Cecilia Vicuña

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Cecilia Vicuña
Born (1948-07-22) July 22, 1948 (age 70)
Santiago, Chile
OccupationPoet, Visual Artist, filmmaker and activisit
CitizenshipUnited States
EducationNational School of Fine Arts at University 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 of 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 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 published her first poem and founded the "Tribu No".

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 to create stage designs. In 1980, Vicuña moved to New York City[5] and married César Paternosto. 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).

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.[8]


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."[9][10]

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.[11]

She performs her poetry internationally, frequently in conjunction with exhibitions or art installations, and documents her performances in videos, the Vicuña audio page[12] at Pennsound, and the 2012 collection Spit Temple: The Selected Performances of Cecilia Vicuna[13] 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.[14] These include Saboramí (1973), a book made in collaboration with Felipe Ehrenberg that resembles a personal diary,[15] The Precarious/Precario (1983), Cloud Net (2000),[16] Instan (2002)[17] and Spit Temple (2010),[18] 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,[19] which the Washington Post called "magisterial."[20]


Visual Art[edit]


Five thousand years ago, quipus were created by Andes people who did not write but wove meanings such as poems into the textiles and knotted cords in order to record and keep information. The quipo was also used in the region of Andean South America and contained lots of other values such as tax obligations, census data and military organization, so it is historically important. It has a spatial metaphor for the union of all. It connected communities in the Andes but disappeared after the conquest.

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.[21]


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."[14] 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 and 1973, she created over 400 precarios as an act of political resistance in response to General Pinochet’s military coup of President Salvador Allende.[11]


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]Her installations often consist of large scale wool strands that come in a series of different colors and textures. Vicuña’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston combined the use of her usual large wool installations with projection technology and sound systems to create an immersive and atmospheric experience for museum visitors.


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.[23] 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.[24]

Later, in 1981, Vicuña performed Parti si Pasión (Share – Yes – Passion) in New York, where she writes “Parti si Pasión” in the colors of the American and Chilean Flag on the road to the World Trade Center. The name of this work is a capitalist 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).


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, Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of Fine Art Boston.[25][5][14] 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.[26]

In 2017, her work was included in both the Athens and the Kassel sites of documenta 14.[27] In 2017, the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans originated a traveling exhibition entitled Cecilia Vicuña: About To Happen.[28] This exhibit is both a "lament and love letter to the sea", featuring washed up debris shaped into sculptures.[29] In 2018 the exhibition, "Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu," was at the Brooklyn Museum (May 18–November 25, 2018)[30] as well as the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (October 20, 2018 – January 21, 2019).[25] Combining large strands of wool to make a gigantic quipu with a four channel video projection, Vicuña explores being separated from one's culture as well as language.[25]

Vicuña is represented by Lehmann Maupin, New York; England & Co., London; and Galerie Patricia Ready, Santiago. In 2018, her exhibition La India Contaminada, her first survey exhibition in New York, was shown at Lehmann Maupin and reviewed in Artforum.

Selected solo exhibitions[31][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 and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2018)

Selected Group Exhibitions[32][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)


Cecilia Vicuña is currently teaching MFA Art Practice, Graduate Seminar II, and Studio Practice II at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Also, she conducts workshops and seminars throughout the US and Latin America as 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.[33]


  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. ^ "Acclaimed Artist and Poet Cecilia Vicuña named 2018 Artist-in-Residence | Princeton University Art Museum". artmuseum.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2018-11-26.
  9. ^ Vicuna, Cecilia (1967). "The No Manifesto of Tribu No". Make Literary Magazine.
  10. ^ "La Tribu No". Memoria Chilena.
  11. ^ a b re.act.feminism. "re.act.feminism - a performing archive". www.reactfeminism.de. Retrieved 2018-02-03.
  12. ^ Vicuña, Cecilia. "Cecilia Vicuña". PennSound.
  13. ^ Vicuña, Cecilia (2012). Spit Temple: The Performances of Cecilia Vicuña. New York: Ugly Duckling Press. ISBN 1937027031.
  14. ^ a b c "Welcome to the SiteMaker Transition Project - Sitemaker Replacement Project". sitemaker.umich.edu.
  15. ^ "Contemporary Hispanic Poets: Cultural Production in the Global, Digital Age By John Burns". www.cambriapress.com.
  16. ^ Vicuña. Cloud Net. Art in General NYC. ISBN 1883967104.
  17. ^ Vicuña. Instan. Kelsey Street Press. ISBN 0932716504.
  18. ^ Vicuña. Spit Temple. Ugly Duckling Presse. ISBN 1937027031.
  19. ^ Vicuña and Grosman. The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195124545.
  20. ^ "PostPartisan - What Chavez Should Have Given Obama".
  21. ^ Lynd, Juliet (2005). "Precarious Resistance: Weaving Opposition in the Poetry of Cecilia Vicuña". PMLA. 120 (5): 1588–1607. JSTOR 25486270.
  22. ^ Broude and Garrard. The Power of Feminist Art. Abrams, Inc. Publishers. p. 208. ISBN 0810937328.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ a b c "Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 2018-06-27. Retrieved 2018-11-26.
  26. ^ "6 Things T Editors Like Right Now". Retrieved 2018-11-26.
  27. ^ "Cecilia Vicuña". Retrieved 2018-02-03.
  28. ^ "Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen | Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans". cacno.org. Retrieved 2018-06-25.
  29. ^ "For the Love of Process: On Curating Cecilia Vicuña's New Show". Cal Alumni Association. 2018-07-26. Retrieved 2018-11-26.
  30. ^ "Brooklyn Museum: Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu". www.brooklynmuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-07-09.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Cecilia Vicuña https://cecilia-vicuna.squarespace.com/curriculum-vitae/. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  33. ^ "recent years in teaching".

External links[edit]