Athena Quispe

Published in Issue 20
Text by Rebecca Storm

Yanapaway, 2018, Oil paint, acrylic paint, cochineal, toilet paper, polyurethane and glitter, 72 x58 x4

On the pad-like extremities of nopal cacti, Cochineal insects thrive. Their bodies—when dried and pulverized—are highly pigmented, delivering a rich, berry-red hue that renders them ideal for processing into stains and dyes. Other variations of shade can be achieved, too: intense purple, “by crushing Cochineal and adding a squeeze of lime and baking soda,” explains Peruvian-American artist, Athena Quispe. Her grandmother’s practice of using natural pigments such as Cochineal, as well as “the soft green colors she created by boiling plants,” were early inspirations for Quispe’s approach to image-making.

In the late 90s and early 00s, before the bustle of gentrification in the area, Quispe worked as a vendor in Santee Alley as a child. She recalls observing a green light when they were packing up the stall around 6pm every night: “[it] was such a respite to be under, the same green light still illuminates that space and the vendors area.” The green also appears in many of her works—employing color and native language, Quispe’s process functions as a remembrance of her lineage, as it grapples with the seeming rootlessness inherent of the psychological dissonance and dysphoria of her Peruvian-American identity. Quispe imagines realities free from the gentrification of culture and place, romanticized planes that maneuver the nebulous separation between alienation and belonging. This tension is echoed through the physical depth of each piece—the sculptural topography of the works, combined with the painterly treatment of shadows, situates them in an obscured dimension, at once tactile and elusive. Is it possible to physically be a part of what I see? Quispe creates and eulogizes her Andean legacy—verdant, vibrant markers buoyed up in the dulling turbulence of American society.

Room from East Los Angeles, 2018
Oil paint, acrylic paint, cochineal, toilet paper, polyurethane, glitter, and sand
72 x58 x3 inches

My Aunt’s Jumper Business in Gentrified Los Angeles, 2019
Cochineal, glitter, acrylic paint and transfer on raw canvass
72 x 58 inches

Silent Calamity in Huánuco, Peru, 2018
Cochineal, acrylic paint, oil paint, toilet paper, gold leaf sheet, wool, and sand
72 x58 x4 inches

Displacement is the Stressor, 2019
Cochineal, acrylic paint, and polymer on raw canvass
72 x58 x3 inches