Homenaje: An Homage to Cecilia Vicuña

By Wendy Burk and Adela C. Licona

Written in conjunction with the Poetry Center's"Poetry Off the Page" symposium (2012).

In the months before the September 11, 1973 coup in Chile, Cecilia Vicuña set out to make a book of magic. The objects that she constructed—one each day—were intended to support Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government “politically, magically, and aesthetically” (p. 12). They were to be published by Beau Geste Press as an artist's book, "a journal of objects with beautiful black-and-white photos" (p. 159).

Then came the coup—a crushing military takeover that led to the death of President Salvador Allende, the abolishment of Chile’s democratically elected socialist government, and the beginning of 17 years of the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. As Vicuña notes, "the coup took place only a few days before production. I had to change plans and create a new work, and do it fast" (p. 159). This new work was Saborami: “a precarious edition, each book a piece of debris, una basurita editada” (p. 160) whose materials included zippers, wax paper, safety pins, stamps, and autumn leaves. In addition to objects, Saborami now contained poems that would be censored in Chile for the next 37 years, images of Vicuña's paintings, and the narrative of her 1971 installation Autumn. Everything that Vicuña knew was in danger of disappearing after the coup found a home in this precarious book.

In this way, when Saborami was published in November 1973, its magic took on a different meaning. Its pages kept alive the feminist, populist, socialist, animist energy of Vicuña’s dreams for her country and its histories, as well her desire for relations with other socialist countries in and beyond Latin America, at a time when such dreams and their dreamers risked death to find expression. As Vicuña writes, “We lost the memory of the ancient meanings.… A heart dropped into the sea with the bodies of the disappeared” (pp. 161–162).

In 2011, ChainLinks published a ‘semi-facsimile’ of Saborami, facilitating broader access to Vicuña’s influential and inspiring book. Our ephemeral installation honors Vicuña’s vision of lo precario, her commitment to liberation, and her belief that “art should be done by everyone” (p. 66).

(All quotes from the 2011 ChainLinks reissue of Cecilia Vicuña’s Saborami.)