By Deborah KriegerNovember 25, 2018
Deb Krieger takes an early tour of The Complicit Eye, lauded ceramicist Kukuli Velarde’s first major solo show of paintings in Philadelphia. This provocative body of work, on view at Taller Puertorriqueño through April 30, 2019, reveals Velarde’s long-standing use of self-portraiture as a mode of intersectional feminist critique.
When I walk into the gallery at Taller Puertorriqueño, Kukuli Velarde is hard at work, standing on a ladder, tracing out intricate shapes in black marker against a white mural surface in the center of the space. Her face gazes out at me, five, ten, fifteen-fold, from the rich, lustrous paintings on the gallery walls (not to mention the light rendering of that impenetrable, resolute gaze in red pencil in her new mural work). Her show, The Complicit Eye, presents Velarde in all manner of guises: naughty pin-up girl, martyred saint tied to a post, grieving Virgin and Pietà figure together in one composition, pregnant and proud with swollen belly, beheaded by a smug-faced angel. In The Complicit Eye, Velarde paints herself in these female archetypal forms, confronting the viewer with their own preconceived notions of what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal society, to be flattened and reduced to a single consumable image. Drawing upon Western art history, popular culture, and Inca and Pre-Columbian motifs from her native Peru, she simultaneously calls attention to histories of colonialism and racism.