Art

The Artsy Vanguard 2022: Guadalupe Maravilla

Ayanna Dozier
Nov 15, 2022 5:10PM

Guadalupe Maravilla’s large-scale sculptures evoke the artist’s astrological ruling planet of Jupiter, in that they are ambitious, fiery, spiritual, philosophical, and in service to his community. A spiritual healer and activist, Maravilla uses his artistic practice to attend to the needs of those around him.

Maravilla’s work across sculpture, painting, and performance has reached new astronomical heights in the last three years. He was awarded the coveted Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2019 and received representation the following year by P.P.O.W in New York, where the artist is currently based. In 2021, he had his first solo exhibition with the gallery, and was a recipient of the inaugural Joan Mitchell Fellowship, among numerous other recognitions. Further cementing his artistic status, the Museum of Modern Art dedicated a gallery to its recent acquisition of Maravilla’s paintings and sculptures. This year alone, he has been the subject of solo presentations around the world. Next year, Maravilla will have a solo show at ICA Watershed in Boston, for which he will present a newly commissioned, immersive installation.

Portrait of Guadalupe Maravilla by Zoe Salaun, 2022. Courtesy of Guadalupe Maravilla and P·P·O·W, New York.

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Maravilla is perhaps best known for his ferocious “Disease Thrower” series (2019–present), which transforms found objects through microwaved fibers and glue to evoke animal-human hybrid deities from various cultures across Mesoamerica. The sculptures are spiritual and physical protectors meant to cast various colonial-induced illnesses out from the body, and were inspired by Maravilla’s own history with cancer.

The artist is a decade into what he calls his second life. While completing his MFA at Hunter College, Maravilla was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer on his 36th birthday in 2012. To combat the physical toll that radiation treatment had on his body, he turned to non-Euro-American healing practices that, in turn, allowed him to spiritually heal his past trauma stemming from forced migration. Born in El Salvador in 1976, Maravilla fled the country at the age of eight due to civil war, spending two and a half months traveling 3,000 miles by land to the United States.

For Maravilla, the cancer was a manifestation of decades-long trauma in his family history. “I tie it into experiencing a civil war when I was a child, to being displaced and separated from my family, and how that trauma was held in my body,” the artist said. “[I am interested in] how untreated trauma can manifest into cancerous tumors—not that everyone who has untreated trauma will get cancer, but that’s what happened to me.”

Cancer, which Maravilla described as his greatest teacher, forced him to undergo a physical and spiritual rebirth that transformed the trajectory of his artistic practice—as symbolized by his name change. Born Irvin Morazan, Maravilla reclaimed the first name his mother wanted to give him, and took on the surname his father adopted upon arriving in the U.S.

Like Maravilla’s artworks, this name change is as much personal as it is cosmological. A quadruple Sagittarius (placement in his sun, moon, mercury, and ascendant signs), Maravilla was born on December 12th, the Day of the Virgin Guadalupe. Following the saint, Maravilla’s own practice is that of nurturer, healer, and protector.

Guadalupe Maravilla, installation view of “Seven Ancestral Stomachs” at P·P·O·W, New York, 2021. Photo by JSP Art Photography. Courtesy of the artist and P·P·O·W, New York.

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Working with the medium of the sound bath, which he turned to while undergoing cancer treatment, Maravilla conducts healing ceremonies for his audiences. These performances both activate the “Disease Thrower” works, and exist separately on their own to purge physical and psychic illnesses from the body. Maravilla’s holistic practice is indicative of Toni Morrison’s statement in her 1987 book Beloved: “A dose of the spiritual world is needed to heal the wounds of [colonization].”

As Maravilla said, “If I can heal properly then I can heal seven generations back and seven generations forward. I was taught by lots of different types of healers from all over the world that have learned ancient ways of healing and contemporary ways of healing. From that, I have merged [those practices] to create my own way.”

To confront his familial and ancestral history, Maravilla recently began to retrace his own migrational routes. For his contribution to the 2018 group exhibition “Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay: Indigenous Space, Modern Architecture, New Art” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, he traced over European colonial manuscripts and maps of Mexico and Central America with pencil and crayon.

“Exploring those manuscripts and learning about the history of those lands that I have a connection with was my way of reconnecting and tracing my own migration map,” he said. “After that, I realized that it was time to physically go back and collect materials for my own shrine and then [those objects I collected] made it up to my disease throwers.” From street market trinkets to rare crystals, the objects within these sculptures are buried beneath melted fibers, but imbue the work with an energy that speaks to Maravilla’s artistic intentions.

Guadalupe Maravilla, detail of Disease Thrower #15, 2021. Photo by the artist. Courtesy of the artist and P·P·O·W, New York.

Healing and rebirth are not just artistic metaphors, but service-based actions Maravilla employs in order to be present for his community. As part of his recent solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, the artist partnered with the institution and his gallery P.P.O.W to organize a donation drive in support of asylum seekers arriving in New York. He collected about 10 truckloads of goods and raised about $30,000 with the help of 40 volunteers, all while conducting healing ceremonies.

“That’s the whole practice: giving and offering care. It’s really hard to do any healing work when someone is hungry, cold, or doesn’t have a safe place to sleep,” Maravilla said. “These come from my own experiences of being displaced and hungry and traveling without my family. I remember all of those things and know what they need.” After this intensive period, he finally finds himself in a state of rest for the remainder of the year before resuming his work in 2023—forever in service to others. He added, “I have to replenish that fire before I can go back out again.”


The Artsy Vanguard 2022

The Artsy Vanguard is our annual feature recognizing the most promising artists working today. The fifth edition of The Artsy Vanguard features 19 rising talents from across the globe who are poised to become the next great leaders of contemporary art. Explore more of The Artsy Vanguard 2022 and collect works by the artists.

Ayanna Dozier
Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.

Header: Guadalupe Maravilla, from left to right: “Feather Serpent Times Square Retablo,” 2022. Photo by JSP Art Photography. Courtesy of the artust and P·P·O·W, New York; Installation view of “Planeta Abuelx” at Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, 2021. Photo by Sara Morgan. Courtesy of the artist; Socrates Sculpture Park, New York; and P·P·O·W, New York; “Disease Thrower #16,” 2021. Photo by the artist. Courtesy of the artist and P·P·O·W, New York.

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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019