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I am a Peruvian-American artist. My work, which revolves around the consequences of colonization in Latin American contemporary culture, is a visual investigation of 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.
While growing up my visual surroundings were always the same: contemporary urban and rural scenery against the monolithic presence of pre-columbian and catholic colonial aesthetics, both of which conform and deﬁne Peruvian landscapes. My identity as a person and as an artist is marked by them and my body of work often summons their presence. Art produced in colonized territories up to modern times is often developed by populations compelled to follow an aesthetics that doesn’t reﬂect them. It intrigues me how such imposition has been accepted and negotiated, and how art makers may preserve characteristics of their own aesthetics in spite of cultural alienation. I believe that my work continues the efforts that were initiated at the time of conquest by my ancestors in order to survive as culture. In my work I approach Pre-Columbian aesthetics searching for cultural and ethnic commonalities, claiming them as my heritage while engaging the audience in conversations about colonization and coloniality, contemporary history, social injustice and racism. I envision societies with symmetrical opportunities for their different aesthetics to blossom. I envision a pluriversal aesthetic landscape where we all have the opportunity to be ourselves without ethnic, racial or cultural labels that undermines the power of our artistic speech.
Many years ago I saw an exhibition of Rauschenberg’s work in Mexico. I found the exhibition, albeit strong in typical Americana references, unrelated and disconnected to my Latin American heritage, both culturally and visually. I believe I have a wealth of visual information that corresponds more closely to my cultural make up. Pre-columbian art is my most genuine aesthetic inheritance. It is what people who look like me created to their likeness, long ago, when they were the center of their own universe.
Included here are works from several series. For PLUNDER ME, BABY, I wonder what would happen if pre-columbian ceramics in any museum of the world were to wake up from centuries of sleep. What would they think or feel, out of context and stripped of meaning? What would it be for them to be prisoners in a beautiful display or stacked in captivity in an anthropological museum’s storage room? I imagine them in despair and fear, and overcoming their defeat; owning themselves, no longer victims but witnesses of history, transcending their own existence. The title of the series is a deﬁance, a teasing invitation to futile aggression, for they are beyond harm. Individually their titles are composed of racial slurs still very much in use in Perú and Latin America. There is a sardonic commentary following each of them, stressing common stereotypes and condescending social perception.
WAQ’AS AND PACHAMAMAS depart from my prior referencing of early anthropomorphic representations, and acknowledge and convoke entities to a conceptual foreground as hypothetical imaginaries from “otherness.” Respectfully acknowledging surviving pre-colonial entities such as Pachamama protects and retains “their” memory, which lends an opportunity for reinvention as a second chance, to align a historical narrative on decolonizing terms. Borrowing Wari aesthetics, “Pachamama” is not idol, but earth, an inclusive omnipresent entity. “She” is where plants grow and birds sing, even if suffocated under cement, never losing the capacity to support life. I aspire to inform and afﬁrm the ubiquity of non-Western entities, researching the geographical, and historical strata of archetypical landmarks, imagining and materializing their Pachamamas, rigorously informed by my ﬁndings.
A MI VIDA (TO MY VIDA) is a series of portraits of my daughter, who was conceived when I was 48. The idea of creating these intimate works came from anticipating the moment of separation, following American custom, in which children leave the house early in life. I give myself a chance to embrace her, forever, if only her efﬁgy. But A MI VIDA is more than that. Within the frame of our political landscape it speaks of the pain of a parent and child separated by force at the border of this country. A MI VIDA is an urgent plea for empathy and protection against cruelty. Each piece has been made to be carried by a mother’s arms, they don’t belong on pedestals, their ideal presentation/state is within our arms. A MI VIDA is also a performance. It consists of my offering these figures to the audience to hold, and help me appease their crying.
CORPUS engages with and confronts Perú’s colonial past, which reverberates in the construction of mestizo identity. The 15 sculptures that comprise CORPUS are entities who have survived for centuries beneath the guise of Catholic icons revered in the annual celebration of Corpus Christi in Cusco, Perú. Syncretic imagery blends pre-Columbian symbols and forms with European Catholic iconographies, asserting that these pre-Columbian entities were not vanquished, but blended with their Catholic counterparts, ensuring survival. Banners were commissioned to Peruvian artisans who craft traditional religious banners. The red tables reference legged structures carried by youths to rest the efﬁgies on when not in motion in the procession. CORPUS is exhibited with an installation of ﬂash lights and sound that seeks to provoke feelings of exposure and invasion from cultural “paparazzi.” The video with my father’s voice praying, has a Peruvian military march marking the real icons passing.
Kukuli Velarde is a Peruvian artist based in the United States since 1987. She has received awards and grants such as the Virginia Groot First Prize (2023), the Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), the United States Artists-Knight fellowship (2009), the Pew fellowship in Visual Arts (2003), the Anonymous is a Woman award (2000), among others. In 2013 her project CORPUS got the Grand Prize at the Gyeonggi Ceramics Biennial in South Korea. She held tenure as faculty at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2022.
Her exhibition credits include: CORPUS touring exhibition at SECCA (NC), Halsey Institute (SC) and Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (CO) among other venues in 2022 and 2023, KUKULI VELARDE: THE COMPLICIT EYE at Taller (Philadelphia, 2018-19); KUKULI VELARDE at AMOCA, (Los Angeles 2017); PLUNDER ME, BABY at the Yenggi Museum of Ceramics’ Biennial of Taipei (Taiwan 2014); CORPUS (work in Progress) at the Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennial (South Korea 2013); also KUKULI VELARDE: PLUNDER ME, BABY at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in (Kansas city, KS in 2013), PATRIMONIO at Barry Friedman Gallery (NY, 2010) and PLUNDER ME, BABY at Garth Clark Gallery (NY, 2007).
She is married to Doug Herren, sculptor, and they have a daughter named Vida. They live in Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Kukuli Velarde es una artista peruana radicada en Estados Unidos desde 1987. Ha recibido premios y becas como el Primer Premio de la fundación Virginia Groot (2023), la beca Guggenheim (2015), la beca United States Artists-Knight (2009), la beca Pew en Artes Visuales (2003), el premio Anonymous is a Woman (2000), entre otros. En 2013 su proyecto CORPUS obtuvo el Gran Premio en la Bienal de Cerámica de Gyeonggi en Corea del Sur. Fue miembro facultativo de la residencia de la Escuela Skowhegan de Pintura y Escultura en el 2022.
Sus créditos de exhibición incluyen: CORPUS exhibición itinerante en SECCA (NC), Halsey Institute y en Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (2022); KUKULI VELARDE: THE COMPLICIT EYE en Taller (Philadelphia, 2018-19); KUKULI VELARDE en AMOCA, (Los Ángeles 2017); PLUNDER ME, BABY en la Bienal del Museo de Cerámica Yenggi de Taipei (Taiwán 2014); CORPUS (work in Progress) en la Bienal Internacional de Cerámica de Gyeonggi (Corea del Sur 2013); también KUKULI VELARDE: SAQUEAME, BABY en el Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art de (Kansas city, KS en 2013), PATRIMONIO en Barry Friedman Gallery (NY, 2010) y PLUNDER ME, BABY en Garth Clark Gallery (NY, 2007).
Está casada con Doug Herren, escultor, y tienen una hija llamada Vida. Viven en Filadelﬁa, Pensilvania, E.U.