KUKULI VELARDE

PAINTINGS

ISICHAPUITU

Peruvian-American, b. 1962, Lima, Peru
lives and works in Philadelphia, PA

Kukuli Velarde is a Peruvian-American artist who specializes in painting and ceramic sculptures made out of clay and terra-cotta. Velarde focuses on the themes of gender and the consequences of colonization in Latin American contemporary culture. Her ceramic work is a visual investigation of aesthetics, cultural survival, and inheritance.

Velarde has had multiple solo exhibitions, most recently including Kukuli Velarde: The Complicit Eye at Taller Puertorriqueño (Philadelphia, PA), Kukuli Velarde at AMOCA (Pomona, CA), and Plunder Me, Baby at Peters Project Gallery (Santa Fe, NM). Her work may also be found in numerous public institutions, including the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX), the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (Sheboygan, WI), and the Museo de Art Contemporaneo de Lima, (Lima, Peru).

Velarde is the recipient of numerous grants, including a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant, a United States Artists Knight Fellowship, and a PEW Fellowship in Visual Art. She was awarded the Grand Prize for her work exhibited at the Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale in Icheon, South Korea. Velarde holds a BFA (magna cum laude) from Hunter College of the University of New York. Velarde lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.

ON HER WORK

I am a Peruvian-American artist. My work, which revolves around the consequences of colonization in Latin American contemporary culture, is a visual investigation about aesthetics, cultural survival, and inheritance. I focus on Latin American history, particularly that of Perú, because it is the reality with which I am familiar. I do so, convinced that its complexity has universal characteristics and any conclusion can be understood beyond the frame of its uniqueness.

Kukuli Velarde, “I Speak Spanish, Yo Hablo Inglés”, 2021, oil on stretched canvas and wood panel substrate, mounted on 7 aluminum panels, 96 x 96″.

On her painting I Speak Spanish, Yo Hablo Inglés

I Speak Spanish, Yo Hablo Inglés is an intersectional feminist work dealing with themes of America, immigration and the Latin diaspora, femininity, and motherhood. Velarde wanted to make a painting to summon her personal experience as an immigrant while also honoring Indigenous peoples of the land now known as the United States of America. Expressing the myriad realities and experiences of vast diasporas led to a deeply layered and symbolic work. “You have an idea of what America is which, in many ways, is not the America you encounter” says Velarde, who stresses that she chose to leave her native Peru. “I was never pursuing ‘the American dream.’ I’m an immigrant by choice but I can certainly imagine what it’s like for many people who do have to flee or escape.”

The painting is multilayered. The most obvious and recognizable iconography is the American flag behind a female body with multiple faces. The red stripes imply a history beyond the Declaration of Independence. The white stripes include the pattern of Lenni Lenape wampum belts. The Lenni Lenape people are from Lenapehoking, their expansive historical territory that included present-day northeastern Delaware, New York City, Western Long Island, the Lower Hudson Valley, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania along the Delaware River Watershed. Velarde now lives in Philadelphia. It’s believed the Lenni Lenape offered these traditional belts to William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, as a peace treaty between Penn and Tamanend, a chief of the Lenni Lenape in 1683. “The flowers in the red stripes have always been here, regardless of humans. They are indigenous to the land,” says Velarde, referring the flowers found within the flag. “Further, the flag is fenced off as a reference to the difficulties of achieving ‘the dream’—there’s always an obstacle to achieve it, real or imaginary. And the fence become such a symbol in the Trump era, which is part of what provoked this painting,” says Velarde.

Velarde remembers seeing a four-faced, back forward figure in a church in her mother’s hometown of Huaro, Peru. It was painted in the colonial era by Teofilo Benavente. 

Velarde’s figure is also four-faced and rear-presenting. First, it’s Velarde’s way of blocking objectification and refusing common narratives about the female body. One of the four faces is backwards, hidden from the public and looking at the flag and at history. Velarde’s figure is looking out toward America, and at the same time side-to-side and behind, as an attitude of awareness to her surroundings. All of this is painted as an almost-but-not-quite-Vitruvian-meets-the-crucified-Christ-woman to comment on the the cultural expectations of femme and female bodies in a culture that prescribes a paradigm that people cannot fulfill. “With these ideas of universal human aesthetics, nobody can achieve that and we all become ugly. It’s a commentary on erasure,” Velarde elaborates.

Finally, the female character, half superhero/half saint, is talking to the audience loud and clear, in a spiral of ribbons that signify speech. She is speaking English and Spanish to anybody who cares to listen/read, and is defending her rights to be herself within a social environment that has become toxic and dangerous for diversity and community. “What is her power?,” asks Velarde. “Perhaps her only power is not to allow others to silence her, to keep going—to exist and resist.”

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For more on the Lenni Lenape, wampum belts, and the Penn treaty please visit our source: Native American Heritage Month: Penn Treaty Wampum Belts, by Richard Naples, November 23, 2016.

 

Kukuli Velarde “ISICHAPUITU” figure installation during IN DIALOGUE two-person exhibition with Cristina Cordova, Oct. 16 – Dec. 31 2021

On her ISICHAPUITU sculptures

An oral tradition from Cusco, Perú tells the story of a priest who was wildly in love with a woman who died. In his despair, he procured a “vessel of death” for summoning her spirit, and loved her one more time. The “vessels of death,” known as Manchaypuitu (male) and Isichapuitu (female), were human-like vessels known to be powerful tools for bringing the spirits from the past.

Kukuli Velarde created 74 Isichapuitu vessels between 1997-2006. Each of the figures responds to a very different need, as delineated by Velarde in her series statement: 

I feel my body populated by memories, impressions, beliefs, fears and desires. They are imprinted deeply, almost etched. They follow me, tormenting me, or sweetening my path. At the stage of my life when I created Isichapuitu, I wanted to summon their presence, thank them for being, and make peace with each of these emotions and memories. I didn’t know how, until I saw a photograph of a Mexican statue from the Rockefeller Collection at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The figure was two thousand years old and represented an obese male child with his arms up.  Somebody made it two thousand years ago, and yet I believe, it looks like me.     

It is said that every work of art is a self-portrait. I imagine the Huastecan artist modeling the clay, giving it his or her eyes, his or her full cheeks, his or her protruding upper jaw. I imagine him or her looking like me, and then, I imagine myself making the Huastecan piece two thousand years ago. I believe I am continuing something I began long ago. I am remaking it over and over, as if I don’t want to depart from it, as if it were possible to prolong the moment of creation and continue an eternal labor of love. 

My figures are different organs of a single body presented on the floor, next to each other, as a metaphor of wholeness. Each of us are the sum of viscera and flesh, expectations and disappointments, memories and oblivion, generosities and pettiness. They go on the floor because I want them invading our realm. They go next to each other, because they were not created to be observed and qualified as objects. Their value lies not in my skills but in their mere existence. They exist, first for me, and then for everybody else. The Isichapuitu installation is an exorcism, but it is also a farewell, and a new beginning.

CURRENT + RECENT EXHIBITIONS

videos featuring Kukuli Velarde 

 

 

Artist Kukuli Velarde’s series Corpus, composed of sculptures and embroidered banners, evokes ritual procession mixed with cultural influences that reflect her contemporary perspective. The artist investigates aesthetics, cultural survival, and inheritance specifically in terms of Latin American history, reinterpreting them through her own postcolonial and feminist lens.

In this talk, Velarde considers the influences on this body of work as well as her multimedia artistic practice with curator Elisabeth Agro. Velarde’s work was part of the exhibition New Grit: Art & Philly Now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art May 7 – August 22, 2021.

In the Artist's Voice: Kukuli Velarde presented by the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Kukuli Velarde on The Potters Cast

The podcast from May 2019 is a follow-up to her NCECA demonstration and an overall discussion about her work and history. Follow the link to the right to listen and read their additional Q&A about her works.