Museum Council

Exploring the nature of language and memory

Opening on October 20, 2018, “Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu” features the work of New York-based Chilean artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña (born 1948). Supported by the Museum Council Artist in Residency Program Fund, the exhibition pairs ancient and colonial quipus (khipus)—Inca devices for recording information through an intricate system of knot-making—with a major new commission by the artist. “Disappeared Quipu” is curated by Liz Munsell, Lorraine and Alan Bressler Curator of Contemporary Art and Special Initiatives, and Dennis Carr, Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Art of the Americas.

For millennia, ancient peoples of the Andes created quipus—complex record-keeping devices, made of knotted cords, that served as an essential medium for reading and writing, registering and remembering. Vicuña has devoted a significant part of her artistic practice to studying, interpreting and reactivating quipus, which were banned by the Spanish during their colonization of South America. Drawing on her indigenous heritage, she channels this ancient, sensorial mode of communication into immersive installations and participatory performances. Her latest work, the centerpiece of the upcoming exhibition, is a site-specific installation that combines monumental strands of knotted wool with a four-channel video projection.

“Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu” brings the artist’s work into conversation with five ancient quipus on loan from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. Together, these quipus of the past and present explore the nature of language and memory, the resilience of native people in the face of colonial repression, and Vicuña’s own experiences living in exile from her native Chile.

To celebrate the opening of this wonderful new exhibition, Vicuña will stage a participatory performance during the October 19 MFA Late Nites this fall. During her performance, she will envelop the audience in webs of raw wool and sing. The upcoming Museum Council event calendar features more details on our opening celebration for this exhibition—be sure to mark your calendars when the next season of events is announced in July!