KUKULI VELARDE: THE COMPLICIT EYE/ Opens November 16

On view through April 30, 2019

Artist Reception: Friday, November 16, 5:30–8 pm  RSVP here

“Velarde has had major solo exhibitions from Lima, Peru to Kansas City and New York. Why she has not had a significant show of her work in her hometown of Philadelphia is curious, especially since in the last several years she has been awarded many prestigious grants here, including the Pew and two Leeway Foundation awards; she is also well-known among local curators and fellow artists.”JenniferZarro, TheArtBlog, Dec. 21, 2015

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 to signal to the viewers – 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.

About the Artist
Born in Cuzco, Peru and residing in Philadelphia, Kukuli Velarde is a painter and sculptor whose career spans four decades and two continents. Primarily known for her feminist reinterpretations of Colonial painting and Precolumbian sculpture, Velarde’s work brings together the personal and the political. After studying at the National University of San Marcos in Lima and the San Carlos Academy at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, she moved to New York City in 1987, obtaining her BFA from Hunter College in 1992. She transitioned from painting to ceramics in the 1990s, moving to Philadelphia and becoming the Artist in Residence at the Clay Studio in 1997–98. In Philadelphia, Velarde has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a PEW Fellowship in 2003, a Knight Fellowship in 2009, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2015. In 2004, Velarde returned to painting.  The Complicit Eye will be the first solo show of her paintings in Philadelphia.

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