Artforum on Feliciano Centurión: Abrigo

By Chloe Wyma

Centurión's queer textuality conveys the gravest matters of life and death through the decorative and often devalued idiom of feminized housework, writes Artforum's Chloe Wyma.

Que en nuestras almas no entre el terror (May Fear Not Enter Our Souls). This plea—the title of a piece by Feliciano Centurión—is as urgent today as it was in 1992 when the Paraguayan artist, diagnosed that year with HIV, delicately stitched the words in red cursive letters onto a scrap of fabric. "Abrigo" (Covering) is an exhibition at the Americas Society devoted to the extraordinary and intense textile-based works Centurión made in the last six years of his life. Curated by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, this show marks the debut of Centurión's work in the United States. Its appearance here, nearly a quarter century after the artist's death from AIDS-related illness in 1996, feels timely in its resonance with current discussions around affect, caregiving, and mortality...

Centurión's most meaningful intervention wasn't in the realm of painting, however, but in the area of language, the materiality of which he stressed by embroidering epigrammatic phrases onto handkerchiefs, doilies, tablecloths, and other textile scraps salvaged from secondhand markets. From a sentimental cliché embroidered on the front of an apron (MI CASA ES MI TEMPLO [My house is my temple]) to a declaration of faith on a length of Paraguayan lace (TU PRESENCIA SE CONFIRMA EN NOSOTROS [Your presence is confirmed in us]) to a health update on printed fabric (mis globulos rojos aumentan [My red blood cell count increases] or a smple affirmation inscribed in the center of a flower (ESTOY VIVO [I am alive]), Centurión's queer textuality yokes the readymade to the autobiographical, the conventional to the expressive, conveying the gravest matters of life and death through the decorative and often devalued idiom of feminized housework. In one of his last pieces, which he made while hospitalized, Centurión confronts his imminent departure in a single, courageous word, gracefully embroidered on a lace-trimmed cushion: REPOSA (Rest).

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