Cecilia Vicuña Sees Venice Through Her Mother’s Eyes


An unforgettable artwork at this year’s Venice Biennale captivates website visitors extensive just before they move foot in the Giardini or the Arsenale. Gazing out from Venice’s vaporetti, the iconic public h2o buses that ferry passengers throughout the greenish lagoon, are the eyes of Cecilia Vicuña’s mother. As people disembark at the aquatic city’s buoyant docks versus a soundscape of gurgles and splashes and churning motors, they search on patiently, deep brown wells of gentleness and intensity. A 97-year-old female stares back. These are her eyes she traveled to Venice to see them, additional than 4 many years just after her daughter painted them.

“Bendígame Mamita” (“Bless Me, Mommy”) dates from 1977, when Vicuña was living in Bogotá, and it has due to the fact then hung in the relative obscurity of her mother Norma Ramírez’s house. Now it is reproduced throughout the Biennale, not just on the vaporetti but on posters and signage, and the perform itself is on see in the Central Pavilion, the place the composition can be appreciated in its entirety. “I experienced really considerably when the painting disappeared,” Ramírez admitted in an interview from Venice, remembering the day when the canvas still left her residence. “But looking at it below, I realize that it could not just be for me. It had to be for absolutely everyone.”

Cecilia Vicuña, “Bendígame Mamita” (1977), oil on canvas, 55 x 47 inches (image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London)

The perform portrays Ramírez suspended in a celestial expanse, her confront bisected by the sinuous curve of a guitar whose circular chamber exposes one eye. She disencumbers herself of her significant-heeled footwear as her locks stream freely. Hovering higher than, frieze-like vignettes narrate times from Ramírez’s everyday living up until her eldest daughter’s departure from Chile on the brink of Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup, when Vicuña was forced into exile in London in the painting, the artist drifts away in a rivulet of blood. Several years later, the two have been reunited in Colombia for the initial time considering the fact that they parted strategies, a scene also memorialized in the piece — in a further vignette, they are standing facet by side, beaming, Vicuña holding a paintbrush.

“My mother arrived and with her presence and her go to, I recovered a reality that the coup experienced taken from me: the unstoppable, indestructible joy of the like concerning a mom and daughter,” said Vicuña. “She came from suffering, demise, and horror in Chile, and I from exile and extreme poverty, and nevertheless this come upon was this kind of an complete pleasure, a pleasure that radiated.”

97-calendar year-aged Norma Ramírez in Venice (photograph courtesy Cecilia Vicuña)

In a last episode, illustrated at the top of the canvas, an eight-year-previous Vicuña poses with her mother’s arm all around her, the two linking palms. It’s primarily based on a photograph Vicuña has constantly carried with her, of special significance mainly because it depicts them in a symbiotic embrace, “as if we ended up a solitary device.”

The painting hanging in the Central Pavilion (picture by Marco Cappelletti, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia)

“Then, my mother turns into a guitar that sings,” Vicuña continued. “But the guitar is a prisoner and even in its sorrow, in that prison of the dictatorship, her physique usually takes the form of a whirlwind of enthusiasm and enjoy, and she kicks off her shoes. And she is dance alone.” In spite of her really serious gaze and a drooping flower in her hand, Ramírez — whom Vicuña and her siblings nicknamed la reina del mambo due to the fact she “danced like a serpent” — exudes a feeling of dynamic movement.

“Bendígame Mamita” is one particular of the number of operates by Vicuña that survived from this period: Much more than 50 percent of the paintings she designed in the 1960s and ’70s, most of which she gifted to close friends and relatives, were missing or discarded. But two individuals held on to them — her mom and her brother Ricardo, both of those of whom joined Vicuña in Venice.

The story of the painting’s passage to Italy was also serendipitous. Cecilia Alemani, curator of the Biennale’s 59th version, experienced requested taking part artists to submit is effective depicting eyes for the exhibition’s graphic id. Vicuña’s was just one of four selected, together with items by Belkis Ayón, Felipe Baeza, and Tatsuo Ikeda. She was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the Biennale’s best honor, and her study exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, Cecilia Vicuña: Spin Spin Triangulene, opened a month later on. It is, rather unbelievably, the Chilean artist and poet’s 1st solo show in a New York museum.

Mother and daughter (picture courtesy Cecilia Vicuña)

A tribute to the credo of motherly appreciate, “Bendígame Mamita,” fathomed from the suffering of separation and the elation of reunification, is also a cri de cœur against displacement, one particular of war’s silent reverberations. Tens of thousands had been tortured, imprisoned, or killed under Pinochet’s 17-yr routine numerous other individuals isolated and exiled.

“That is my portrait,” Vicuña concludes issue-of-factly. “It is a insurrection against the dreadful struggling of oppression.”

“It is a great portray,” mentioned Ramírez. “Made from a great inspiration, created with tenderness and creative imagination.”

Vicuña pauses. “Gracias, mamita.


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