ICA exhibit promotes healing, dialogue regarding immigration and illness

The Institute for Contemporary Art hosted an opening reception for Guadalupe Maravilla’s latest installation, “Disease Throwers, on Saturday and Sunday. The festivities included a healer-led sound bath and meditation. Photo by Jon Mirador

Katherine Noble, Contributing Writer

Towering cream-colored sculptures, massive glimmering gongs, sequin-encrusted embroidery and lavender walls traced with silver lines paint a rich scene featuring found objects and vibrant cultural patterns. 

Every inch of the True Farr Luck Gallery in the Institute for Contemporary Art is filled with intense artistic detail, thanks to the “Disease Thrower” exhibit it now hosts.

The exhibit, by artist and sculpture faculty member Guadalupe Maravilla, is the second part of the “Provocations” series hosted by the ICA. It opened on Saturday night with an immersive overnight experience featuring a sound bath and meditation.

 “It’s really layered and complicated but basically to overcome my own healing in the past — and based on that experience — it’s something I wanted to share in the exhibition,” Maravilla said.

Maravilla immigrated to the United States from El Salvador at 8 years old to escape the Salvadoran Civil War and became a U.S. citizen at 27. In 2016, as a gesture of solidarity with his undocumented father, who uses Maravilla as a fake last name, Maravilla changed his name from Irvin Morazan to Guadalupe Maravilla. This exhibit provides an opportunity to reflect on his trauma and is deeply inspired by his journey across the border and his struggles with illness. 

The sculptures were the “disease throwers,” made up of objects Maravilla found on his migration path, as well as anatomical figures that represented the parts of his and his loved ones’ bodies that were affected by disease. 

Amber Esseiva, the ICA’s associate curator and the curator of this exhibit, said Maravilla’s proximity to VCUarts was a big factor in hosting his exhibit. 

“Having him be a colleague and be really close to the VCUarts family was kind of a no-brainer,” Esseiva said. “And then also, we have a really serious situation going on currently with migration and our borders, so it felt like an important topic to address.”

Maravilla invited healers of various traditions from places like Miami and New York to surround participants with their healing energy, leading meditation sessions.

The walls of the gallery featured a mural inspired by a traditional Mexican game, “tripas de gato” in which players take turns drawing lines between pairs of numbers (1 to 1, 2 to 2) without crossing or touching any other lines. This gets harder as the lines form a maze. It was drawn by Maravilla and a VCU student who is a recipient of DACA, an Obama-era policy that grants work permits and other benefits to undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children. 

 “It’s really layered and complicated but basically to overcome my own healing in the past — and based on that experience — it’s something I wanted to share in the exhibition.” — Guadalupe Maravilla

Attendee Kimberly Wolfe heard about the exhibit from her spouse, an ICA employee. 

“It sounded like a really different and immersive experience which is, you know, different from a usual art opening,” Wolfe said. “So I wanted to make sure I experienced it.”

Wolfe was particularly interested in the sound bath and that the experience offered participants the ability to lose themselves in the art. She also said the themes of the exhibit — regarding immigration, the Mexican-American border and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE — are very timely.

“Pausing and taking in the moments is certainly something our world needs to do right now,” Wolfe said. “Certainly our country.”

Roy Dugayo is a junior chemistry student who heard about the exhibit through his friends in VCUarts. 

“I think it’s really well made,” Dugayo said. “Definitely a lot of craftsmanship was put into this, and I like all the various body parts strewn around the exhibit. That’s a weird way to put it, but it draws my attention to it.” 

He said the gongs within the sculptures were some of the most interesting aspects, as they made the artwork engaging and multidimensional.

Maravilla relates his sculptural practice to healing through the use of gongs, a tea ceremony and other rituals.

“I hope that people will be open to a different kind of cultural sensitivity when it comes to issues of migration and illness,” Esseiva said. “Sculpture and contemporary art can serve as a catalyst for conversation and for healing, and not just as an object to admire.”

Maravilla hopes this exhibit will help people learn how to heal themselves, build up their own meditation practices and become more open to embracing their spirituality. He believes the immersive nature of the experience is what makes that possible.

“It’s a different type of healing that happens,” Maravilla said. “It’s almost like meditation is really helpful, and this brings it way beyond. Because it’s a whole night, it really helps the students that are in school get used to it. … I guarantee after this they’re gonna have a better time meditating in the future.”

“Disease Thrower” will be on display at the ICA until July 1.

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