Cecilia Vicuña

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Cecilia Vicuña
Born (1948-07-22) July 22, 1948 (age 72)
Santiago, Chile
OccupationPoet, Visual Artist, filmmaker and activist
EducationNational School of Fine Arts at University of Chile, Slade School of Fine Arts at University College London
GenrePoetry, Painting, Installation, Performance, Textile, Activism, Feminism
Notable worksDisappeared Quipu (Brooklyn Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 2018), Palabrarmas, (Neubauer Collegium, University of Chicago, 2018)

Quipu Womb (The Story of the Red Thread, Athens) (2017),

A Ritual Performance by the Sea (2017), Maria Sabina (1986), Gabriela Mistral (1986), Muerte de Allende (Death of Allende, 1973), Fidel y Allende (1972), Angel de la Menstruación (Angel of menstruation, 1973), Lenin (1972), Karl Marx (1972), Precarios (ongoing)
Notable awardsAnonymous Was A Woman Award (1999) Premio Velázquez de Artes Plásticas (2019)

Cecilia Vicuña (Santiago, Chile, 1948) is a Chilean poet and artist based in New York and Santiago, Chile.[1][2][3]

Her work is noted for themes of language, memory, dissolution, extinction and exile.[4] Critics also note the relevance of her work to the politics of ecological destruction, cultural homogenization, and economic disparity, particularly the way in which such phenomena disenfranchise the already powerless.[5] Her commitment to feminist forms and methodologies is considered to be a unifying theme across her diverse body of work, among which quipus, palabrarmas and precarious stand out. Her practice has been specifically linked to the term eco-feminism.[6]

Cecilia Vicuña was distinguished with Premio Velázquez de Artes Plásticas 2019, Spain’s most prominent art award and given out by the Spanish Ministry of Culture to an artist based in the country or from the Ibero-American Community of Nations. The jury statement said that she is receiving the award for her "outstanding work as a poet, visual artist and activist" and her "multidimensional art that interacts with the earth, written language, and weaving.".[7]


Cecilia Vicuña was born in Santiago de Chile in 1948 and raised in La Florida, in the Maipo valley. From 1957 to 1964, she learned English at St Gabriel's English School and made large abstract paintings at her first studio built by her father. In 1966, she attended architecture school at the University of Chile in Santiago but switched to the fine arts school. In 1967 she founded the "Tribu No" and the Mexican magazine El Corno Emplumado published her first poem.[8]

She received her MFA from the University of Chile in 1971 and moved to London with a British Council Award in 1972 to attend the Slade School of Fine Art. In 1973 she went into exile in London following the death of President Salvador Allende and the 1973 Chilean coup d'état led by General Augusto Pinochet, she remained in London.[9][10]

While exiled in London, Vicuña largely focused on political activism, demonstrating in peaceful protests against fascism and human rights violations in Chile and other countries. She is a founding member of Artists for Democracy and organized the Arts Festival for Democracy in Chile at the Royal College of Art in 1974.[11]

In 1975, Vicuña left London and moved to Bogotá, Colombia to conduct independent research of indigenous art and culture. She traveled throughout the country, Venezuela and Brazil. In Bogotá she was invited by Teatro La Candelaria and Corporación Colombiana de Teatro to create stage designs. In 1980, Vicuña moved to New York City[9] and married César Paternosto. In the 80's she exhibited her work at MoMA, the Alternative Museum, and the Center for Inter American Relations in New York. In the 1990s, Vicuña had several solo exhibitions in the United States, such as "Precarious," a solo exhibition at Exit Art, New York (1990); "El Ande Futuro," a solo exhibition at the University Art Museum, Berkeley, California (1992); and "Cloud-Net," a solo travelling exhibition at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, NY (1998), DiverseWorks Artspace, Houston, Texas, and Art in General, New York, NY (1998).

She was interviewed for the 2010 film !Women Art Revolution.[12]

In 2018, Vicuña became the Princeton University Art Museum's 2018 Sarah Lee Elson International Artist-in-Residence. As part of her residency, Vicuña performed with Colombian pianist Ricardo Gallo.[13]


Cecilia Vicuña Vicuña was the founder of Tribu No and author of the No Manifesto, that created art actions in Santiago de Chile from 1967 to 1972.[14][15][16]

In 1979, while living in Bogotá, Vicuña performed El Vaso de Leche (The Glass of Milk) in which she gathered an audience and spilled a glass of white paint to protest the deaths of an estimated 1,920 children due to contaminated milk. The company responsible had mixed fillers like paint into the milk to maximize their profits.[17]

She performs her poetry internationally, frequently in conjunction with exhibitions or art installations, and documents her performances in videos, the Vicuña audio page[18] at Pennsound, and the 2012 collection Spit Temple: The Selected Performances of Cecilia Vicuna[19] which includes transcriptions, commentary, and audience commentaries.[20]


Vicuña has authored and published twenty two books[6] of her visual art installations and poetry. Her writing has been translated into several languages.[21] These include Saboramí (1973), the first book testimony of the Military Coup in Chile, documenting the death of Salvador Allende,[22] The Precarious/Precario (1983), Cloud Net (2000),[23] Instan (2002)[24] and Spit Temple (2010),[25] a collection of her oral performances. In 1966, for one of her most experimental books, El Diario Estúpido, Vicuña wrote 7,000 words a day, recording her emotions and experiences.[6] In 2009, she co-edited the Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry with Ernesto Livon Grosman, an anthology of 500 years of Latin American Poetry,[26] which the Washington Post called "magisterial."[27]


  • Saborami. Cullompton, United Kingdom: Beau Geste Press, 1973.
  • Siete Poemas. Bogotá, Colombia: Ediciones Centro Colombo Americano, 1979.
  • Precario/Precarious. New York, NY: Tanam Press, 1983.
  • Luxumei o El Traspié de la Doctrina. Mexico City, Mexico: Los Libros del Fakir #33, Editorial Oasis, 1983.
  • PALABRARmas. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ediciones El Imaginero, 1984.
  • Samara. Valle del Cauca, Colombia: Ediciones Embalaje del Museo Rayo, 1986.
  • La Wik'uña. Santiago, Chile: Francisco Zegers Editor, 1990.
  • Unravelling Words & the Weaving of Water. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 1992.
  • PALABRARmas/ WURWAPPINschaw. Edinburgh, Scotland: Morning Star Publications, 1994.
  • La realidad es una línea. Kortrijk, Belgium: Kanaal Art Foundation, 1994.
  • Word & Thread. Edinburgh, Scotland: Morning Star Publications, 1996.
  • The Precarious: The Art & Poetry of Cecilia Vicuña / QUIPOem. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1997.
  • cloud-net. New York, NY: Art in General, 1999.
  • El Templo. New York, NY: Situations, 2001.
  • Instan. Berkeley, CA: Kelsey St. Press, 2002.
  • i tu. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tsé-Tsé, 2004.
  • Palabrarmas. Santiago, Chile: RIL Editores, 2005.
  • Sabor A Mí. Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales, 2007.
  • V. Lima, Peru: tRope, 2009.
  • Soy Yos: Antología, 1966-2006. Santiago, Chile: Lom Ediciones, 2011.
  • Saborami. Philadelphia, PA: ChainLinks, 2011.
  • Chanccani Quipu. New York, NY: Granary Books, 2012.
  • Spit Temple. Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Press, 2012.[28]
  • Slow Down Fast, A Toda Raja, Berlin:Errant Bodies Press: DOORMATS8, 2019.[29]

Selected Essays[edit]

  • "The Coup came to kill what I loved," in Spare Rib, #28, London 1974.
  • "Para Contribuir a la Memoria," in La Bicicleta, #24, Santiago de Chile, 1982.
  • "Quatro Donne in Latinoamerica," Anno V, #13, Roma, Italia, 1984.
  • "The No, at the Latinoamerica Despierta Conference," Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, 1989. (Published as "Transcript of Remarks" in Being America, by Rachel Weiss, White Pine Press, New York, 1991.)
  • "The Invention of Poverty," in America the Bride of the Sun, Royal Museum, Amberesm Belgium, 1992.
  • "The Third Stone," in The Guardian, London, Nov. 26, 1996.
  • "Poetry and string theory, a conversation with James O'Hern," Riffing on Strings, edited by Sean Miller & Shveta Verma, Scriblerus Press, 2008.
  • "Organizar la ensonacion, en Artists for Democracy: El Archivo de Cecilia Vicuna," Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, Museo National de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile, 2014.[30]

Edited volumes[edit]

  • Martin Adan, The Cardboard House. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press (The Palabra Sur Series of Latin American Literature), 1988.
  • Rosario Castellanos, The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 1988.
  • Adolfo Bioy Casares, A Plan for Escape. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press (The Palabra Sur Series of Latin American Literature), 1988.
  • Vicente Huidobro, Altazor. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press (The Palabra Sur Series of Latin American Literature), 1988.
  • Ül: Four Mapuche Poets. Pittsburgh, PA: Latin American Review Press, 1998.
  • The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009.[31]

Visual art[edit]


Vicuña has become increasingly recognized for her monumental works featuring raw wool and other fibers, dyed crimson and suspended or draped overhead.[6] Viewers and critics often react to the works as evocative of blood. Vicuña refers to these fiber installations as quipus, referencing the indigenous writing systems suppressed by Spanish colonizing forces. Unlike transportable pre-Columbian quipus, Vicuña's quipus are integrated into the landscape or the gallery in which they appear.[32] Vicuña referred to her first quipu as the "quipu that remembers nothing," it was an empty cord as well as her first precario.[33]


Vicuña creates "precarious works" characterized by her use of materials that are often fragile, worn by the elements and/or biodegradable: a return to the environment.[5] She describes her work as a way of "hearing an ancient silence waiting to be heard."[21] In 1966, she began creating sculptural interventions called precarios, combining ritual and assemblage using typically throw-away materials such as yarn, sticks, feathers, leaves, stones and bones.[5] Between June 24, 1973-August 1974, she created over 400 precarios as an act of political resistance in response to General Pinochet's military coup of President Salvador Allende. This series of precarios were called A Journal of Objects for the Chilean Resistance. The 12 books of the journal are now in the collection of the Tate Gallery in London.[34]


Vicuña's installations often consist of large wool strands of various colors and textures. In her Cloud-Net installation series, she utilized the wool of the sacred wild Andean vicuña animal (linked to her by name) in large-scale warp and weft weavings incorporated into rural and urban environments. This installation in particular linked Vicuña to the Feminist Art Movement's Pattern and Decoration Movement.[35] In her solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, she combined the use of these wool installations with projection technology and sound systems to create an immersive and atmospheric experience for museum visitors.[36]


Vicuña made numerous paintings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of these paintings make reference to 16th-Century indigenous artists who included their own cultural influences within their paintings of angels and saints for the Catholic Church.[37] In Vicuña's paintings, religious icons are replaced by personal, political, and literary figures such as Karl Marx, Lenin, Salvador Allende, Ho Chi Minh, and members of her own family. In 2018, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York acquired the 1972 portrait of Karl Marx from her Heroes of the Revolution series.[38]

Later, in 1981, Vicuña performed Parti si Pasión (Share – Yes – Passion) in New York, where she wrote "Parti si Pasión" in the colors of the American and Chilean flags on the road to the World Trade Center. The name of this work is a dissection of the word "participation." Vicuña calls this deconstruction of language palabrarmas, translating to "armswords." This is a combination of the Spanish word "armas" (arms, weapons) and "palabra" (words).[16]


Museums that have exhibited her work include the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Santiago, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), Art in General, the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of Fine Art Boston.[39][9][21] Her work is also displayed in the Cerrillos National Center for Contemporary Art near where she grew up. Alongside her quipus, paintings, poetry, and films, there is also documentation of the work she has done with activist groups like Chile's La Tribu, Artists for Democracy in London, and the Heresies Collective.[40]

In 2017, her work was included in both the Athens and the Kassel sites of documenta 14.[41] In 2017, the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans originated a traveling exhibition entitled Cecilia Vicuña: About To Happen.[42] This exhibit was both a "lament and love letter to the sea", featuring washed up debris shaped into sculptures.[43] In 2018 the exhibition, "Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu," was shown at the Brooklyn Museum (May 18–November 25, 2018)[44] as well as the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (October 20, 2018 – January 21, 2019).[39] Combining large strands of wool to make a gigantic quipu with a four channel video projection, Vicuña explored the experience of being separated from one's own culture and language.[39]

Vicuña is represented by Lehmann Maupin in New York, England & Co. in London, and Galerie Patricia Ready in Santiago. In 2018, her exhibition La India Contaminada, her first survey exhibition in New York, was shown at Lehmann Maupin and reviewed in Artforum.[45] In 2019, the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania held the first major solo exhibition of Vicuña's work.[46] Also in 2019 her first retrospective, Seehearing the Enlightened Failure was shown at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Selected solo exhibitions[edit]

Selected group exhibitions[edit]

  • Pintura Instintiva Chilena, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile, (1972)
  • The Decade Show, The New Museum, New York, NY (1990)
  • Zegher and Paul Vandenbroeck, Royal Museum of Antwerp, Belgium (1992)
  • Gallery, London, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, (1996)
  • Transferencia y Densidad, 100 años de Artes Visuales en Chile, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile (2000)
  • Rayuela / Hopscotch, Fifteen Contemporary Latin American Artists, University Art Gallery, The University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, (2002)
  • Multiplicación, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Santiago, Chile, (2006)
  • WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, USA, (2007)
  • Meeting Points 7 - MP7. Curated by "What, Who and for Whom" (WHW), traveling to Cairo, Beirut, Vienna, Madrid, (2013)
  • Documenta 14 (2017)[49][50]


Cecilia Vicuña has taught at School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York, and is the co-founder of the Oysi School.

In recent years, Cecilia Vicuña had workshops and seminars at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University; Denver University; the University of Pennsylvania; the Centro Cultural Ricardo Rojas, at the Universidad de Buenos Aires; the Festival de Poesía de Medellín at SUNY Purchase; Bates College; Cornell University; Ithaca College; the Just Buffalo Literary Program in Buffalo, NY; The Abrons Center at Henry St Settlement, New York; Pratt Institute; CUNY; and the St. Mark's Poetry Project at the Poets House in New York.[51]

Awards and Honors[edit]

  • 2019 Premio Velázquez de Artes Plásticas 2019. Spanish Ministry of Culture. Spain.
  • 2019 Herb Alpert Award for Visual Art. United States Artist, USA Fellow of Visual Art, United States Artists, Chicago, IL.[52]
  • 2018 Achievement Award, The Cisneros Fontanals Foundation, CIFO Princeton University Art Museum’s 2018 Sarah Lee Elson International Artist-in- Residence., Princeton, NJ.[53]
  • 2017 Invited to Documenta 14, Athens, Kassell, Spring—Summer.[49]
  • 2015 Messenger Lecturer, Cornell University.[54]
  • 2014 SLAS Spring 2014 Scholar in Residence at The Department of Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt Institute, New York.[55]
  • 2013 Runner Up 2013 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for Spit Temple, Selected Performances of Cecilia Vicuña, edited by Rosa Alcalá.[56]
  • 2011 Sello de Excelencia, Consejo de las Artes y la Cultura de Chile The Intangible Heritage Fondart Award for her project "Tugar Tugar Salir a Buscar el Sentido Perdido", conducted in Caleu, Chile.[8]
  • 2009 Estelle Lebowitz Visiting Artist in Residence at the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series of the Institute for Women and Art at Rutgers University, NJ.[57]
  • 2005 Phipps Chair in Contemporary Poetry, University of Denver, CO.
  • 2004 MacDowell Colony Fellowship, Peterborough, NH.[8]
  • 2003 Bellagio Study Center Residency, Italy, Rockefeller Foundation.[58]
  • 2002 Hedda Sterne Foundation Residency, Springs, New York Pennies from Heaven Fund Award, Community Trust of New York, NY.
  • 2001 Valparaiso Foundation Residency, Mojacar, Spain.
  • 1999 The Anonymous Was a Woman Award, New York.
  • 1997 The Andy Warhol Foundation Award for QUIPOem.
  • 1996 The Fund for Poetry Award, New York.
  • 1995 The Fund for Poetry Award, New York.
  • 1995 Lee Krasner Jackson Pollock Award, New York.
  • 1992 Arts International Award, Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund.
  • 1991 Bellagio Residency, Rockefeller Foundation, Italy.
  • 1988 Invited to the Art Olympiad, Seoul by the Guggenheim Museum of New York (declined).
  • 1985 Human Rights Exile Award, Fund for Free Expression, New York.
  • 1983 LINE II Award for Precario/Precarious, New York.
  • 1972 British Council Scholarship in the United Kingdom.[8]


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  38. ^ Reyburn, Scott (2018). "As Brexit Looms, London's Art Dealers Cater to Divided Tastes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-02-03.
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External links[edit]