“Healing, for me, is a combination of multiple things.”
“Now that I’ve learned to heal myself,” Guadalupe Maravilla once said, “I have to teach others how to heal themselves.” This concern with healing and forms of care, shaped by Maravilla’s personal history, is the foundation for his explorations of sculpture, performance, and ritual.
Maravilla’s work reflects on his own displacement from El Salvador to the United States in 1984 as an unaccompanied minor fleeing the civil war. Maravilla’s work draws from indigenous and contemporary systems of knowledge, often mixing crafts, medicinal materials, and plants along with commercial and readymade objects. His practice is grounded in drawing, as in Requiem for my border crossing and my undocumented father’s #6 (2016–18). Maravilla creates large hand-drawn installations inspired by Spanish colonial maps of Mexico and the Salvadoran game Tripa Chuca, which he played as a child. In the game, the lines each player draws can never touch, creating a model of space that exceeds national boundaries and reimagining the artist’s origins and geographies.
As an adult, Maravilla was treated for colon cancer, an event which shifted his artistic practice to more overtly consider trauma and healing. A key series in Maravilla’s work are his “healing machines,” which the artist has described as “sculptures, shrines, and headdresses.” Disease Thrower #5 (2019) is an altar-like sculpture that looks like the skeleton of a mythical beast. It holds various medicinal objects, as well as metal ornaments and plastic anatomical models—including a dissected breast and a smaller, cylindrical, colon-like sculpture—that refer to the artist and his mother’s experiences with cancer.
Maravilla’s work proposes care as a form of political work, particularly towards the healing of intergenerational trauma as well as trauma caused by migration. He frequently activates his artistic objects through performances and sound baths—a meditative experience where participants are “bathed” in sound frequencies meant to encourage therapeutic and restorative processes. Disease Thrower #5 and Circle Serpent (2019) are used as instruments in Maravilla’s healing workshops, often organized exclusively for undocumented immigrants. The top of Disease Thrower #5 consists of a custom-made gong; in his sound baths, Maravilla plays the gong to emit sounds meant to rejuvenate and cleanse. In this way, the works function as machines for care or healing, performing a function for the participant or viewer.
To Maravilla, trauma and disease are interwoven; he suggests a direct connection between his experiences as a migrant and his cancer. Circle Serpent points to the possibility of regeneration from these physical and emotional wounds. The sculpture is composed of woven dried maguey leaves from the agave plant, which can be adapted for medicinal purposes. Nestled among the leaves of the snake’s body sit bottles of Florida water, used for cleansing or spiritual healing. This sculpture, like his other work, points to indigenous systems of knowledge and modes of healing.
Maravilla is also a teacher and mutual-aid organizer; his work extends beyond his sculptural practice to consider forms of community-based healing and regeneration. “I didn’t have all the obstacles that immigrants have now,” Maravilla has said. “I can’t even sleep at night sometimes because I understand how difficult it is. So this is why I am trying to do the work that I am doing.”
Rachel Remick, 12-Month Modern Women’s Fund Intern, Department of Painting and Sculpture; and Simon Wu, Administrative Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2020
Opening quote is from MoMA Audio interview, 2021