Treasured Objects: Gonzalo Casals

Treasured Objects: Gonzalo Casals

Contributors share the personal significance of handcrafted gifts they’ve received.
multimedia artwork in the style of a mobile featuring two eviscerated chickens hung from one leg

Photo by Sol Aramendi.

Two birds hanging from an old cast-iron scale play a perfect balancing act—a metaphor that applies to every aspect of this artwork. Their colorful feathers, carefully cut from vintage upholstery fabric, capture the viewer’s gaze and direct it to the birds’ wounded chests. The gory entrails, made out of discarded clothes, spill out of the birds’ carcasses, pushing spectators to almost instantly look away from the soft cotton organs and back to the seductive, vibrant feathers.

In this 17th-century-still-life meets Latin-American-magical-surrealism soft sculpture, balance quickly turns into tension. The captivating beauty of taxidermy mixed with the violent tradition of cock fighting speaks of nuanced, multilayered identities at play.

multimedia artwork in the style of a mobile featuring two eviscerated chickens hung from one leg

Photo by Sol Aramendi.

I was instantly drawn to the balanced tension inherent in the confection and ideas behind Till Death Do Us Apart, the title of this artwork, made and given to me by artist Tamara Kostianovsky. Like me, Tamara identifies with the eclectic Latin American heritage rooted in the syncretic amalgamation of European, Native American, and African cultures.

Furthermore, our shared experiences of growing up in Argentina under a violent dictatorship, followed by an explosion of cultural freedom marking the return to democracy, and then an economic exile to the United States, force us to balance the tension between who we are and who we are expected to be.

Ethnic, racial, gender, and—in my case—sexuality constructs seem too monolithic and stereotypical at times. Those constructs are simplified portraits of “the other” created by the mainstream to safely approach us, reducing us to a distilled, more digestible version of ourselves. By making violence self evident in an otherwise aesthetically pleasing object, the artwork acts as a mirror to our experiences.

From deep blue to bright orange and many shades of red, the colorful feathers are just an aspect of these birds’ story and the cultures and traditions that inspired the work. Queer, Latinx, immigrant, and New Yorker are some of the identities that I carry on my back. Each of them has afforded me moments of privilege and oppression in my mind. All combined, although a constant balancing act, it’s what makes me unique.

Gonzalo Casals is commissioner of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and previously held the executive director position at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York.

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Cover of Winter 2022 issue of American Craft