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Guadalupe Maravilla Appeals to the Children of War in a New Series of Retablos

Dating back to the late 18th century, retablos are small devotional paintings created to thank God or a saint for their protection during a particularly trying or dangerous event. In his show, Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana, Guadalupe Maravilla conjures this tradition as he nests narrative works inside spiny mixed-media sculptures that address the indelible impact of childhood trauma.

The exhibition title translates to “if you don’t heal today, you will heal tomorrow” and is a line from a song some Latin American parents sing to their children when sick. Maravilla invokes the lyric as he references his immigration to the United States unaccompanied by his parents, a deeply trying experience he often returns to in his practice. “I remember making sculptures of the bullets I found in the street when I was three to eight years old. The civil war in El Salvador was a war of brother against brother, sister against sister. Bless the healing forces that protected us,” he says.

In addition to the wall-based sculptures, two freestanding works are on view, both part of Maravilla’s ongoing Disease Throwers series. The towering assemblages reflect the artist’s enduring interest in healing and sound therapies following his colon cancer diagnosis. “El Brujo Disease Thrower,” for example, features a gong suspended from a purple woven chair.

Maravilla’s works are particularly timely given the increase in migration from Central and South American countries, along with Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza that has killed more than 12,300 children. Positioned on a blush wall with gold linework, “Letter to the Children Retablo” speaks to such atrocities as he recounts the tragic loss of a six-year-old friend named Luna as he fled the war in El Salvador. He writes:

“To those children experiencing war, I hope to meet you in the future and hug you. In the future I hope you are receiving & inspiring love in your communities. That you’re healing. That you formed a new family. That you become leaders. That you are saving the trees and the oceans, that you find a cure for cancer. That you solve many of the world’s problems that we caused. That you that you show us and teach us about what is humanity supposed to be, because we lost we that…I have failed you, America has failed you and the world has failed you. You are my family, you will always be in my heart. I’ll see you in the future.”