‘Disease Thrower’: Retracing the loss and anxieties of migration

Guadalupe Maravilla, assistant professor of sculpture and extended media, visited the ICA on Wednesday for an in-depth discussion about his current exhibition, "Disease Thrower." Photo by Jon Mirador

Fabiana Acosta, Contributing Writer

Layers are intriguing. The layers from our lives add to who we are and develop us to who we are going to be.

That was the central topic during artist Guadalupe Maravilla’s talk at the Institute for Contemporary Art on Wednesday.

“You know our body is made up of layers. Seventy percent of our body is water, within the layers we hold anxiety and trauma,” Maravilla said. “The cancer in my body manifested itself from my childhood trauma I survived through that generated these sculptures.” 

Students, faculty Richmond community members came together to further unwind the documentation of Maravilla’s personal trauma and illness that inspired his exhibition “Disease Thrower.”   

Maravilla discussed the significance of his travels after leaving his home country, El Salvador, which suffered after an uprise of violence and post-war tragedies in the 1980s. 

“When Maravilla was talking about the water and the body reflecting on that really touched me. Thinking about the different ways trauma manifests in the body in a poisonous way — how you can come up with ways that aren’t just Western medicine.” — Katie Revilla

Traveling from house to house, Maravilla recorded his struggles of these temporary living circumstances into a journal that allowed him to retrace his steps as an adult.

“All the other elements are objects that I collect for the process of retracing my migration,” Maravilla said. “That is very important to me — to go back to these places as an adult and find parts and bring them back together to be part of the sculpture.”

The story of Maravilla’s journey reflects those of other Central American migrants; his sculptures have become a display of his journey, developing into a voice that resonates powerfully with undocumented children and families. 

After discussing his past, Maravilla explored the healing process, which became an important part of his sculptures. 

“One thing I really love about Guadalupe’s work is that he is talking about a pretty horrific experience and reality that people are literally experiencing right now,” said ICA associate curator Amber Esseiva. “But he does that through beauty and ritual, it’s not recreating the trauma, it’s working through the trauma.” 

The incorporation of gongs in his pieces represents an ancient way of healing the body through sound; it heals pain on a spiritual level, connecting the body and the mind.

“When Maravilla was talking about the water and the body reflecting on that really touched me,” said event attendee Katie Revilla. “Thinking about the different ways trauma manifests in the body in a poisonous way — how you can come up with ways that aren’t just Western medicine.”

In addition to the gongs, an important component of his sculptures are the anatomical models within each headdress. Each represents a spot where his illness or the illness of a loved one originated, dedicated to those Maravilla’s life who have fallen ill. 

The impact of his talk resonated with the audience. 

“Seeing the way the materials come together to create a symphony of objects and the sounds they create together, unifies them in a beautiful way,” Revilla said.

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