Cecilia Vicuña

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Cecilia Vicuña
Born (1948-07-22) July 22, 1948 (age 70)
Santiago, Chile
OccupationPoet and Visual Artist
CitizenshipUnited States
EducationUniversity of Chile, Slade School of Fine Art at University College London
GenrePoetry, Painting, Installation, Performance, Textile, Activism, Feminism
Notable worksQuipu 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)

Cecilia Vicuña (born July 22, 1948[1]) is a Chilean poet, artist, and filmmaker based in New York and Santiago. Her work is noted for themes of language, memory, decay and exile.[2] Critics also note the relevance of her work to the politics ecological destruction, cultural homogenization, and economic disparity, particularly the way in which such phenomena disenfranchise the already powerless.[3] Her commitment to feminist forms and methodologies is considered to be a unifying theme across her diverse body of work. The term eco-feminism can be considered an explanation of her practice that has long linked gender injustice with ecological destruction.[4]


Cecilia Vicuña was born and raised in Santiago de Chile in 1948. She received her MFA from the University of Chile in 1971 and moved to London in 1972 to attend the Slade School of Fine Art. In 1973 she went into exile in London, in following the death of President Salvador Allende and the 1973 Chilean coup d'état led by General Augusto Pinochet.[5][6]

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.[7]

In 1975, Vicuña left London and moved to Bogotá, Colombia.

In 1980, Vicuña moved to New York City.[5]


Cecilia Vicuña was part of a group of artists and poets, Tribu No, that created art actions in Santiago de Chile from 1967 to 1972. She gave the group its name and authored its "No Manifesto."[8][9]

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.[10]

She performs her poetry internationally, frequently in conjunction with exhibitions or art installations, and documents her performances in videos, the Vicuña audio page[11] at Pennsound, and the 2012 collection Spit Temple: The Selected Performances of Cecilia Vicuna[12] which includes transcriptions, commentary, and audience commentaries.


Vicuña has authored and published dozens of books[4] of her visual art installations and poetry books, most of which have been translated into several languages.[13] These include Saboramí (1973), a book made in collaboration with Felipe Ehrenberg that resembles a personal diary,[14] The Precarious/Precario (1983), Cloud Net (2000),[15] Instan (2002)[16] and Spit Temple (2010),[17] a collection of her oral performances. In 1966, for one of her most experimental books, El Diario Estupidio, Vicuña wrote 7,000 words a day, recording her emotions and experiences.[4] 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,[18] which the Washington Post called "magisterial."[19]

Visual Art and Exhibitions[edit]

Vicuña creates "precarious works;" characteristic of Vicuña's work is her use of materials that are often fragile, worn by the elements and/or biodegradable: the return to the environment.[3] She describes her work as a way of "hearing an ancient silence waiting to be heard."[13] In 1966, she began creating sculptural interventions called precarios, combining ritual and assemblage and typically throw-away materials such as yarn, sticks, feathers, leaves, stones and bones.[3] Between 1972-73, she created over 400 precarios as an act of political resistance in response to General Pinochet’s military coup of President Salvador Allende.[10]

Vicuña made numerous paintings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which make reference to the 16th Century indigenous artists who included their own cultural influences within their paintings of angels and saints for the Catholic Church.[20] In Vicuña’s paintings, religious icons are replaced by personal, political, and literary figures, commemorated and mythologized by the artist such as Karl Marx, Lenin, Salvador Allende, Ho Chi Minh, and her family. In 2018, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York acquired her 1972 portrait of Karl Marx from this Heroes of the Revolution series.[21]

Linked to the sacred wild Andean vicuña animal by name, Cecilia Vicuña utilized the wool of these animals for her Cloud-Net installation series as a metaphoric tool. The visual language of this series resulted in large-scale warp and weft installations—weavings—within rural and urban environments thus linking Vicuña to the Feminist Art Movement's Pattern and Decoration Movement.[22] In recent years, Vicuña has become increasingly recognized for her monumental works featuring raw wool and other fibers, dyed crimson and suspended or draped overhead.[4] 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.[23]

Museums that have exhibited her work include the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Santiago, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), Art in General, New York City, the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, and MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Brooklyn Museum.[5][13] In 2017, her work was included in both the Athens and the Kassel sites of documenta 14.[24] In 2017, the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans originated a traveling exhibition entitled Cecilia Vicuña: About To Happen.[25] In 2018 the exhibition, "Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu," was at the Brooklyn Museum (May 18–November 25, 2018).[26]

Vicuña is represented by Lehmann Maupin, New York; England & Co., London; and Galerie Patricia Ready, Santiago.

Selected solo exhibitions[27][edit]

  • Cecília Vicuña: Pinturas, poemas y explicaciones, Museu Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago (1971)
  • Cecília Vicuña: Precarious, Exit Gallery, New York (1990)
  • Cecília Vicuña: El Ande Futuro, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley (1992)
  • Cecília Vicuña/Water Writing: Anthological Exhibition, 1966-2009, Institute for Women & Art, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ (2009)
  • Artists for Democracy: El archivo de Cecília Vicuña, Museu Nacional de Bellas Artes; Museu de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, Santiago (2014)
  • Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu, Brooklyn Museum (2018)


  1. ^ "Biografía de Cecilia Vicuña - Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes". Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (in Spanish). Retrieved 2017-03-08.
  2. ^ "Cecilia Vicuna". Poetry Foundation.
  3. ^ a b c Butler. WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution. The MIT Press. p. 312. ISBN 0914357999.
  4. ^ a b c d Bryan-Wilson, Julia (2018-01-01). "Feminist Forms". Flash Art.
  5. ^ a b c "BAMPFA - Art Exhibitions - Cecilia Vicuña / MATRIX 154". archive.bampfa.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
  6. ^ Zegher. The Precarious: The Art and Poetry of Cecilia Vicuña. Wesleyan University Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-8195-6324-2.
  7. ^ "Lynn MacRitchie : Testimony by Lynn MacRitchie for catalogue of Artists for Democracy: the Archive of Cecilia Vicuna, 2014". lynnmacritchie.com. Retrieved 2018-02-03.
  8. ^ Vicuna, Cecilia (1967). "The No Manifesto of Tribu No". Make Literary Magazine.
  9. ^ "La Tribu No". Memoria Chilena.
  10. ^ a b re.act.feminism. "re.act.feminism - a performing archive". www.reactfeminism.de. Retrieved 2018-02-03.
  11. ^ Vicuña, Cecilia. "Cecilia Vicuña". PennSound.
  12. ^ Vicuña, Cecilia (2012). Spit Temple: The Performances of Cecilia Vicuña. New York: Ugly Duckling Press. ISBN 1937027031.
  13. ^ a b c "Welcome to the SiteMaker Transition Project - Sitemaker Replacement Project". sitemaker.umich.edu.
  14. ^ "Contemporary Hispanic Poets: Cultural Production in the Global, Digital Age By John Burns". www.cambriapress.com.
  15. ^ Vicuña. Cloud Net. Art in General NYC. ISBN 1883967104.
  16. ^ Vicuña. Instan. Kelsey Street Press. ISBN 0932716504.
  17. ^ Vicuña. Spit Temple. Ugly Duckling Presse. ISBN 1937027031.
  18. ^ Vicuña and Grosman. The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195124545.
  19. ^ "PostPartisan - What Chavez Should Have Given Obama".
  20. ^ Hecht, Author: Johanna. "Arts of the Spanish Americas, 1550–1850 | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved 2018-02-03.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Broude and Garrard. The Power of Feminist Art. Abrams, Inc. Publishers. p. 208. ISBN 0810937328.
  23. ^ Lynd, Juliet (2005). "Precarious Resistance: Weaving Opposition in the Poetry of Cecilia Vicuña". PMLA. 120 (5): 1588–1607. JSTOR 25486270.
  24. ^ "Cecilia Vicuña". Retrieved 2018-02-03.
  25. ^ "Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen | Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans". cacno.org. Retrieved 2018-06-25.
  26. ^ "Brooklyn Museum: Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu". www.brooklynmuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-07-09.
  27. ^ Radical women : Latin American art, 1960-1985. Fajardo-Hill, Cecilia,, Giunta, Andrea,, Alonso, Rodrigo,, Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center,, Brooklyn Museum,, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (Project). Los Angeles. pp. 353–354. ISBN 9783791356808. OCLC 982089637.

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