The healing art of harmonic vibrations

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In 2019, archaeologists published findings that sculptors from Monte Alto, a pre-Mayan civilization in Central America, made the navels and cheeks of their massive figures out of magnetized stone. The purpose of this, one theory suggests, was to personify the human life force. New York artist Guadalupe Maravilla’s magnificent “Disease Thrower” series in steel and cast aluminum – towering sculptures on display at the Socrates Sculpture Park until Labor Day – is guided by a similar principle: the sculptures incorporate gongs, which the forty-four-year-old artist plays as a vibratory healer, transforming works of art into therapeutic instruments. Long before social media platforms were inundated with vibrations and sound baths became a goop-sanctioned way to relax, the ancient mystics of Mesoamerica (also from Egypt, Greece, and Greece). ‘Himalayas) were tuned to the medicinal power of harmonic vibrations.

Maravilla, of Mayan and Métis descent, was born in El Salvador and arrived in the United States in 1984 at the age of eight as an unaccompanied minor fleeing the civil war. (The trauma of the immigrant experience is one of the permanent subjects of his art.) He attended art school in New York City, earning a BA from the School of Visual Arts, in 2003, and an MFA. from Hunter College a decade later. . He then studied with one of the greatest masters of the American gong, octogenarian Don Conreaux. The circumstances in which the student found his teacher are, like other aspects of Maravilla’s biography, remarkable.

About eight years ago, the artist was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent debilitating radiation therapy. A friend suggested he might find relief through alternative therapy. As Maravilla later described the experience of her first sound healing session, “Don played in front of me while I was lying on the floor. When I arrived I could barely walk because I was in so much pain. After the sound bath, I was able to get up on my own, take the metro and go home. So that day I knew that if I was to beat cancer, I would like to learn to play these instruments. The radiation was successful and the artist began training with Conreaux and using gongs as the main material in his shamanic sculptures, which he calls “healing machines”. To mark his metamorphosis, he got rid of the name he was given at birth, Irvin Morazan, and assumed a new identity, combining his birthday, December 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. , along with Maravilla, part of the alias her father, an undocumented immigrant, uses in the United States

Guadalupe Maravilla and skilled sound healers performed a sound bath as part of the artist’s installation at Socrates Sculpture Park.Photograph by Mark DiConzo / Courtesy of the artist, Socrates Sculpture Park and PPOW

Maravilla’s installation in Socrates, on the Long Island City waterfront, also pays homage to her ancestors. Its expansive title is “Planeta Abuelx”, which translates to “Planet Grandparent”. (The “x” riffs on both the word “Latinx” and gender neutrality ideas.) The centerpiece is a new pair of “Disease Thrower” sculptures, the artist’s largest to date ( one of the gongs sounds while climbing a ladder), and the first to be made of metal. Previously, as seen earlier this year in Maravilla’s superb “Seven Ancestral Stomachs” exhibit at the PPOW gallery, the main elements of these sculptures (apart from the gongs) were plants: loofah, corn husks and reeds, which the artist found during trips to Central America. The resulting freestanding totemic assemblages – taller than most humans – could be partly taken apart and worn as headdresses. There is also a plant element in Socrates’ installation: a twenty-meter-wide garden, encircling the sculptures of the “Disease Thrower”, in which medicinal plants and beans, corn and squash – the “three sisters , A staple of many diets indigenous to the Americas, are developing.

Maravilla’s art is in conversation with her ancestors in the art world, as well as with her Mayan / Métis ancestors. The medium of sound art is more than a century old, going back to the Futurists. Swedish abstract painter Hilma af Klint believed her paintings were portals to higher spiritual realms. (Obscure during his lifetime, af Klint now rivals Sally Rooney as a millennial talisman.) Formally, Socrates’ “disease throwers” would make energetic companions for the work of park founder Mark di Suvero, another political artist. conscientious, who recycles scrap metal into remarkable monuments. In the 1970s, Brazilian modernist Lygia Clark came to believe that art could have healing power, and she began to use her objects in healing sessions with clients; unlike Maravilla, she felt compelled to give up her career as an artist to do so.

By the late 1990s, the theory of “relational aesthetics” dominated the world art circuit – it doesn’t matter that every work of art already exists in relation to the world around it. Serving meals, hosting sleepovers and setting off fireworks have become new art forms. Yet, serious as the artists’ intentions were, their work often felt diminished by its insularity – acts of novelty entertaining a captive audience as it bounced between the Basel Art Fair in Miami and Switzerland. But, more recently, conceptually-minded activists from Theaster Gates to Tania Bruguera have undertaken projects that directly benefit communities that galleries and museums rarely serve. Openness to New Age alchemy is also on the rise: photographer Deana Lawson has strategically placed crystals in her current exhibit at the Guggenheim.

As the star of Maravilla has risen in artistic circles—MOMA acquired “Disease Thrower # 5” in 2019 – his commitment to sharing his gift beyond these circles has only deepened. Throughout the pandemic, he provided sound baths for undocumented migrants in a Brooklyn church. (Art 21 filmed one of the events for the documentary short “Guadalupe Maravilla and the Sound of Healing.”) His final healing session in Socrates takes place in the late afternoon on September 4th. (The rainy date is September 5; the event is free, but registration is required through socratessculpturepark.org.)


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