Cecilia Vicuña to be Tate Modern’s latest featured artist

Cecilia Vicuña, a Santiago-born artist whose career has spanned more than five decades, will be the next artist to create the prestigious Hyundai commission for the Tate Modern in London. The gallery decided to spotlight her work, which spreads a message of eco-consciousness, justice, and inclusivity. It has also already acquired what is perhaps her most famous piece, Quipu Womb.

Chilean artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña, who is known for her large-scale textile works, has been selected by the prestigious Tate Modern gallery in London as its spotlighted artist from October 2022 to April 2023. Her work will be exhibited in the gallery’s Turbine Hall, a vast space with high ceilings that has welcomed many other respected artists in the past. Vicuña will be in charge of creating the next Hyundai Commission, following that of Korean artist Anicka Yi.

The Tate has already acquired one of Vicuña’s most famous works, “Quipu Womb.” The installation consists of 50 monumental strands of unspun red wool hanging from a metal ring. The curators at the Tate described it as a work that “explores the energies, flows, and cycles of nature, menstruation, and female creativity through the years.”

The technique of quipu is often used by Vicuña in her work. Quipu is an ancient knotting system in which pieces of rope are made into an accounting apparatus by Andean peoples. It dates back to at least 2,500 BCE. According to her website, she began creating her own in the mid-1960s as a way of “hearing an ancient silence waiting to be heard.”

Celebrating a lifetime of artwork and activism

In an Instagram post, the Tate described Vicuña as being “best known for her radical textile sculptures, a combination of natural materials and traditional crafts,” which center mainly on various aspects of community and social justice. A lot of her work is site-specific and ephemeral, something that she refers to as “lo precario” (the precarious); acts that bridge the gap between art and life, the ancestral and the contemporary. The Tate also explained that “Vicuña’s ephemeral and environmentally conscious work combines the tactile ritual of weaving with assemblage, poetry, performance, and painting,” to create a multi-sensory experience that gives visitors the impression of being truly immersed in her work.

Vicuña mainly focuses her work and activism on feminist and environmental issues, while also giving credit to indigenous cultures and their ancient techniques. Speaking of her own experience as a young woman of color, she told art magazine Elephant, “I was a living disappointment, and that’s how a lot of young girls grow up in Chile, knowing they are considered lesser beings. It’s a very profound and brutal reality. Women make the best of it, they either become complicit in it, or they accommodate it. But I was always aware; I never gave up my sense of awareness.”

Her career has spanned over 50 years and she was just awarded a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement from the Venice Biennale. Born and raised in Santiago, Vicuña lived in exile in the United Kingdom, Colombia, and the United States throughout the Pinochet dictatorship, but she now divides her time between Chile and New York. She is considered to be one of Chile’s most famous and internationally-recognized artists, and many world renowned museums such as The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Santiago, The Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York have previously exhibited her work.

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