January 28, 2020 | NEWS | By Star Goudriaan

On Jan. 14, 2022, The Fine Arts Center (FAC) rolled out a new exhibit entitled CORPUS by Peruvian-American artist Kukuli Velarde.

The exhibit features 15 ceramic works made by Velarde and 15 fabric works commissioned and made by other Peruvian artists. This is the first exhibition featuring the entire CORPUS collection.

Much of Velarde’s work tackles pressing issues with a fresh balance of cleverness, humor, and political profundity. These elements are very much present in the exhibit which we have the privilege of temporarily housing at the FAC.

This particular exhibit is a compelling take on the annual Corpus Christi festival in Cusco, Peru. The festival occurs nine weeks after Easter. It is loud, vibrant, and features a procession of 15 Catholic saints and virgins in the form of large, decorated statues that are paraded through the streets.

The festival, unfortunately, has also come to be associated with the problematic ethno-tourism industry, as people from across the globe flock to the celebration for a sense of enchantment with a side of cultural appropriation.

Walking into the exhibit, flashing lights and loud clicks mimic the overwhelming texture of flash photography that has come to be associated with the festival. The ceramic works reference indigenous pre-Columbian iconographies in a dialectic of social, aesthetic, cultural, and religious traditions which have continued to unfold under the shadow of colonial capitalism.

The works of ceramic depict indigenous spiritual figures alongside Catholic ones, privileging incorporation and disguise over narratives of erasure.

One figure depicts an indigenous deity holding up a mask of a Catholic saint in masquerade. The figures are very expressive, often in wily animation. One gets the sense, especially walking through the center of the exhibit, that the traditional viewer-gazing-upon/objectifying-art perspective is reversed so that it is the art which begins to gaze upon the visitor, watching their every move.

The exhibit is a strong statement on the regenerative nature of the diverse people of Peru and greater Latin America as identities continue to develop, unravel, and re-ravel during and in the wake of colonialism.

Blair Huff, the curatorial assistant of the Fine Arts Center who organized the display of the exhibition, said, “Velarde’s work is so thoughtful and humorous… I think more than any other exhibition I’ve worked on; this is one you have to see in person.”

The exhibition was co-curated by Polly Nordstrand, former curator of Southwest Art at the FAC, and Katie Hirsch, director of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston.

Student intern Nicole Berlanga ’22 conducted research and supported the interpretive plan for the exhibition. Another student intern, Kaléa Daniels ’24, supported the installation of the light feature in the exhibition.

Kukuli Velarde: CORPUS will be open to the public until April 9, 2022 at the FAC. Make sure to stop by and check out the awe-inspiring art yourself!

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