Our August laurel goes to Peruvian-born ceramic artist Kukuli Velarde for her poignant effigy, A mi vida. This object reflects the culture of her birth, her maternal love and concern for child victims of anti-immigrant campaigns. She explains this poignantly…
My work is not commercial to a degree that could sustain my family’s everyday expenses. I only have a BFA, and even though I am often invited to colleges and universities to talk about my work, I am not “qualified” to teach in them because I don’t have a masters degree. Therefore my artistic endeavors have always been a labor of love against all odds, a way of living, more than a means to make a living.
I am a Peruvian-American artist. My work, in general, revolves around the consequences of colonization in Latin American contemporary culture. It is a visual investigation about aesthetics, cultural survival, and inheritance. I focus on Latin American history 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.
At the moment I have begun a series titled A MI VIDA (TO MY VIDA). Each piece that composes the series, sports my 7-year-old daughter’s features. I got pregnant at 48 and gave birth to a child we named Vida (Life), she has added to my life experience and fed my work in ways I never expected. The idea of creating these intimate works sprouted from the realization that I may have tons of photos of her, but once she is gone to follow her path, my arms will be left empty. I, therefore, wish to give myself a chance to embrace her always one time more, once she leaves the nest, if only to her effigy.
But A MI VIDA is not only a capricious creation of a dramatic mother. The pieces also aim to raise awareness about the difficult times Latin American immigrants are facing today when following the path of so many others before them, who came to the United States with hopes of a better life. Each piece aims to become a symbolic representation of every immigrant child out there, isolated and scared, trapped in federal detention centers throughout the country. They are deprived of all demonstration of love and sense of safety and remain betrayed by our society, that fails to embrace them and claim for their lives. A MI VIDA is a denunciation of the outrageous treatment of their innocent lives, and it is an urgent request for empathy and protection. My terra-cotta pieces are meant to symbolize immigrant children for I am a first-generation immigrant, a minority with a child in my arms, who can’t understand the cruelty of separating children from their families, amidst a political and social environment every day more toxic and unsafe.
A MI VIDA consists of 15 (or more) small pieces of pre-Columbian inspiration, The pre- Columbian connotation implies the connection that exists between people like me, Westernized individuals from Latin America, and the land we left behind, where civilizations of varied cultural achievements and refined aesthetic developments are part of our history, alongside original communities who stubbornly survive five hundred years of genocide. This connection is often overlooked, assuming immigrants of latino origin are empty-handed newcomers, a-historic and unable of any contribution and therefore undeserving to become part of the cultural tapestry we imagine the United States is. The pieces aim to contribute somewhat to invest the Latin American immigrant presence with a cultural stand, hinting to the past-present that is part of our mix.
Presentation A MI VIDA is an exhibition/performance. Its components are:
a The ceramic pieces, on basinet/strollers: These pieces are created ideally to be carried in arms, and be transported around a space in basinet strollers. The ceramic sculptures are not to be placed on pedestals.
b A Sound Track that represents or symbolize the identity of immigrants from Latin America.The sound track will include voices of women asking two questions: “Will you protect my child?” and “Me ayudas a cuidarlo?”. It will be a collaborative project by Efrain Rozas and Kukuli Velarde.
c A choreographic score: The performance will be structured by Silvana Cardell, creator of SUPPER… PEOPLE IN THE MOVE and DISPOSABLE BODIES.
d Performers in charge of each piece.
Each piece is carried on a basinet and “cared” by a performer, passing from their arms to the arms of the audience in continuous motion. The experience will give the audience the opportunity to “touch” a ceramic art work, fragile, and heavy, and momentarily “care” for it. The experience will become then, at that moment, the perfect metaphor of taking care of a child. precious, fragile, heavy to carry, yet deserving of the care, and furthermost, to be welcome and protected.
Lately, I draw a marker mural as part of my show The Complicit Eye (2018-2019) at Taller, in Philadelphia. Since I was present at my show daily, I kept one A MI VIDA piece with me and created simple and rather intimate one to one performances. The performances consisted in me offering my “child” to the public to hold for few minutes. I did it as a mute request for compassion and empathy, as a reminder that all children deserve protection, and as an act of faith in the person to whom I trusted the well being of my ceramic child, its survival. Offering the piece to the public is literally an act of hope.
A MI VIDA is a project that is at its beginning point, and I hope to have the chance to develop it fully.