Cecilia Vicuña


Cecilia Vicuña © Jane England

Cecilia Vicuña (Diaguita/Mestizo) is a celebrated poet, artist, and activist born in Santiago, Chile, in 1948. Active since the mid-1960s, her revolutionary vision and genre-bending work in the fields of visual, performance, and literary arts remains at the vanguard of contemporary practice, and anticipated important artistic and academic movements, including Conceptual art and eco-feminism. Vicuña’s oeuvre addresses pressing concerns including human rights, ecological destruction, and cultural homogenization. She received an MFA from the National School of Fine Arts, University of Chile (1971), and continued postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Art (1973). Following the death of Chilean President Salvador Allende during the military coup led by Augusto Pinochet in 1973, Vicuña went into exile in London. In 1975, she moved to Bogotá, Colombia to conduct independent research on the cultural and artistic practice of Indigenous peoples in Latin America. Vicuña has published 25+ books of poetry and art and has completed (or been the subject of) 80+ films since 1973. Her site-specific installations, performances, and moving image artworks have been widely exhibited in museums and galleries internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), Whitney Museum of American Art, and Whitechapel Gallery, among others. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including an Andy Warhol Foundation Award (1997), Premio Velázquez de Artes Plásticas prize, and a Herb Alpert Award (2019). She was named a United States Artists Fellow and was a finalist for the Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Prize (2019). Vicuña was appointed Messenger Lecturer at Cornell University (2015) and Princeton University Art Museum’s Sarah Lee Elson International Artist in Residence (2018). She founded Tribu No, an artist collective dedicated to the production of poetry, manifestos, and public performance actions, in Santiago (1967), and was a founding member of Artists for Democracy in London (1974). Her work is represented by Galeria Patricia Ready and Lehmann Maupin Gallery. She lives and works in Chile and New York.

ONLINE SCREENING DATES: January 9 – January 30, 2023

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: Paracas, 18.5 min, 1983; What is poetry to you?, 24 min, 1984?
This series is co-selected and presented with COUSIN collective and is generously funded by a Digital Now grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.
* This selection was originally curated by Almudena Escobar López, with input from Oona Mosna, for Media City Film Festival’s 25th Edition.

Paracas, 18.5 min, 1983

Cecilia Vicuña’s intriguing trajectory—from her early identification with the Indigenous people of her native Chile to her current identity as an internationally respected poet and artist—is exemplary but hardly ordinary. Few artists so buffeted by a lifetime of political circumstances have found such uniquely poetic ways to respond to the winds of terror, change, and hope. – Lucy R. Lippard

Conceived as a visual and sound poem in seven scenes, this animation of a two-thousand-year-old textile in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum invites entrance into a different visual and sonic space: the universe of the pre-Columbian weavers who created the portrait of a ritual procession using a unique three-dimensional looping technique developed in the Paracas/Nazca region. Vicuña interprets the textile as a celebration of the harvest and the Thread of Life on the desert coast of Peru. – Electronic Arts Intermix

What is poetry to you?, 24 min, 1984

The poem is not speech, not in the earth, not on paper, but in the crossing and union of the three in the place that is not. – Cecilia Vicuña

Cecilia Vicuña made her first documentary while residing in Colombia after the 1973 coup d’état in Chile. Through this fundamental inquiry—¿Qué es para usted la poesía? / What is poetry to you?—Vicuña unravels the role and substance of poetry in people’s lives. Speaking with school children, street performers, policemen, sex workers, fellow artists, and a scientist, the all-embracing character of poetry emerges—its transformative role in personal relations, as a basis of oral history and the revolutionary imagination. – Chris Borkowski

When Cecilia Vicuña came to Manhattan in 1980, she had no plans to stay—but for Vicuña, an artist in exile from Pinochet’s Chile, plans didn’t matter much. She had been in the city for less than a week when she crossed paths with an Argentine painter and moved into his unfinished loft in Tribeca. There were few street lights then, so the block turned black at night, and the ruins of an old overpass sliced through the neighborhood. She could smell the Hudson River—it was so close—but it was cut off by a junkyard of car parts and a wall of barbed wire. Still, she would visit the water every afternoon, peering through a crevice in the hulking mountain of metal. She needed to know the river survived, kept flowing, even though it was polluted, teeming with traffic, almost invisible from where she stood. This elemental friendship sustained her in the foreign city. – Carina del Valle Schorske

Read Cecilia Vicuña’s Desired Lines in the New York Times

Read an article on Cecilia Vicuña’s recent work in the Guardian

All stills, photographs, and artwork courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI) and Cecilia Vicuña © Cecilia Vicuña. Screening co-presented with Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.