Guadalupe Maravilla

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Guadalupe Maravilla Transforms a School Bus into an Immersive Installation for Sound-Based Healing

May 25, 2023

Grace Ebert

A chrome and silver school bus with spiritual and sculptural details

“Mariposa Relámpago” (2023), mixed media, approximately 13 × 8.5 × 35 feet. All images by GLR Estudio Gerardo & Eduardo Lopez, courtesy of the artist and P·P·O·W, New York, © Guadalupe Maravilla, shared with permission

Chrome plating, fringe made of humble kitchen cutlery, illuminated chandeliers, and symbolic sculptures of flora and fauna adorn a school bus parked at the ICA Watershed in the Boston Harbor Shipyard. The elaborately retrofitted vehicle is the largest project to-date by Guadalupe Maravilla and the latest addition to his Disease Thrower series.

Born out of the artist’s traumatic experience immigrating as an unaccompanied minor and suffering from colon cancer as an adult, the ongoing body of work evinces the healing power of sound and vibration. Titled “Mariposa Relámpago,” or lightning butterfly, the new work has had several lives before making its way to Boston: the bus was first used for transporting students in the U.S., then sent to the artist’s native El Salvador, and finally ended up in his studio where it underwent its current transformation.


The front of a chrome and silver school bus with spiritual and sculptural details, including Mayan inspired sculptures and a model of human anatomy

Detail of “Mariposa Relámpago” (2023), mixed media, approximately 13 × 8.5 × 35 feet

Fastened to the vehicle’s body are several objects Maravilla found while retracing the 3,000-mile route he traveled as an eight-year-old to reunite with his parents, who had fled the country’s civil war. Included are references to Mayan cosmology and indigenous practices, spiritual emblems, and more contemporary imagery of disease and medicine, including a model of human anatomy resting atop the hood. Gongs and other tonal objects suspend from the sides, which Maravilla rings during his ritualistic sound baths. These sessions, which he’s hosted specifically for undocumented immigrants and those dealing with cancer, are known to reduce stress, anxiety, and tension that can worsen the pain of illness and injury.

Also in the exhibition at the Watershed are smaller paintings, scale models, and Disease Thrower sculptures made of mixed natural and synthetic materials that similarly reflect the artist’s exploration of displacement and recovery. Immersive and totemic, the works are part of the artist’s effort “to confront trauma in order to heal.”

Guadalupe Maravilla: Mariposa Relámpago is on view through September 4, with two sound baths scheduled for June 10 and August 13.


A massive beetle sculpture sits on a chrome with butterknife fringe below

Detail of “Mariposa Relámpago” (2023), mixed media, approximately 13 × 8.5 × 35 feet

A metallic crocodile head juts off the side of a school bus

Detail of “Mariposa Relámpago” (2023), mixed media, approximately 13 × 8.5 × 35 feet

Two detail images, on the left, the steps of a bus with Mayan-inspired sculpture and cutlery fringe, on the right, a floor and spoon fringe

Detail of “Mariposa Relámpago” (2023), mixed media, approximately 13 × 8.5 × 35 feet

Visitors walk inside a chrome and silver school bus with spiritual and sculptural details

“Mariposa Relámpago” (2023), mixed media, approximately 13 × 8.5 × 35 feet

Guadalupe Maravilla sits on a chrome and silver school bus with spiritual and sculptural details

The artist in “Mariposa Relámpago” (2023), mixed media, approximately 13 × 8.5 × 35 feet

A wide aluminum sculpture with a gong at the top center sits on the floor

“Disease Thrower #14” (2021), cast aluminum, steel tubing, assorted welded details, 86 × 143 × 79 inches




Art Documentary Music

Through Totemic Sculptures and Sound Art, Guadalupe Maravilla Explores the Therapeutic Power of Indigenous Ritual

August 11, 2021

Grace Ebert

In 1984, eight-year-old Guadalupe Maravilla left his family and joined a group of other children fleeing their homes in El Salvador. The Central American country was in the midst of a brutal civil war, a profoundly traumatic experience that’s left an indelible impact on the artist and one that guides his broad, multi-disciplinary practice to this day.

Now based in Brooklyn, Maravilla works across painting, sculpture, and sound-based performances all veiled with autobiography, whether informed by the Mayan architecture and stone totems that surrounded him as a child or his cancer diagnosis as a young adult. His pieces are predominately therapeutic and rooted in Indigenous ritual and mythology, recurring themes the team at Art21 explores in a new documentary.


“Guadalupe Maravilla & the Sound of Healing” follows the artist as he prepares for his solo exhibition on view through September 6 at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City. Titled Planeta Abuelx, or Grandparent Planet—Maravilla expands on the often-used idea of Mother Nature to broaden its scope—the outdoor show is comprised of the artist’s trademark Disease Throwers, towering headdresses and shrines made of recycled aluminum. Allusions to Central American culture bolster the monumental works, with imprints of corn cobs, wooden toys, and other found objects planted throughout.

Covering the surrounding grass are chalky white markings, a signature component of the artist’s practice that delineate every space where he installs a piece. The abstract patterns evoke Tripa Chuca, one of Maravilla’s favorite childhood games that involves players drawing lines between corresponding numbers to create new intertwined motifs.


In Planeta Abuelx, Maravilla pairs his visual works with meditative performances that are based on the sound baths he used for pain management while undergoing chemotherapy. These healing therapies are designed to reduce anxiety and tension that often trigger stress-induced diseases. Using gongs and glass vessels, the palliative remedy has been the foundation of workshops the artist hosts for undocumented immigrants and others dealing with cancer that more deeply connect his totemic artworks to the viewers.

“Having a community that has gone through similar experiences can be really empowering,” he says. “Making these elaborate Disease Throwers is not just about telling a story from my past, but it’s also about how this healing ritual can continue in the future, long after I’m gone.”

If you’re in New York, Maravilla is hosting a sound bath to mark the close of Planeta Abuelx on September 4, and you can see more of his multivalent projects on Instagram. For a larger archive of documentaries exploring the lives and work of today’s most impactful artists, like this visit to Wangechi Mutu’s Nairobi studio, check out Art21’s site.