thrower also reflects Maravilla’s own experiences with illness and recovery. He credits non-western forms of treatment—-including gongs and spiritual rituals—with helping him battle cancer. In this project, bowels become a locus for stress and disease, echoing in the sinuous formal qualities of his drawing, sculpture, and performance. Combining themes and forms that echo and reinforce each other across the different parts of the project, Disease Thrower, explores exercises that might help heal both the human body and the social body.

Guadalupe Maravilla is an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of The Arts in the Department of Sculpture and Extended Media. Provocations: Guadalupe Maravilla will be Maravilla’s second solo museum show in the United States. To honor his undocumented father, the artist, formerly known as Irvin Morázan, adopted his father’s pseudonym—Maravilla, or “wonder” and “marvel” in Spanish—as his surname. He combined it with Guadalupe, the Spanish name for the Aztec earth mother deity. 

Maravilla has performed and presented his work extensively in venues such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bronx Museum, El Museo Del Barrio, MARTE (El Salvador), Central America Biennial X (Costa Rica), XI Nicaragua Biennial, Performa 11 & 13, Fux-Box Festival, Exit Art, Smack Mellon, Rubin Foundation and the ICA in Miami (2019). Residencies include; LMCC Workspace, SOMA, Skowhegan and Drawing Center. Awards and fellowships include; Soros Fellowship: Art Migration and Public Space 2019, Creative Capital Grant 2016, Franklin Furnace 2018, Joan Mitchell Emerging Artist Grant 2016, Art Matters Grant 2013, Art Matters Fellowship 2017, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship 2018, Dedalus Foundation Grant 2013 and The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation Award 2003.

Architect Steven Holl has described the soaring volume of the True Farr Luck Gallery as “a provocation for artists to engage.” The Provocations series takes its name from that statement: every year, the ICA will commission an artist to create new work in response to this site. Each Provocations project will be on view for an extended period, activated by programs that offer varied perspectives and different ways to experience the work over time.

The Provocations series embodies the ICA’s role as an institute for contemporary art. By commissioning major works, we support artists, extend VCU’s research and teaching mission, and create opportunities for our communities to experience powerful art and provocative architecture.

Provocations: Rashid Johnson