The Life and Art of Cecilia Vicuña: a Critic of “Modern Times”
In the nothingness of the desert of Chile, a wise woman walks, singing. She takes sand from this metaphor of death and frees it with the wind rising. She adjusts her voice to flow with the environment. You can see joy, and life in her silhouette.
The person in front of us is Cecilia Vicuña, a unique Chilean artist who makes art from humility.
Art can take the form of any medium. She makes “fragile art,” art that goes with the wind.
Every Artist is a “New World”
Born in Santiago, Chile in 1948, Vicuña began her career in the early 1970s as a poet and visual artist, then expanding her practice to include performance, sculpture, and installation art.
She spent much of her childhood in the coastal city of La Serena. Her concerns were marked by the political and social upheaval of the time, with Chile undergoing significant political changes and facing increasing economic inequality.
Growing up, Vicuña witnessed the effects of social and political unrest on her country and its people, an experience that would influence her work for years to come.
In the late 1960s, Vicuña moved to London to study art. It was there that she was first exposed to the categories and mental worlds of avant-garde. Before this, all her experiments with different mediums were ongoing projects. Even before the European white world realized that painting wasn’t the only medium to express human life, Cecilia Vicuña knew that anything made with human hands can be a fully developed artistic expression.
As a Latin American woman, she identified with the “third world” and the folk movements in each country, searching for its identity. In between the coup of Pinochet in Chile, she arrived in a zone free for raising its voice and playing with all its possibilities.
But sickened and feeling out of place, Cecilia Vicuña returned to America. Her formation concluded in the Art Institute of Chicago. During this time, Vicuña experimented with a wide range of artistic mediums, including painting, sculpture, and poetry.
With all the background she had gained in the “Old World”, she took her chains and broke them following what she felt was the right path for her expression.
From the Center to Periphery
Cecilia Vicuña felt that the culture of the “looks,” as she told, was the new way of life, even in the USA. Consumerism and making all the money you don’t necessarily need weren’t for her. Not happy with this, to “return home” wasn’t a manner of simple homesickness but of deepening her identity along his roots. For this, she turned to the literature of her country, the art of the unheard, her living in Colombia, and the experiences of a free country with no military state.
One of Vicuña’s earliest and most enduring influences was the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, whose work focused on themes of love, nature, and motherhood. Vicuña’s own poetry often explores similar themes, and she has often cited Mistral as a major inspiration for her work.
In addition to Mistral, Vicuña was also heavily influenced by the indigenous cultures of Chile and the Andes Mountains. Her early travels throughout South America exposed her to the rich artistic traditions of these cultures, and she has often incorporated elements of indigenous art and ritual into her own work.
And the path was open. Cecilia Vicuña became Cecilia Vicuña. With major expositions in MoMa and the Guggenheim Museum, the white West acknowledged the work of one of its dissidents. The artist was conscious that if we wanted to survive all the damage done in the last 100 years, the only answer was to search deep inside us.
Movement, Creation, the “Inside” or “Outside”…a Deep Truth
Life is embedded in movement. The flow of life is a rhythm that can’t stop. This universal principle developed by many non-Western philosophies and religions was reborn with the art of Cecilia Vicuña. Life must be shared, common life must be praised as a gift given to us. As a gift to share with the world itself. In being true to ourselves, the fundamental answers of humanity can be shared.
With this, Vicuña’s use of performance and ritual in her art makes another key element of her artistic style. Her work often involves the use of movement, sound, and other performative elements, and she has been praised for her ability to create immersive, multi-sensory experiences for viewers.
One of the central concepts she has explored in her art is “quivering,” the idea that everything in the universe is in constant motion. Through her exploration of this concept, Vicuña seeks to create a sense of unity and interconnectedness between all living things.
Cecilia Vicuña’s artistic style and themes reflect her deep commitment to environmentalism, indigenous cultures, and social justice. Her work challenges viewers to reconsider their relationship to the natural world and to the many cultures and communities that make up our global society. Through her use of unconventional materials and techniques, her exploration of performance and ritual, and her commitment to exploring pressing social and political issues, Vicuña has made a lasting impact on the world of art and activism.
The Woman of the Desert Has Seeds in Her Hands
Cecilia Vicuña’s life and career stand as a testament to the power of art to effect change in the world. We return to the nothingness of the Chilean desert; she now opens her eyes, smiles again. Around her, the wind sings along with her whispers. Vicuña continues walking without a certain path.
Her legacy and work will endure the fall of the dominant West. From the desert of the times, the Others -the silent, oppressed, the ones that stand outside history- will become sprouts of new beginnings, dancing in the rhythms of Mother Earth.
By Alonso Ruíz