A poet, artist, filmmaker, and activist, Cecilia Vicuña (b.1948, Santiago, Chile) has been an active figure in the Latin American avant-garde since the mid-1960s. She has chosen to live outside Chile since 1973, when a military coup ousted democratically-elected president Salvador Allende. She now works between Chile and Colombia, as well as in England and the United States.
Vicuña’s practice engages ideas of impermanence, as in her ongoing series precarios and basuritas—delicate sculptures made from discarded materials assembled using thread and pieces of wire. The reconstitution of such cast offs into new forms acts as a metaphor for the ephemerality of cultural knowledge and the way in which artifacts from indigenous and other marginalized communities are frequently erased with transitions of governmental power, as well as how the reconstitution of such material into new forms can function as an act of colonial resistance.
At Princeton, Vicuña was joined by the Colombian pianist and composer Ricardo Gallo for a collaborative performance of a quipoem, an event drawing upon the logic of the Andean quipu: a woven and knotted record-keeping device that was used to recount narrative content or numerical information. Much of the knowledge recorded by quipus was lost following a ban on their use imposed by the Spanish during their colonization of South America. In quipoem performances, Vicuña enacts collective rituals based on dissonant sound and shamanic practices incorporating the concepts of threading and knots to recuperate this form as an act of colonial resistance.
Vicunã’s work has been collected and exhibited internationally; including recent installations and performances at Documenta 14 (2017) and Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985(2017-2018). She has shown at The Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Santiago; The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) London; Art in General in NYC; The Whitechapel Art Gallery in London; The Berkeley Art Museum; The Whitney Museum of American Art; and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others.