In his first solo exhibition at New York-based PPOW gallery—“Seven Ancestral Stomachs” (February 26 – March 27, 2021)—Salvadoran-American artist Guadalupe Maravilla explores how the trauma that undocumented immigrants experience physically manifests in the body. The artworks part of the show are strange, hovering between organic form and artificial apparatus. They look as though they are tools for some elaborate, important ritual emerging from a culture about which you might know next to nothing. Their elusiveness impels you to want to decipher them.
Combining sculpture, painting, performative acts and installation, Maravilla grounds his transdisciplinary practice in activism and healing. His own life story is his primary material. Maravilla was part of the first wave of unaccompanied, undocumented children to arrive at the United States border in the 1980s as a result of the Salvadoran Civil War. While he emigrated at the age of eight, he became a U.S. citizen at the age of 26. Yet it was not until his recovery from colon cancer in 2013 that he felt the urgency to speak out about the struggles so many undocumented immigrants and their families face.
He traces his migration history and healing journey, reflecting upon his own battle with cancer, which began in his gut, as well as that of members of his family. He examines how genetic trauma becomes evident in the body over generations. Throughout the many teachings Maravilla experienced in his healing process, one notion kept returning—if one cleanses properly, they will heal seven generations back and seven generations forward.
Discovering sound therapy during his cancer radiation treatment, Maravilla has since developed a series of vertical, large-scale, free-standing sculptures, titled “Disease Throwers”. Functioning as headdresses, instruments, and shrines, the towering sculptures serve as symbols of renewal, generating vibrational sound from gongs. Described by Maravilla as “healing machines”, the structures incorporate materials collected from sites across Central America, such as anatomical models, toys, sacred objects, and sonic instruments including conch shells and flutes.
The exhibition’s eponymous seven twisting gourds with extending talons embody the seven stomachs of the artist’s ancestors. Surrounding the walls of the “Seven Ancestral” Stomachs is Maravilla’s reinterpretation of the popular Salvadorian children’s game, Tripa Chuca or “Dirty Guts,” in which two players take turns drawing lines that never intersect. Over the course of Maravilla’s more than two-month journey to the U.S., Tripa Chuca became a survival tool. For “Seven Ancestral Stomachs”, Maravilla invited an undocumented person to collaborate with him on the Tripa Chuca mural in order to create a mapping between two displaced people on the walls of the gallery.
Furthering this investigation of various curative approaches, Maravilla also presents a series of retablos chronicling his healing journey. Originating in Medieval Spain, retablos are small devotional paintings, traditionally used in Mexican and Central American cultures to honor and celebrate the miracles of everyday life. Sending detailed digital sketches to a four-generation retablo painter he met in Mexico while retracing his migration route, Maravilla’s personalisation of these votive offerings exemplifies his dedication to supporting a micro-economy through his artistic practice. Rather than making these paintings himself, Maravilla’s choice to collaborate expands the cross-cultural exchange of his practice and helps preserve the tradition of retablo painting in Mexico.
Born in 1976, Guadalupe Maravilla currently lives in Brooklyn. He received his BFA from the School of Visual Arts, and his MFA from Hunter College in New York. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami.
His awards and fellowships include a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, 2019; Soros Fellowship: Art Migration and Public Space, 2019; MAP Fund Grant, 2019; Franklin Furnace Fund, 2018; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship, 2018; Art Matters Fellowship, 2017; Creative Capital Grant, 2016; Joan Mitchell Emerging Artist Grant, 2016; The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation Award 2003, among others.