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The installation Balsa Snake Raft to Escape the Flood, part of the exhibition "Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen."EXPAND
The installation Balsa Snake Raft to Escape the Flood, part of the exhibition "Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen."
Photo by Alex Marks

MOCA North Miami Explores Poetic Female Artists in Dual Exhibitions

If you happen to be dissatisfied with the state of the world, you're far from alone. The past few months have seen massive antigovernment protests in several countries around the globe, from Hong Kong and Indonesia to Lebanon and Iraq, from the French Gilets Jaunes and Dutch farmers' movement to battles in Haiti, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

One crest on this massive wave is in Chile. After the center-right government of billionaire President Sebastián Piñera announced a subway fare hike, students began organizing protests first on social media and then by jumping turnstiles. Soon millions were out in the streets sharing their discontent by fighting police, destroying property, and demanding massive reforms. At least 20 people have died, some killed by police and the military. The government has announced it will respond by reforming the country's constitution, imposed in the '70s by the dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet, who came to power in a U.S.-backed coup that saw the assassination of socialist President Salvador Allende.

As this movement reaches its climax, it's a somewhat happy coincidence that a South Florida museum will soon open an exhibition by a Chilean artist, one whose work has been deeply marked by her country's legacy of political strife. "Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen" will begin its run at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami Tuesday, November 26, and remain on display until late March 2020.

"I was 24 years old when the military coup of 1973 took place, and from that moment forward, growing injustice and inequality set in," Vicuña says. "Chile is one of the most unequal countries in the world, where people’s basic rights have been removed, so the protest was long overdue. But the state response so far has been a brutal crackdown."

Not only a commentary on her exile from her homeland — she was abroad when Pinochet came to power, and has not returned to Chile since — the works in "About to Happen" also reflect on a wider sense of loss and a desire to recall other ways of living. Her khipu works recall indigenous arts and language lost to colonialism and repression. Installations such as Balsa Snake Raft to Escape the Flood incorporate found objects such as sticks and ropes. Vicuña has suspended the materials of that work in midair, making a direct reference to the ongoing climate catastrophe that's resulted from human greed. Her paintings, based on indigenous artists' efforts to sneak native religious icons into Catholic scenes, are similarly indignant and depict historical leftists such as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Allende.

"You could say my paintings, khipus, all of my work is an act of memory, remembering that we can live in a different way, without oppression," she says.

Alongside "About to Happen," MOCA will exhibit another exiled artist's work. "Poetic Invocations" traces the career of the late Alice Rahon, a French-born poet who left the surrealist art scene in Paris to move to Mexico just before World War II. She took to painting in her new country and, using unconventional techniques such as graffito markings, produced dreamlike images inspired by Mexican mythology and landscapes.

Poetry happens to link the two artists rather well. A highly acclaimed poet, Vicuña has published dozens of books in the genre and edited compilations of Latin American poetry. Their words and art, long overlooked in the United States, are sure to take center stage at MOCA North Miami.

"Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen" and "Poetic Invocations." November 26 through March 29, 2020, at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, 770 NE 125th St., North Miami; 305-893-6211; mocanomi.org. Admission is $10.

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