Sandra Monterroso is a known textile artist whose work reflects gender issues and power structures. Inspired by the techniques and aesthetics of indigenous people from her native Guatemala, her work is often presented as installations.
Sandra Monterroso occupied the Studio House until December 16. During that time, she developed the project of the series Corazón delator: recetas para sanar heridas (Telltale Heart: Recipes to Heal Wounds), inspired by a story by Edgar Alan Poe and in indigenous recipes to cure evil eye. At the end of the residency period, the pieces were exhibited.
Monterroso’s artistic education includes a Ph.D. in artistic practices, a master’s in design processes, and a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. She lives and works in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Her oeuvre reflects gender and power themes and her commentaries about the colonial residues in contemporary society. She is inspired by the techniques and aesthetics of the indigenous population of her native country. She uses in her creative process artisanal procedures, such as fabric dyeing using natural components from her culture. Her pieces offer a point of encounter between the traditional and the contemporary and often are presented as soft sculptures and installations. Her work has been included in numerous international exhibitions in museums, institutions, and galleries.
Sandra Monterroso began her artistic career in performance art in 1999. She earned a B.A. in Graphic Design in 2001 followed by an M.A. in Design from Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP) in Puebla, Mexico. In 2020, Monterroso earned a PhD in Art Practice from the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien in Vienna, Austria. She has represented Guatemala in more than twelve biennials, including the 56th La Biennale di Venezia, the 12 Bienal de La Habana, and the Frestas – Trienal de Artes in São Paulo. Monterroso lives and works in Guatemala City.
In her work, Monterroso explores the dynamics of indigenous culture in the postcolonial era, gender issues, and other constructs of power across media including tapestry, painting, video, installation, and performance. Her influences include Cindy Sherman (USA), Gina Pane (France), Carolee Schneemann (USA), Ana Mendieta (Cuba), and Marina Abramović (Serbia), as she explores issues of identity and relational dynamics between genders and cultures. As Monterroso explains, “Behind the silence and the paradox of modernity and coloniality, I start taking as a symbolic reference more particularly the Mayan Q’eqchi’ language as an inheritance from my grandmother, whose linguistic structure is completely metaphorical.”
Monterroso has shown her work in selected exhibitions around the world, including the Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano (BAVIC), Museo de Arte de El Salvador (Museo MARTE), San Salvador, El Salvador (2006); Indigenous Voices, La Biennale di Venezia, Padiglione America Latina-IILA, Venice, Italy (2015); Art-Action Feministe: Panorama de la vidéo-performance féministe contemporaine latino-américaine, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (2009); Cosmópolis II, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (2019); To Weave in Blue, Poema al Tejido, The Martha and Robert Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art, University of Memphis, Tennessee, USA (2020); and Visionarios, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), Madrid, Spain (2009).
Monterroso’s work is included in the permanent collections of Centro de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Gurdián, Managua, Nicaragua; Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA), Colchester, England, UK; Fundación Paiz, Guatemala City, Guatemala; Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo (MADC), San José, Costa Rica; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), Madrid, Spain; YES Contemporary, Miami, Florida, USA; and many private collections
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS
Decolorando las Hebras and Colorando las Hebras (video, 2011), Arts of the Ancient Americas Jewel Box Gallery, Denver Art Museum, CO, USA
Sandra Monterroso: The Healing Paradox, Sicardi | Ayers | Bacino, Houston, TX, USA
Altar para pájaros, Instituto de Visión, New York, NY, USA
Cuerpos Infinitos: Sandra Monterroso, Musiq’ / Breath of the spirit, Casa del Lago UNAM, Mexico City, Mexico
Cuerpos Infinitos: Sandra Monterroso, Heart of the Windy Place (performance), Casa del Lago UNAM, Mexico City, Mexico
Threads of Memory, Sicardi | Ayers | Bacino, Houston, TX, USA
Dyed in the wool – the committed poetics of nonconformity, Cecilia Brunson Projects, London, UK
Artwork in Focus – Sandra Monterroso: Tu Ashé Yemanya, Cecilia Brunson Projects, London, UK
Las heridas también se tiñen de azul, Centro Cultural de España, Guatemala City, Guatemala
El agua se volvió oro, el río se volvió oro, el oro se volvió azul, Museo ExTeresa, Mexico City, Mexico
Hybris, NG Gallery, Panama City, Panama
Inchaq’na / Hermana Mayor, French Alliance, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Distorsiones e imperfecciones, The 9.99 Gallery, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Acciones para abolir el deseo, The 9.99 Gallery, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Efectos cruzados, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, San Salvador, El Salvador
Efectos cruzados, Galería Piegatto (Arte La Fábrica), Guatemala City, Guatemala
Meditando el error, Galería de Artes Visuales, Universidad Rafael Landivar, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Rakoc Atin. Palacio de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Sucesos Carcomidos, Galería El Attico, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Metabolismo, Centro Cultural de España, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Ave Fénix, Vestíbulo BANCAFÉ, Guatemala City, Guatemala
SELECTED PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
Essex Collection of Latin American Art, London, UK
Fundación Paiz para la Educación y la Cultura, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain
Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MADC), San José, Costa Rica
Ortíz Gurdián Foundation, Managua, Nicaragua
YAXS Foundation, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Yes Contemporary, Miami, FL, USA
The Healing Paradox
Exhibition text by independent curator and art historian Alma Ruiz
January 26 – March 16, 2023
The Healing Paradox
The Healing Paradox marks Sandra Monterroso’s second solo show at Sicardi | Ayers | Bacino. Continuing her interest in Guatemalan textiles as art-making material and as tools to address her country’s embattled history, Monterroso, an artist with Maya Q’eqchi’ roots, focuses her attention this time on more modest materials. Leftover fabrics from a local rug factory and organic cotton and linen embellished with embroidery and neon lights effectively become a compelling locus where discussions about healing wounds within a complex postcolonial heritage occur.
Monterroso utilizes soft materials paired with manufactured objects to construct visual paradoxes. For example, several pieces are made of fabrics originally destined for landfills. Woven by indigenous hands who labor for low salaries to produce beautifully crafted rugs for luxury homes, the scraps tangentially point to a socioeconomic hierarchy between the haves and have-nots. In rescuing the discarded materials, Monterroso performs a redeeming ritual, imbuing them with new life as artworks and, paradoxically, transforming them into repositories of the inequalities, discrimination, and racism that still exist toward marginalized groups without openly highlighting their victimization. In their conclusive form, the pieces are joined to create a whole, mending leads to metaphorical healing.
Color is an important signifier connecting Maya Q’eqchi’s culture to Monterroso’s personal history. The artist is known for her extensive use of indigo and cochineal dyes, with which she colors her textiles and yarns. There is evidence that the Mayas used indigo to create Mayan blue, a pigment developed in the late pre-Classic period, 1900 BC to 200 AD. It can be found in Mesoamerican pottery, murals, and archeological artifacts. The cochineal comes from a tiny cactus-dwelling insect harvested to produce a red dye. While the indigenous people used the red pigment to dye their textiles and for its healing properties and associations with divine light and the sun, the Spanish conquistadors viewed it as a source of wealth. As European demand for cochineal increased, its production became another form of indigenous exploitation. The inclusion of these pigments in the title of many of Monterroso’s works, for example, Like the Triangles: The Celestial Water and the Indigofera Give Us Back the Light and Like the Rhombus: The Earth and the Cochineal Give us Back the Light, underscores their relevance in the rituals of her ancestors and her role in preserving such knowledge. The triangle and diamond-shaped neon lights appended to the fabric stand in for territory/land; the slightly discernible circle inside the neon is a seed, a symbol of birth, growth, and land cultivation. To say that their inclusion seems paradoxical is true; their electric-powered presence gives back the light needed in an altered state of consciousness to enter a moment of reflection on modernity or, more precisely, on the open wounds resulting from the encounters and disagreements that occurred while going through this modernity.
Monterroso’s exploration of healing within a postcolonial context is also expressed in Rombhus to Heal Wounds, a beautiful, bright-colored cotton piece embroidered with recetas* widely used for physical and spiritual healing. Here we can find prescriptions for curing the evil eye, ‘frights,’ cancer, and other ailments. One of them reads, Prescription for the evil eye (non-physical): In a cloth bag, put a few grains of achiote (annatto) and some cross-shaped chili peppers, pass [the bag] all over the [patient’s] body, tracing the shape of a cross, and throw it into the fire. Many of the prescriptions found in this and other of Monterroso’s works come from Aspects of Popular Medicine in Rural Guatemala. Published in 1978 by the now-defunct Instituto Indigenista Nacional, this study responded to the growing interest of archeologists, sociologists, linguists, and other social scientists in third-world popular medicine and its psychosomatic practices. Long treasured by her family, the book was recently gifted to the artist by her maternal aunt.
Her increased usage of sewing to assemble textiles and organic fabrics into new works has led Monterroso to reflect on the role that sewing has played in her family history. Her maternal grandmother, aunts, and mother relocated to Guatemala City to work as seamstresses. This fact was irrelevant until recently when the artist acknowledged that, perhaps subconsciously, she was continuing the family trade with works like Organic Composition in Rhombus No.1 and No. 2, sewn cotton and linen tapestries colored with natural dyes. Like other components in Monterroso’s oeuvre, sewing has been successfully added to her artistic lexicon and joyfully embraced by the artist to honor and celebrate her maternal lineage and Maya Q’eqchi’ heritage.