Donna Huanca is a Bolivian-American artist whose expansive oeuvre spans various mediums, including painting, sculpture, installation and live performance.Read More
Born in 1980 in Chicago, Illinois, Huanca attended the University of Houston, Texas before studying at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and Städelschule, Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Germany. Her installations are comprised of paintings, sculpture, and live performances, culminating in multi-sensory experiences specific to each site. Huanca lives and works between Berlin and New York.
Donna Huanca's work is centred around the human body and its relationship to identity and space. Her work challenges the male gaze, while incorporating narratives of femininity and indigenous cultures. Drawing inspiration from ritual codes rooted in Andean culture, she explores the transcendental and transformative qualities of the body. Her goal is to awaken awareness of its profound connection to the natural world, a nexus encompassing life, death, transformation and existence itself. She employs live models in her works, harnessing the human body as an effective medium of expression.
Since 2012, her multidisciplinary installations have featured painted models, which she aptly terms 'skin paintings'. These models interact with the artworks and their surroundings, without a set choreography. Huanca's aim is to provide performers with the freedom to shape their own experiences within the setting of the sculptures and their given environment. Her work transforms art institutions into spaces for housing not just artworks, but live—mostly female—performers, thereby challenging colonial and sexist power dynamics in the art world.
For example, in her installation, Obsidian Ladder (2019), showcased at the Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles, an eight-panel painting served as the backdrop for performers adorned in paint and garments designed by Huanca herself. The mix of cisgender women and trans models acted as both surrogates for the artist and agents of their own experience, taking place in the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, a site of male power. Confined within the exhibition space, Obsidian Ladder allowed for femme mark-making with models who represented a range of feminine tropes.
These performances are often durational, blurring the boundaries of time and space. In her quest to create multi-sensory experiences, sound and scent play pivotal roles in cultivating deeper sensory experiences and evoking memories from the audience. In Scar Cymbals (2015), presented at the Zabludowicz Collection in London, she created a site-specific presentation in the former chapel, guiding viewers through a series of installations. She concealed and revealed the naked body under layers of paint, latex and cosmetics, while fragrances derived from Palo Santo and Texas cedar, traditionally burned as ceremonial incense, permeated the space.
In her work, Huanca seeks to find contemplation and solace by balancing the intensity of her gestural paintings with the slow and dynamic movements of the human form. Her two-dimensional paintings are a continuation of the performative elements of her work, as photographs of her performers' painted bodies are transposed onto canvas and reworked with paint. This process allows Huanca to establish connections between the colours and forms on her models, forging a delicate balance between the ephemeral choreography of performance art and the permanence of painting.
Her colour palette, inspired by geological formations and the plumage of birds of paradise, results in distinctive hues of green, blue, pink, yellow, orange and white. In addition to paint, Huanca incorporates an eclectic array of materials, including hair, healing clays, cosmetics, charcoal and turmeric.
Solo exhibitions include: BLISS POOL, Space K Seoul, Korea (2023); HAYUMARCA OJOS, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg (2023); WET SLIT, Simon Lee Gallery, London (2020); LENGUA LLORONA, CopenhagenContemporary, Denmark (2019); and __Piedra Quemada, Belvedere Museum, Vienna (2018–2019). Huanca has presented in group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp, Belgium; Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland; and Malmö Konsthalle, Sweden.
Huanca has been the recipient of the DAAD Artist Grant and a Fulbright research grant.
Ocula | 2023