‘Disease Thrower’: Found objects form a narrative

“Disease Thrower” by Guadalupe Maravilla tells the story of the artist’s experience with illness and immigrating to the U.S. Photo by Jon Mirador

Fabiana Acosta, Contributing Writer 

The importance of storytelling can come in different forms to any narrator, such as sculptures, drawings and performances.

The residual effects of storytelling in “Disease Thrower” at the Institute for Contemporary Art capture the truth of suffering through displacement and internal illness. 

Guadalupe Maravilla, an artist and assistant professor at VCU, examined the elements and process of his artwork in “Disease Thrower,” which tells his story of traveling unaccompained and undocumented to the United States from El Salvador. The story is transformed into a compelling sculptural piece, depicting the challenges of being undocumented. 

When Maravilla was diagnosed with colon cancer, he sought professional treatment and explored other paths to relieve the pain of radiation and chemotherapy. Sound baths were a powerful outlet for Maravilla to release his pain.


Piece by piece, step by step

Each sculpture in “Disease Thrower” and their components are more than a display; the work connects the audience to the Latin community and the realities they face. Two of the main elements within the sculptures are the gongs and anatomical models that indicate where a loved one’s cancer began. 

Built with pliant material, the sculptures are constructed with found objects Maravilla collected when he was retracing his migration from El Salvador to the U.S.

“All the other elements are objects that I collect for the process of retracing my migration,” Maravilla said at a lecture at the ICA

“Disease Thrower” will be on display at the ICA until July 1. Photo by Jon Mirador

last week. “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 sculptures all start with a wooden steel skeleton, then Maravilla added layers to them, starting with the off-white “skin” made of cotton, sea salt, glue and other elements that he microwaved.

“After that it becomes malleable, and then I can add them to the metal skeleton,” Maravilla said. “Next step is collecting the objects and composing them.”

From constructing the base to arranging the materials, Maravilla framed an exhibition that alludes to themes of humanity. The artist’s history of resilience and overcoming trauma at such a young age gave the sculptures a healing tone. 

“Once the gong and anatomical body part is chosen, then after that it’s all intuitive,” Maravilla said. 

Maravilla’s intuition and experiences helped him give life to the sculptures. Tokens such as conch shells and gems indicate the places he’s traveled through.


A wearable transformation

The sculptures are not only objects of Maravilla’s story — they’re being made into wearable materials. In the future, the sculptures will be performance pieces, worn as clothing and play a role in healing rituals.

“It’s also scary thinking about wearing them, too, because I’m gonna start wearing them now as headdresses,” Maravilla said. 

As the sculptures range from 6 to 8 feet tall, they’re especially heavy because of the weight of the gongs. That means the sculptures have to be well balanced and held down.

“Seeing Maravilla’s exhibition in real life was one thing, but listening to his chilling and graviating story of his childhood experiences made me realize the impact art has on the immigration crisis,” said VCUarts student Jessica Foreman. “Especially how he turns these pieces into a spiritual healing process for his illness and not only a sculptural piece.” 

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