Juan Davila

Yawar Fiesta (Fiesta Sangrienta)


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Not on display

Juan Davila born 1946
Oil paint and acrylic paint on vinyl
Support: 5000 × 6881 mm
Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, with support from the Qantas Foundation 2015, purchased 2018


Yawar Fiesta 1998 is a large painting on vinyl that takes its title and inspiration from a novel of the same name, published in 1941, by the Peruvian writer José María Arguedas. A classic literary work of the Latin American indigenista movement – a political ideology that draws attention to the rights of the oppressed indigenous peoples of Latin America – the novel’s plot centres on the occasion of an annual bullfight in Peru, and the resulting disagreements between the local authorities and the community of indigenous Peruvians who face increasing difficulties in upholding this tradition in the face of bureaucratic power. Intended to be displayed on the floor, Davila’s painting purposely aims to disorientate the viewer. The composition presents two opposing images of Spanish bullfights that serve as a foundation for juxtapositions of historical imagery and characters. One half of the composition overlays an image of the bullfight with an Australian emu hunt represented in the style of indigenous rock paintings, such as the Bradshaw (Gwion Gwion) in Western Australia. The other half of the work portrays the Peruvian bullfight as described in Arguedas’s novel. One of the defining characteristics of this violent spectacle is that a live condor is typically tied to the back of the bull. Over this scene appear a range of art historical quotations from Latin American constructivism, including representations of works by Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres-García (1874–1949), as well as the Argentinean Madí group, known for their innovations working across Latin American and European avant-garde movements.

Through these juxtapositions, Davila’s painting adopts a deliberately ‘postmodern’ stance, reframing historical events to emphasise their fragmentary, non-linear and irrational aspects. This aesthetic is directly connected to the expanded access and challenges brought by globalisation in the 1990s, in which artists and intellectuals foregrounded the aesthetic and philosophical value of cultural hybridity. Davila produced Yawar Fiesta at a time when he was experiencing a profound sense of dislocation from living as an exile from his native Chile in Australia. The work was first shown in the landmark São Paulo Biennial of 1998, Antropofagía and other Histories of Cannibalism, in which works like Davila’s were linked to the modernist philosophy of ‘anthropofagia’; in which identity was defined as the constant mutant devouring of all possible cultural milieus and references.

Chilean-born but resident in Australia since 1974, Davila is considered a central figure for contributing new languages in painting that address queer visual culture and aim to widen and contradict representations of historical events and narratives (see, for example, Love 1988 [Tate T15050]). Through often grotesque representations of human figures, Davila’s paintings, drawings and installations interrogate ideas and depictions of cultural, sexual and social identity, particularly with regards to the effects of political violence as well as sexual and racial discrimination. Much of his work explores the impact of colonial policies on indigenous peoples, both Amerindian cultures and Australian aboriginals. His paintings from the 1990s in particular, such as Yawar Fiesta, satirically intertwine contemporary politics and art historical references including European history painting, Latin American modernism, American pop art, Aboriginal art and native art traditions to address the impact of colonialism and neo-colonialism on contemporary culture.

Further reading
Juan Davila, Hysterical Tears, Farnham 1985.
Guy Brett, Roger Benjamin and Juan Davila, Juan Davila, Sydney 2006.
Dominic Eichler, ‘Juan Davila’, Frieze, 5 May 2007, https://frieze.com/article/juan-davila, accessed November 2017.
Kate Brigs, Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness, exhibition catalogue, Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra Griffith University, Brisbane 2011.

Inti Guerrero, Michael Wellen and Katy Wan
November 2017

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