The Perilous Journey of Maria Rosa Palacios, is a solo exhibition by world-renowned Ecuadorian artist based in New York, Karina Skvirsky, at our recently opened Sacred Valley of the Incas new exhibition space, in the highlands of Peru.
Text by Susanna V. Temkin
In Karina Aguilera Skvirsky’s most recent work, the New York based multidisciplinary artist introduces three-dimensionality to her ongoing Sacred Geometry series. Based on the Incan site of Ingapirca, the composite images depict the artist’s body juxtaposed with volcanic stones from the Amerindian archaeological site. Projecting beyond the photographic plane, these ancient boulders engulf Skvirsky, leaving only her hair, extended limbs, or in one case, just her fingertips visible. Yet, whereas her previous, two-dimensional photocollages created seamless, albeit uncanny hybrid forms, the addition of depth – the most existential dimension, according to philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty – introduces new ambiguities between rock and body. This tenuous contingency metaphorically visualizes the unique subjectivity that informs the core of Skvirsky’s practice, rooted as it is in the space between fact, fiction, memory, and the experience of her own personal narrative.
As the child of an American father of Eastern European Jewish origins and an Ecuadorian mother of Afro-Indigenous descent, Skvirsky draws on her cross-cultural and intersectional heritage in much of her work. In particular, her great-grandmother’s epic journey from the Ecuadorian highlands to the city of Guayaquil has been a critical departure point, marking not only a history that led to the artist’s eventual existence, but also serving as a “gateway,” to use the artist’s own words, to explore the seemingly impossible, the forgotten, and the inherited embedded in one’s personal experience. Through research into her family’s past, Skvirsky discovered that her great-grandmother’s migration took place prior to the completion of the railroad, such that her journey of nearly 600 km was done largely on foot, burro, and canoe – and all at the age of fourteen. Nearly a century later, Skvirsky retraced this path, by inserting her own self in the place of her maternal progenitor. The resulting film, “The Perilous Journey of Maria Rosa Palacios” is a (re)creation of an overlooked history, about an Afro-Indigenous woman who left home to find work as a domestic. It is also a work of mesmerizing simulacra, as the artist, who wears traditional clothing and encounters long-lost relatives along the way, seems to shift between past and present, Maria Rosa and Karina, history and parafiction.
It is these same fissures or slippages that are present in Skvirsky’s latest sculptural photographs, which probe farther into the past to explore the artist’s connection to her Amerindian culture. Indeed, although the works reveal an association between body and rock, the nature of this relationship remains open – are these images of union or erasure? Protection or violence? The addition of three dimensionality vis a vis the protruding stones further contributes to such perceptual shifts, as the eye moves between the various registers of figure, object, and ground. At the same time, this sense of depth reveals itself to be an illusion, as the “stones” are in fact two-dimensional photographs that lean at angles, to trompe l’oeil effect. Skvirsky’s process of photographing, cutting, folding, and shaping her “stones” echoes her Incan forebear’s hand-chiseling technique, translated across time and media, yet perhaps united by their Sacred Geometry.