The most recent exhibit opening at the Weatherspoon Art Museum contains a sparse room with a grouping of ceramic figures at the center. These figures, created by artist Kukuli Velarde, show a vast variety of emotions and depictions of life. The figures themselves are small and require focused attention. The ceramics look like small people with big bellies and large heads. They are all in squatting positions with their arms in the air. Each figure depicts its own unique story and each story will feature something that is significant to the journey of life.
Kukuli Velarde was born and raised in Peru, making Peruvian heritage play a key role in her artwork. This exhibit was titled after a Peruvian myth. The myth is about a priest that used vessels called Manchaypuitu (male) and Isichapuitu (female) to summon the spirit of a dead woman. These vessels were called cantaros de muerte, or vessels of death. Velarde was inspired to make her own vessels but instead have them be vessels of life that are used to summon the cultures and emotions present throughout a person’s lifetime.
At the exhibit, there are about 15 laminated handouts detailing each ceramic, showing the title of each individual piece and the materials used to make it. The titles range in languages between English, Spanish and Peruvian Dialects. The foreign language is not translated in order for them to remain as authentic as possible. Most of the figures are made of a mixture of white, red or brown clay. Some are colored or painted while some remain blank. When looking at them as a unit it looks like a chaotic mix of various happenings, but when looking at each individual figure the exhibit makes more sense.
The artist was inspired by a picture of a vessel made by the indigenous Huastec people of what is now Mexico. Although the piece is centuries old, while she was observing it she was inspired and felt an immediate connection. This experience influenced her to create ceramics based on various needs, whether that be a story to tell, a question to answer or an emotion to confront.
Throughout and within the various figures there are many religious, mythological and cultural references. One particular ceramic, named “Coloniality,” featured a figure with a cross balanced on its head. On the belly of the figure, there were Native American-looking symbols. This piece is perhaps in reference to a fascination of Velarde’s: the consequences of Christopher Columbus coming to the New World and the harm it brought upon the Native Americans. Verlade was deeply disturbed by the the overturning of Native American customs when Europe colonized America. This ceramic possibly alludes to the weight of the Christian cross on the Native Americans. Velarde is concerned with the things that draw divisions between people and that is reflected in this exhibit.
This project began 20 years ago in 1997 and since then these vessels of life continue to influence the artist and have evolved to become their own forms of life. “I freed myself from any fear of limitations,” said Velarde in regards to this exhibit. These ceramics all embody the power of emotion and the effect it has on life as a whole.
Isichapuitu will be showing at the Weatherspoon Art Museum until March 4 and there will be an artist talk on Nov. 15 with Kukuli Velarde from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the Weatherspoon Auditorium. Do not miss out on this opportunity to see a very unique and thought-provoking exhibit full of intricate ceramics.