Cecilia Vicuña, Skyscraper Quipu (Incan quipu performance, New York), 2006.
For millennia, ancient peoples of the Andes created quipus—complex record-keeping devices that served as a medium for reading and writing, recording and remembering, all through an intricate system of knot-making. Banned by the Spanish during their colonization of South America, quipus contain a wealth of information that scholars today are still attempting to decipher. New York-based artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña (born 1948, Chile) has devoted a significant part of her artistic practice to studying, interpreting and reactivating the quipu. Drawing on her indigenous heritage, she channels this ancient, sensorial mode of communication into immersive installations and participatory performances.
Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu presents a newly commissioned, site-specific installation by the artist, displayed alongside five historical quipus on loan from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. The exhibition’s central work, Quipu desaparecido (Disappeared Quipu) (2018), combines monumental strands of knotted wool with projected images of textiles that Vicuña chose from the world-renowned Andean collections of the MFA and the Brooklyn Museum—the co-organizers of the exhibition. In Boston, participatory performances by Vicuña will weave audiences together with thick strands of raw wool, incorporating poetry and song into a multi-sensory experience. The first performance will take place during the next event in the MFA Late Nites series on October 19, offering a sneak preview of the exhibition alongside other late-night programming that connects visitors to art, culture and community. The second performance will be held on January 9, 2019.
(Photo courtesy of Matthew Herrmann.)