New 'Obsidian Ladder' Exhibit Features Live Painted Models

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Marciano Art Foundation

Donna Huanca’s OBSIDIAN LADDER triggers the senses through painting, sculpture, sound, scent, and performance. This new topography, which is strikingly different from the rest of the building, transports visitors to another world—a femme realm of reconciliation, creation and trust. This gesture fractures the museum’s site as a former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple that was built by and for men.

Every Saturday, painted femme models inhabit Huanca’s environment. Their movements through the space are self-determined, not bound to any direction from Huanca. She says,“These individuals are essential to the empowering process of reclaiming this space. My work has always been a poetic gesture commenting on societal imbalances and injustices. As I have had more opportunities to exhibit publicly, in different contexts globally, my work has evolved to directly confront patriarchal realities, power dynamics, and hierarchies of contemporary life.”

The artist’s process of femme mark-making is rooted in scientific and natural phenomena, as well as meditative practices. Huanca identifies with the Andean Futurism movement, which aims to reclaim and celebrate indigenous identity by employing the mythologies, costumes, and relics of Andean culture in order to create a futuristic vision that is not based on imposed colonial culture. Using skin as both canvas and performative tool, Huanca deconstructs dominant gender and body politics, introducing a non-objectifying gaze focused on memory, biology, and time.

Huanca’s use of natural materials, such as raw pigments, oils, turmeric, sand, and clay, is essential to her developing an other-worldly environment. In her skin paintings—a term that refers to both the painted live models and the hanging canvases—she layers these materials with fragments of paint, latex, and other skin-like substances. This material link between the works, including the painted humans that navigate her sculptural landscapes, creates a tactile ecosystem.

In its willingness to engage femininity intuitively, the work stands as a challenge to the exhibitionism and objectification that pervade contemporary American life. OBSIDIAN LADDER invites us to connect to a powerful feminine essence that is inherent to nature and creation.

Performances are scheduled from 11AM to 5PM every Saturday. The models have complete agency over their bodies, environment, and time. Visitors may or may not encounter them during their visit.

Click here to reserve your tickets.

Anabel Marquez