Kukuli Velarde · Plunder Me, Baby

Kukuli Velarde’s haunting, irreverent and feisty ceramic sculptures from her Plunder Me, Baby series expose the critical relationships between gender and race in the formation of identity, power relations and visual representation in Latin America.

Velarde mimics the look, shape, feel, design and aesthetics of ancient, pre-Columbian ceramics and then subverts their integrity to create wicked and monstrous figures that taunt the viewer with their impudence. Each figure repeats the same female face (her own) that grimaces, pouts, sneers or blows kisses to the viewer. Velarde’s works are ironic, biting and even humorous in their exploration of feminist and cross-cultural issues.

The original pre-Columbian ceramics that have inspired this series represent a rich form of aesthetic innovation native to the Americas, as well as the equally rich mixing of cultures, traditions, and peoples that happened after European colonization. By creating these animalistic and convoluted figures, Velarde brings to the fore the violent roots of contact between Europe and the Americas.

Exploring the dynamics of the power of display and patronage, Velarde presents this series as if it were an authentic collection of ancient ceramics on view in a museum. Numerous anthropological, natural history and fine art museums maintain large collections and displays of pre-Columbian artifacts, which in the past often remained decontextualized. Throughout the 20th century, museumgoers and curators alike reveled in the “exoticism” and “mystery” of the artistic production of the indigenous cultures and civilizations of the Americas.

According to Velarde, “My installations of ceramic pieces are reminiscent of pre-Columbian art beautifully displayed in the best museums of the Western world, definitely well respected and fully admired...the spoils of wars? My works are awakened, and they are aware of being watched. They may be very well taken care of, but they are trapped, estranged of context and stripped of all meaning. Each is titled with pejorative names, the same ones I have endured because of my indigenous ancestry. They all have my face – for I had to become each of them to reclaim ownership and to take the name calling with defiance. They show in their attitudes and gestures the rebellious spirit that should never abandon our hearts.”

Kukuli Velarde is a Peruvian artist based in the United States since 1997. She received her bachelor of fine arts degree from Hunter College of City University of New York. She currently lives and works in Philadelphia.