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‘Mariposa Relámpago’ — a monumental installation and act of healing at ICA Watershed

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘Mariposa Relámpago’ — a monumental installation and act of healing at ICA Watershed
Maravilla, shown with his sculpture PHOTO: MEL TAING

The ICA Watershed in East Boston opened for its 2023 season last week with “Guadalupe Maravilla: Mariposa Relámpago,” a monumental, healing sound and sculpture installation exploring the artist’s migratory journey from El Salvador to the United States.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is the sculpture “Mariposa Relámpago,” commissioned by the ICA. It’s a school bus that was once used in the United States and then saw a second life in El Salvador. The bus has been transformed into a glittering and interactive sculpture. “I came here when I was eight years old on a bus, undocumented and unaccompanied. I wanted this bus to have a similar journey,” says Maravilla. “It was the most challenging work that I’ve made by far.”

“Disease Thrower #00,” 2023. PHOTO: Mel Taing.

To reconcile with the trauma of his migration, Maravilla traveled the same route as an adult and collected objects along the way. These forks, statues, sculptures and other materials were purchased from markets in towns where he once feared discovery by immigration authorities. Now they adorn the bus. Creating “Mariposa Relámpago” was an act of healing for the artist himself. In addition to that piece, there are three other large sculptures in the show, including two from Maravilla’s Disease Thrower series which allows for viewers to lie inside the sculpture and physically absorb the sound vibrations from the attached gong.

“Sound as medicine is a big part of the work that I do,” the artist says. Maravilla is also a cancer survivor, and it was during radiation when he discovered the healing power of sound waves. All four sculptures in the Watershed exhibition are equipped with gongs. When the gongs sound, they create a sound bath that calms the nervous system. The artist will perform several sound baths free for the public throughout the summer, on June 10 and August 13.

Guadalupe Maravilla performs a healing sound bath PHOTO: CHRIS CARDOZA

Surrounding the sculptures is a series of retablos, paintings in the style of devotional art, that depict Maravilla’s journey from El Salvador to the United States. The story is also written in Spanish and in English alongside the paintings. When the exhibition first opened to the public, an East Boston visitor discovered she had made the same migratory journey as Maravilla, just a few months apart. Along the walls of the exhibition is a site-specific Tripa Chuca wall drawing. Tripa Chuca is a children’s drawing game that Maravilla grew up playing. Maravilla made this piece with a young East Boston artist and DACA recipient, Jesus Morales.

Much of Maravilla’s work is done outside of museum walls, assisting undocumented immigrants in the United States. In conjunction with “Mariposa Relámpago,” the ICA has partnered with Eastie Farm, Maverick Landing Community Services and Veronica Robles Cultural Center to feature local organizations here in Boston where immigrants can find similar support.

Maravilla’s artwork is not just profound for its beauty and symbolism but for its active use as a therapeutic tool. “Healing is difficult,” he says. “Healing is challenging. And these are the instruments that can do it.”

arts, Guadalupe Maravilla, ICA Watershed, immigration, migration, sculpture
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