Long Island City, New York
Guadalupe Maravilla’s “Planeta Abuelx” at Socrates Sculpture Park provided a welcome respite for pandemic times. Offering a space for meditation, healing, and recovery, the project reflected Maravilla’s engagement with mutual aid and therapy, focusing on the ways that art can sustain, restore, and provide solace. A cancer survivor and immigrant who escaped El Salvador’s bloody civil war, Maravilla understands the nature of trauma. These experiences, along with childhood memories, rituals, and traditional medicine, form the basis of his practice and its recuperative and communal purpose.
The exhibition was introduced at the park’s entrance by Retablo Billboard, made in collaboration with the Mexican artist Daniel Vilchis, which described the casting process used to create Maravilla’s “Disease Thrower” sculptures, two of which were installed on the central lawn. Monumental and totem-like, Disease Thrower #13 and #14, the first large-scale outdoor works that Maravilla has made for this ongoing series, combine stainless steel tubes with sculpted mounds of cast aluminum. Fashioned into a triangle and octagon supporting hanging gongs, the tubes form the shrine-like cores of the sculptures. The elemental geometry is complimented and offset by more organic forms made from aluminum materials gathered and cast on site by Maravilla and his assistants. Resembling stelae, stalagmites, coral or rock formations, and even the remains of an unexcavated archaeological site, the undulating, rippling surface patterns of these sculptures suggest soothing swells of flowing water while intimating the decaying, fragile ecosystems of at-risk environments.
Despite their scale, the sculptures beckoned with a tactile intimacy. Up close, one discovered details left from the casting process, including encased aluminum molds of fruits and vegetables, everyday objects, decorative plates, and other found materials. Melted down, poured, and overlaid through a progressive, additive process built up layer upon layer, these recently made sculptures already seemed primordial. Seen against the East River and Manhattan, their ever-changing surfaces captured the sun and sky in a sparkling spectacle of silvery, reflective light.
The “Disease Throwers” served as a backdrop for a central, 60-foot circle broken into two halves and surrounded by wrapped wire, which enclosed gardens of medicinal herbs, roses, and tobacco, as well as the “Three Sisters” crops of corn, squash, and beans that have long sustained Indigenous communities. The circle also framed an elaborate, labyrinth-like drawing of never-touching lines based on the game Tripa Chuca (“rotting guts”) that Maravilla used to play as a child in El Salvador. Made by linking pairs of numbers to form abstract patterns, the lines trace relationships and connections formed through ritual and play.
When Maravilla was being treated for cancer, he discovered the restorative aspects of sound therapy. His “sound baths,” held periodically during the exhibition for audiences of immigrants, cancer survivors, and others, underscored how art can center on therapeutic recovery. During performances, the installation became a space of ritual, with the artist serving as shaman. Dressed in ceremonial robes, he and his assistants burned sage and medicinal plants in the fire pit and “played” the gongs of the “Disease Throwers,” accompanied by glass triangles and conches. The sonorous soundwaves flowed over participants sitting or lying on mats, creating a harmonious, meditative space. In a simple and humble manner, Maravilla reminds us that rather than ego, commodity, and profit, art can serve as a medicinal vehicle for shared community and spiritual renewal.