The ICA’s newest exhibition looks at migration, illness and anxieties of the undocumented

An art exhibition displayed in an art gallery.
“Provocations: Guadalupe Maravilla,” depicts the artist’s experiences with illness, migration and the anxieties experienced by undocumented people. (Courtesy photo)

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University will open its annual Provocations series with an overnight ceremony in which participants can sonically “bathe” in the sounds of a healing gong.

“Provocations: Guadalupe Maravilla” kicks off Saturday, Nov. 9, with a reception at 6 p.m. A tea ceremony at 8 p.m. precedes the overnight performance, which runs from 10 p.m. through 6 a.m., Nov. 10, and includes the activation of ceremonial gongs throughout the True Farr Luck Gallery.

During the sound-bath ceremony, four totemic sculptures will be activated through performance, rituals and workshops that use sound, movement and human-to-human connection as a vehicle for healing and exchange. Activations also will take place in the spring.

The exhibition chronicles the experiences of Maravilla, an assistant professor in the VCU Department of Sculpture and Extended Media in the School of the Arts, who, at age 8, immigrated alone to the United States from El Salvador to escape the Salvadoran civil war.

Combining drawing, sculpture and performance, the artist draws on his own experiences with illness, migration and the anxieties experienced by undocumented people. To honor his undocumented father, the artist, formerly known as Irvin Morázan, adopted his father’s pseudonym — Maravilla, or “wonder” and “marvel” in Spanish — as his surname. He combined it with Guadalupe, the Spanish name for the Aztec earth mother deity. 

Maravilla seeks to transform the gallery into a space for healing traumas related to migration, displacement and inhumane detainment. Banners embroidered with disembodied limbs and clenched fists along with images of flowers, dripping blocks of ice and skulls run throughout the installation. For Maravilla, these fictive icons become emblems for ongoing resistance against persecution and trauma.   

Suspended above is a serpentine sculpture made of wood and agave, a plant known for its healing properties.  

Maravilla also has created a wall mural that draws on two key sources. A line-drawing game played by Salvadoran children, Tripa Chuca (Dirty Guts), combines play, logic and strategy, while the 16th-century Codex Azcatitlan narrative drawings tell the story of the occupation, migration and displacement of indigenous Aztec people during the Spanish colonial period. 

“Provocations: Guadalupe Maravilla” runs through July 1.

About the Institute for Contemporary Art

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University is a noncollecting institution that showcases a fresh slate of changing exhibitions and programs. The ICA is a place to explore new ideas, providing an open forum for dialogue and collaboration across the region and the world. Mirroring the increasing emphasis on cross-disciplinary studies across VCU, the ICA has created a new environment for artists and scholars from around the world to test ideas. As a university-wide resource, the ICA links campus, community, and contemporary artists by supporting local creative communities, engaging an international network of contemporary artists and organizations, and encouraging collaborations with VCU departments, faculty, students and the Richmond community. The ICA is a responsive institution that offers a broad range of artistic perspectives with the goal of questioning assumptions and encouraging critical discourse. For more information on the ICA, please visit icavcu.org .

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Thirty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.