Cecilia Vicuña: A pioneering conceptual artist in Chile
In a ceremony held in New York in mid-May, visual artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña received the prestigious Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. On this issue, we present a brief outline of this celebrated Chilean artist’s career.
At 72 years of age, artist Cecilia Vicuña is enjoying a period of major international recognition. During the last decade, this Chilean creator and conceptual art pioneer has participated in emblematic venues of the global arts scene such as the Pinta London fair and the Documenta exhibition, one of Europe’s most relevant contemporary art events.
It all began less than 10 years ago, when curator Jane England developed an interest in her work from the 1970s and offered her space for an individual exhibition in her London gallery. The artist and poet then dusted off paintings from 1972 where she depicted Salvador Allende alongside Fidel Castro as well as Karl Marx, along with pieces she produced for Artists for Democracy, the group that she created –with artists John Dugger, David Medallay, and GuyBrett when she lived in London in 1974– as a form of resistance against Pinochet’s regime in Chile.
Since then, Vicuña’s work –which began in Chile with her precarious art of 1966 and the creation of the Tribu No collective in 1967 alongside other poets such as Claudio Bertoni– has reemerged. The exhibition displays not only her origins, but also her current work which includes politically-engaged performances and installations combining sound, textiles, and poetry.
The Herb Alpert Foundation, which created the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts together with the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), bestowed this prize on Vicuña due to her “unshakable feminism, her bold explorations and poetics, and her uncompromising responses to political, social, and ecological reality”.
Cecilia Vicuña attended the Arts Faculty of the Universidad de Chile in 1971. In 1972, she traveled to London to pursue postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Arts, University College London.
There, she established a group of artists and poets called Tribu No. In the early 1970s, she created a series of installations and performances related to the symbols of the Pre-Columbian indigenous world, nature, and South American mythology in general.
In 1973, the BBC produced a documentary about her poetic-visual work. Her visual oeuvre comprises oil paintings, sculptures, and video recordings. She has also published several poetry volumes and has given lectures on art.
In 1975, she moved to Colombia, where she continued to study American popular indigenous culture and taught Art History at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano Foundation (Universidad de Bogotá) and Contemporary Latin American Poetry at the El Arte Foundation (Universidad Libre de Bogotá).
Vicuña, who has resided in New York since the 1980s, has exhibited her work and published books in Brazil, Mexico, Germany, and Australia.