When Vicuña traveled to New York in 1969 to celebrate the translation of her first book of poetry into English, she became fascinated by the recently formed Black Panther Party. In this self-portrait, Vicuña depicted herself alongside a panther, surrounded by a row of Italian cypress trees, plants from her own garden, and a staircase that, according to the artist, “leads to other dimensions.” Vicuña was inspired by sixteenth-century paintings made by locals of Cuzco, Peru, who produced Christian imagery at the direction of Spanish missionaries. She replaced the Christian saints with personal iconography and painted the scene in a deliberately flat style. “For me, painting poorly was a rebellion against the colonial standards that we, the colonized, were expected to submit to,” she explained. “Today we would call it a decolonizing act. Back then, we called it ‘liberation.’”
Gallery label from 2019
"I always painted portraits of Claudio until one day I rebelled and decided to do my own self-portrait. But the hair was very big on one side. To balance this, I had to put two other little people-that my brother Ricardo interpreted as "my other me’s"-some little people who are dedicated to satisfy all my desires.
The pill in my hand is The Pill, an object I despise. I take it with a mixture of fury and resignation. I know it’s unhealthy and that if circumstances were perfect, they could’ve created something better, if they cared to. The park where I find myself is a beloved place. The staircase leads to other dimensions. The tree on the left belongs to "the poet's house,” an old drawing of mine. The three plants are part of my Cannabis Sativa garden. The trees at the bottom are Italian Cypress, the trees of my ancestors. The small round tree grows in Bangkok, where I incarnated in an old poem. The Black Panther represents my beloved New York activist party, ready to assail me. I look forward to any of his attacks, because this is
Additional text from Cecilia Vicuña, Santiago, December 1970 - 1978