Acclaimed Artist and Poet Cecilia Vicuña named 2018 Artist-in-Residence

Distributed March 27, 2018


Special performance, artist talk and installation at Princeton University Art Museum to be featured as part of residency

PRINCETON, N.J. – Renowned Chilean artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña is the Princeton University Art Museum’s 2018 Sarah Lee Elson, Class of 1984, International Artist-in-Residence. On April 10, as a part of her residency, Vicuña will perform with Colombian pianist and composer Ricardo Gallo, offering a special opportunity to experience their longstanding multilingual and interdisciplinary collaboration. Vicuña’s residency also highlights a recent acquisition of the artist’s work now on view at the Museum as part of the installation Migration and Material Alchemy.

       Born in 1948 in Santiago, Chile, Vicuña is known for her practice that combines poetry, drawing, sculpture, filmmaking, performance and activism. By weaving together cultural traditions indigenous to the Andean region with those that developed with the arrival of the colonial Spanish and others who followed, her art speaks to contemporary social concerns. Since the 1980s, Vicuña has divided her time between New York and Chile.

       “No single genre or media can encompass the breadth of Cecilia Vicuña’s richly evocative and lyrical approach to art making that builds on centuries of tradition to create new meanings and interactions,” said James Steward, the Museum’s Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director. “We look forward to welcoming her to Princeton and to hearing firsthand how she approaches her practice and her views on the precariousness of contemporary life.”

Central to Vicuña’s work is the quipu, which she employs both as a medium of poetry and as a form of sculpture for her ephemeral land-art installations and performances. The quipu—from the Quechua word for “knot”—is a knotted cord device that was used by the Inca for keeping records and sending messages throughout the Inca Empire. In many of the knots, scholars have deciphered a decimal-based system of numbers similar to our own. Approximately one-third of the surviving quipus, however, do not follow this system and may convey words, poetic verses or other narratives not yet understood. For Vicuña, quipus evoke the ways in which language is tied to land, colonialism and problems of translation.

       In 2017 the Museum purchased Vicuña’s Chanccani Quipu (2012), a bilingual manuscript of ink on knotted cords of unspun wool and bamboo, which the artist has described as “a metaphor in space; a book/sculpture that condenses the clash of two cultures and worldviews: the Andean oral universe and the Western world of print.” This work—as well as two Inca quipus dating from the 15th to 17th centuries and a 1980 conceptual film by Vicuña in which she asks a diverse cross section of residents of Bogota, Colombia, the work’s titular question, “What is poetry to you?”—is currently on view in the installation Migration and Material Alchemy.

       For the April 10 performance, to be held at the Museum at 5:30 p.m., Vicuña and Gallo will perform a selection of original songs and poems that weave together indigenous influences and contemporary voices of the Andean region. A conversation with the artists and a reception will follow. Seating is limited and reservations are required. For tickets, please visit:ña/tickets.

Vicuña’s residency also will include class visits and informal gatherings with Princeton students and faculty.

       Vicuña graduated with a master of fine arts from the National School of Fine Arts, University of Chile, Santiago, in 1971, and completed postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Arts, University College London. She is currently on the faculty at the School of Visual Arts, New York. She has previously taught workshops and seminars at institutions in Argentina, Colombia and the United States.

       In addition to the Princeton University Art Museum, Vicuña’s work can be found in the collections of the Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro; the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago; the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Her projects have been installed in galleries and museums worldwide.

Vicuña has published 22 art and poetry books, including Selected Poems (2017), Kuntur Ko (2015) and Spit Temple: The Selected Performances of Cecilia Vicuña (2012). In 2009, she coedited The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology.


About Migration and Material Alchemy

Migration and Material Alchemy is part of a community-wide initiative that explores the theme of migration through myriad lenses. Poetry, translation and materiality are foregrounded in this selection of works by contemporary artists from around the globe. These artists present subjects and materials in states of transition to contend with issues of urgent social concern, including political upheaval, environmental degradation, displaced populations and oppressive censorship. Working from positions of personal or political vulnerability, they provide a human context for matters of immense scope and imbue humble materials with spiritual or metaphorical resonance. In this way, alchemy, as it describes transformation from one state of being to another, provides the conceptual axis for this installation. Each of the works on view captures a moment of physical or metaphysical transformation and highlights this shifting, indeterminate condition as one of simultaneous vulnerability and powerful potential.

About the Princeton University Art Museum

With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, with collections that have grown to include over 100,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe. Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. Intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, the Museum offers a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art, and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture.

       The Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from the shops and restaurants of Nassau Street. Admission is free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and on major holidays.



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