On view through April 30, 2019
Artist Reception: Friday, November 16, 5:30–8 pm RSVP here
The Complicit Eye, Kukuli Velarde’s first major solo show of painting in the US, deconstructs ideals of female beauty from colonization to the local barrio. Velarde dissects the construction and consumption of beauty in Western culture, exposing the connections between beauty and violence. Through painting, sculpture, and performance, Velarde confronts the reality of female objectification, oppressive beauty standards, and the marginalization of women of color.
At the heart of this exhibition is the notion of complicity, the complicated give-and-take of acceptance and resistance. In a series of life-sized full-body portraits painted on aluminum, Velarde presents herself in multiple guises–the would-be pinup beauty, the goddess, the cultural stereotype, the comic-book superhero–always occupying the position of the observant, self-aware outsider. Her performative self-portraits draw attention to the ways in which we are complicit in the production and promulgation of ideas about femininity–which have substantial effects on the lives of women.
Velarde weaves together a critique of beauty, power, and culture by manipulating her image, inviting viewers to see aspects of themselves in the artist’s multiple selves. In Pinup Wanna Be (2005), she paints herself as a desirable woman, standing awkwardly on tiptoe with her back arched– if only she would make some modifications. Transparent Mylar taped atop the painting offers some “improvements” to her body, elongating her legs and enlarging her breasts. With a winking nod, this portrait confronts the viewer with the cosmetic editing–be it Photoshop or surgery–that is so ubiquitous in images of women. Similarly, in Venusina (2009), Velarde envisions herself as Botticelli’s Venus. Although her skin has been whitened and her hair turned reddish blonde, Velarde maintains her proportions, small breasts, and long torso. Most compelling is the artist’s face, which stares sternly at her viewers, challenging us to accept her charms. Both works expose the tension between real and ideal that is played out on women’s bodies.
Velarde’s self-portraits perform not only her identity as a woman but also as a Peruvian. In Hispanic Ready-Made (2010), she re-envisions herself as life-sized paper dolls, complete with subversive accessories–on the left, she holds a pair of maracas and wears a giant fruit headdress, and on the right, she wears a Mexican-style sombrero while carrying a couple of pre-Columbian ceramic figures by their exaggerated male genitalia. Here, Velarde takes the reins, asserting her agency through the playful manipulation of these stereotyped tropes of Latino identity. She becomes a comic-book superhero in Superuvian (2005), taking on the role of the witness and critical observer of the process of gentrification, which empties neighborhoods of undesirable residents–usually lower-income people of color.
Velarde’s goal is not merely to expose our complicity, but also toviewers – especially women–to imagine alternatives to oppressive cultural norms. A crucial element of The Complicit Eye will be Velarde’s one-on-one engagement with community members through interactive workshops and a participatory performance in the gallery. Velarde will work with students at both Taller and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts(PAFA), engaging them about the broad themes of her work as well as the technical aspects of its creation. Also, Velarde will draw in freehand in marker on the wall of the gallery for the first ten days, creating an interactive mural that will be painted over after the exhibition. Velarde’s performance is about more than producing a composition; it is about building connections with people and communicating about our shared experiences. The Complicit Eye offers a unique opportunity to do just this through its powerful work and collaborative programming.