Installation view of Guadalupe Maravilla’s Seven Ancestral Stomachs, February 26 – March 27, 2021.
Healing, and self-care in general, is a major industry right now — at the beginning of 2021, the self care industry was valued at $450 billion. But Guadalupe Maravilla doesn’t believe that healing comes from downloading an app or paying a shaman $1,000 to cleanse your energy. Instead, he says, real healing comes from being kind to others, helping those in need and giving back to the community — not just once in a while, but every day. Healing, for Maravilla personally, expresses itself in art.
Maravilla has extensive experience with healing. Eight years ago, at the age of 35, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. In order to heal, Maravilla underwent chemotherapy and radiation; he also consulted with healers, witches and curanderos (a type of shaman) from every corner of the world, from Israel to China to Ecuador. During his investigations, he began to learn that if trauma goes untreated for long enough, it can manifest in illnesses and depression that can last not only a person’s lifetime, but also, be inherited by their children and grandchildren — in science, this is known as an epigenetic explanation.
Maravilla had trauma in his background. Born in El Salvador in 1976, he migrated alone, across many borders, at the age of eight, to rejoin his parents, who were living in New Jersey. The trauma of this experience has informed much of his artwork. It is the basis for “Seven Ancestral Stomachs,” an exhibition of Maravilla’s work at P.P.O.W. gallery in New York through March 27, 2021. While working with the healers he encountered, Maravilla came to the realization that if he wanted to heal from the trauma of his youth, and from colon cancer, he needed to properly cleanse his spirit seven generations in the past, and seven generations in the future.
Guadalupe Maravilla, “Disease Thrower #9,” 2019, mixed media sculpture, 144 x 56 x 63 in.
The exhibition at P.P.O.W. is dominated by a series of large, free-standing sculptures entitled “Disease Throwers.” Inspired in part by ancient Mayan Zoomorph monoliths, which themselves reference Maravilla’s ancestry, the sculptures resemble strange, spooky gods you might encounter in a fever dream—or a movie produced by Studio Ghibili. Redolent of both the Haas Brothers’ irreverent beasts, as well as the soundsuits of Nick Cave, the sculptures are distinctly unique to Maravilla’s own personal history. Composed of steel and wood bases that are then covered in a dripping, wax-like proprietary white material Maravilla creates in a microwave, the sculptures take their shape from objects — combs, shells, scrap metal — Maravilla collected while retracing his migration journey as a child. Towering and strange, at the heart of each sculpture is a gong that Maravilla activates during sound bath performances. Although the gallery will not be hosting many such performances due to COVID-19 restrictions, those interested can attend a free Zoom sound bath hosted by Maravilla, using the Disease Throwers, on Sunday March 21st at 1pm. (To register, follow the link.)
Guadalupe Maravilla, “Ancestral Stomach 1,” 2021, dried gourd with mixed media, 28 x 16 x 6 in.
On the walls of the gallery, surrounding the Disease Throwers, hang sculptures that are meant to represent stomachs. They are twisted, knotted, and sometimes horned — a representation of the generational trauma Maravilla hopes to expunge, but also, of his own stomach, which was destroyed by radiation treatments, leaving him unable to eat most foods.
Installation view of Guadalupe Maravilla’s Seven Ancestral Stomachs, February 26 – March 27, 2021
Above the wall sculptures, near the ceiling, is an iteration of Tripa Chuca, or “Dirty Guts,” a game that Maravilla played during his migration as a child, and has frequently resuscitated in the spaces where he stages exhibition. Consisting of two disparate lines drawn by two participants — the only rules being that the two lines cannot intersect — the wall drawing creates an opportunity for an undocumented person to earn some cash. In the case of the exhibition, the other participant in the game of Tripa Chuca, besides Maravilla, is an undocumented man from El Salvador who used to work at Maravilla’s favorite restaurant in Brooklyn.
Guadalupe Maravilla, “During the first wave of COVID-19,” Retablo, 2021, oil on tin, mixed media on … [+]
In a back room of the gallery, Maravilla unveils another collaboration, this time with a retablos painter from Mexico. Traditionally created as devotional paintings used to create altars to the Virgin Mary or Catholic saints, Maravilla’s retablos tell stories about his own experience during the pandemic, as well as the story of an undocumented man locked up for 18 months by ICE. To create the retablos, Maravilla first sketches them digitally, and then sends the drawing to a retablos painter in Mexico, who manifests it in paint on tin. “It’s really important for me to create these microeconomies,” he says. Because of COVID, the painter has not been able to sell his work to tourists in Mexico. Maravilla says the commission from the exhibition was enough to support the painter for almost six months.
In the exhibition, Maravilla seems to propose that the way to cleanse properly — and to save expunge trauma — is, in part, to share the glory. In the case of “Seven Ancestral Stomachs,” with the types of people — undocumented immigrants, restaurant workers and laborers — that, in 2021, galleries talk about wanting to support, but don’t often invite into their liminal spaces. In including them in the exhibition, Maravilla acknowledges that his trauma is not unique, but shared by the more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants in New York City. Maravilla himself received citizenship to the United States in his twenties.
Can one heal from looking at artwork that will benefit people who really need the money? From a soundbath experienced over Zoom? From being in the presence of Maravilla’s spikey and strange sculptures? Who knows. But it has to be better than not trying anything.
Brienne Walsh received her BA in art history from Brown University in 2004. She has worked in the art world for over a decade, first as a gallerina, and then as an art