The American-Bolivian artist Donna Huanca has become an internationally known in the last few years for her body of work that often includes live human figures. Much of her oeuvre examines her roots in Bolivia, and its juxtaposition with life in the Western world.
Early Years and Education
Hunaca’s parents were immigrants from Bolivia, and as a result, Donna traveled to Bolivia every summer as a child. Her parents didn’t allow English to be spoken at home, and were always talking about moving back to live in Bolivia. On their annual trips there, they regularly attended the Urkupiña festival, held in the small town of Quillacollo.
The festival has its roots in Catholicism, but has over time accepted a mix of Andean music, culture and tradition as well. This particular experience has shaped the artist’s work in many ways. The constant movement between the two Americas was also a formative experience for her, and also a study in contrast. On the one hand was all the color, music and glamour of the festival and on the other, daily life in Chicago.
Huanca enrolled at the University of Houston to study painting, receiving her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in 2004. Two years later, she received a fellowship to study at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, where she spent a year. A DAAD Artist Grant from the German government was awarded to her for 2009-10, and she studied at the Städelschule, Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Frankfurt that year.
Huanca began exhibiting her work in the mid-2000s, one of her first solo shows being at Plush in Dallas, followed by another at the Susan Inglett Gallery in New York in 2007. She received an ART MATTERS Grant in 2011, and a Fulbright Scholarship in 2012 for research in Mexico City.
She has also been an artist-in-residence at a number of institutions, including the Art Omi International Art Residency in 2008, as well as the Headlands Center for the Arts in San Francisco that year. She continued at the LMCC Swing Space, 77 Water in New York the next year. More recently, in 2013 she was the artist-in-residence at the Access Gallery in Vancouver.
A lot of Huanca’s work is architectural, in the sense that she creates spaces and levels as frameworks for her installations. These often incorporate naked people who have been painted, doused in latex or turmeric and wearing body stockings. The resulting tableaux vivants leave the viewer with a feeling of having been transposed to spaces that feel elementally elsewhere, on another continent. An effective measure is the inclusion of smell, a powerful sense that she uses on the audience to take them out of the gallery.
The artist lives and works nomadically.