At Cusco’s oldest art university, Bellas Artes Diego Quispe Tito, Vizcarra Wood learned important basics, like carving wood and stone by hand, digging clay for sculpting, and anatomy, but he felt limited by the university’s focus on European classical art and lack of modern art-making education. “My art didn’t fit,” Vizcarra Wood says. “I wasn’t able to fully express myself,” so he was creating his work outside of the school. Sensing his frustration, friends from Taels Pueblo told Vizcarra Wood about the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) art program and encouraged him to apply. Since January 2019, Vizcarra Wood’s studio has been an entire campus building – the Allan Houser Haozous Sculpture and Foundry Building – with classrooms dedicated to stone, wood, glass, metals, and fabrication; a slurry room; and outdoor areas to accommodate blacksmithing and stone sculpture. At IAIA he has access to a wide array of methods and materials and is encouraged to continue along his own creative path. “IAIA empowers Native people to express themselves and their culture and gives them a sense of leadership. It gives me a great opportunity to experience someplace else and to learn about Native and non-Native cultures coming together.” Vizcarra Wood is a certified Peruvian tour guide who takes visitors to some of Peru’s most beautiful places, including the Inca site of Huch’uy Qosqo, with ancient ruins of sacred temples, storehouses, and Inca Agricultural terraces. “I feel very connected to pre-Columbian ruins and to nature and the landscapes of these places,” he says. “in my culture, we believe everything is alive.” Spending time in these sacred locations and sharing his culture with visitors from other parts of the world inspires his art. When in Peru, Vizcarra Wood works in a small studio in a garden behind a house in Taray, which he shares with his extended family. The walls are roof of the small, open-air structure are semi-hidden by blossoming vines, and, depending on the season, tall stalks of corn and lush vegetation grow close by. From this verdant vantage point, he can glimpse several sacred mountains, including Mama Ñust’a, and Apu Inti Watana. These mountains, he says, are living beings, and so being in his outdoor workspace is like being surrounded by elders. Vizcarra Wood has been fashioning figures from bars of soap and creating 3-D objects since he was a child. However his first wood sculpture was crafted with handheld chisels in 2016. Carved from cedar and standing at three feet six inches, Machula (2016) depicts a giant of Peruvian folklore who is believed to have helped form the Earth. These giants dwell in sacred places of origin and are thought to awaken each November to remind Quechua people that elders possess strength through experience. Through his work, Vizcarra Wood tries to “communicate messages to awaken the conscience” of his people “about the importance of ancestral cultural identity,” he says. Rather than replicate ancient art, he relies on his imagination and intuitive impulses as he works, often letting the materials dictate the direction his carving takes to achieve a balance between being “immersed in this world of modernity without separating from our roots.” Vizcarra Wood’s Mallku (2017), which translates to “tree of life,” is a seven-foot by two-inch sculpture carved from a solid pine trunk. An intricately intertwined carved root system encases a skull at the sculpture’s base to illustrate the sacredness of heritage. Vizcarra Wood says, “Ancestors are the seeds from which we come, our precursors who guide us, with experience being the most precious inheritance, our roots and our foundation.” The root system continues up, as “we emerge from the ukupacha, the inner world.” An opening at the center of Mallku represents arriving at the immediate present through “a magical portal, a cosmic womb,” Vizcarra Wood explains. “Upward, from this metamorphosis, emerge a pair, male and female, to complement the opposites and help us understand the flow of life,” he says. In Ixi’im Xch’uup (2018), carved from cypress wood, the art depicts Sara Warmi, the spirit of the corn emerging from a corn stalk. The story of the spirit says that Sara Warmi came from the hot Mayan lands to the north and gravitated to the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the southern Andes of Peru, where she fell in love with the mountains and stayed forever. “Corn is the oldest grain that has fed [Peruvian people] for thousands of years,” Vizcarra Wood explains. “It is linked to the entire cultural process of the Indigenous Peoples of our continent as an integrating food.” Vizcarra Wood experiments with a variety of other media, such as paining, drawing on paper, ceramics, and short films. Two matching four-foot by five-inch, round fiberglass resin discs, titled Inti Killa (2017), represent the Andean concept the everything in life comes in Paris – day and night, moon and sun, hot and cold – while the presence of stars and clouds reference the hanapacha, or upper world. Another of Vizcarra Wood’s sculptures is Yanantin (2016), a nine-foot-tall acrylic resin piece that illustrates muquis, or spirts of the wilderness, engaged in “the game of life between opposites” resulting in the tinkuy, encounter, of love between male and female. in his art, Vizcarra Wood hopes to draw attention to the human destruction and neglect of our environment, which he refers to as “a moment of urgency in the face of serious contamination that affects Pachamama, mother Cosmos.” He gives value to the discarded by reinterpreting found objects to “create other realities.” in a line of jewelry titled Florecer Paz (2016), Vizcarra Wood transformed bullet shells found littering the landscape in Taos from what would otherwise be symbolic of violence and death into delicate interpretations of the sacred Inca flower kantas, representing beauty and life. incorporated into jewelry, these altered bullet casings are reminiscent of Navajo squash blossom necklaces. in another transformation, Vizcarra Wood employed stick welding to conjoin various metal objects to create Q’ente (2017), a hummingbird, which is a sacred Andean symbol of opposites – centered calm versus frenetic movement. More than two decades ago, Vizcarra Wood’s parents, along with four other families, formed the Kusi Kawsay (happy life) Association – an indigenous community in Peru’s Sacred Valley that is dedicated to honoring, cultivating, and celebrating the guiding principles of ayni, an Andean mandate of giving and receiving in all aspects of life. in this spirit, Native people from other areas are invited to join the Kusi Kawsay Association and participate in ancient Quechua ceremonies throughout the year. “We honor these customs for ourselves, but also host gatherings to share with other Native people from the rain forest and higher up in the Andes, from Venezuela. Even [people from] Canada and the Taos Pueblo,” Vizcarra Wood says. Continuing in the footsteps of their fathers and uncles, Vizcarra Wood and several friends from the Sacred Valley of the Incas are accomplished musicians devoted to reviving and performing traditional cusqueña music for future generations. Since spreading to New Mexico, these traditions have crossed borders, and, at IAIA, Vizcarra Wood is sharing his Quechuan culture and learning with scholars and artists from other Indigenous Nations and communities giving and receiving art and knowledge true to the Andean tradition of ayni. “New Mexico has a strong emotional presence inside me,” he says. “The smell of sage and piñon and the taste of green Chile, the canyon and river, the landscape – all these elements are deep within me.

The following excerpt was published by Trend magazine in the 2019 Summer edition and can be read in it’s entirety here:

An artist born in Taos, New Mexico, and raised in Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas would no doubt be a creator of art that celebrates the natural and spiritual.

Suni Sonqo Vizcarra Wood, 22, wears a long braid, a warm smile, and a traditional Peruvian ch’ullo – a variegated wool cap knitted by his uncle. Suni Sonqo means “generous heart” in the Quechua language. He is a member of the Quechuan community in Peru’s southern Andes, which is committed to reviving ancient ceremonial and agricultural calendars of the pre-Columbian traditions. “Together with a network of local and international indigenous Nations, we are dedicated to preserving our roots while embracing our future”, Vizcarra Wood says.

His Taos-born mother and Peruvian father raised him and his siblings in Taray, Cusco, but annual visits to Vizcarra Wood’s maternal grandmother’s house have made Taos their second home. “I was born in and old haunted adobe house that my grandmother lived in, and where my mother was raised. The backyard was on Native land with the river and willow trees. It was a very intimate birth on a beautiful, snowy January morning. I was created in Peru, had my first heartbeats there, but born in Taos”, he says of his history. “In my culture, we believe that where you are born, the apus – spirits of the mountains – will help to guide you. I have one apu in Taos Mountain and another one in Peru.” His favorite places in Taos include the hot springs near the Rio Grande Gorge, Taos Pueblo, and Lama Foundation. He and his sister attended Taos Day School and the Taos Waldorf School when the family spent time in New Mexico. “There was lots of creativity in these schools, which was not how the public schools in Peru are. I remember playing in the garden and learning about Nature”.

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