Delia Cancela

1940 | Buenos Aires, Argentina
Delia Cancela — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Delia Cancela, photo: Celeste Leeuwenburg

Argentine artist.

From her abstract work in the 1950s to her soft sculptures made from cloth, Delia Cancela’s art has explored the obligations imposed on women in patriarchal society, gender stereotypes regarding how they dress, and female symbolism and sexuality. Her artistic career path has included an association with the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella (ITDT), the hub of the Argentine avant-garde in the 1960s, involvement with the European fashion scene in the 1970s and 80s, and work with techniques such as collage, drawing and painting, as well as wardrobe design, exploring fabrics on mannequins in her studio and bodies in fashion shows.
In 1964, D. Cancela began a creative partnership with Pablo Mesejean (1937-1991). Together they did installations, paintings, and wardrobe design for ITDT employees (Señalización de los empleados del Di Tella [Signage for Di Tella Employees], 1967) and stage sets for performances (Dance Bouquet, 1965, Drácula, 1966 and Aventuras, 1967). In 1965, at the Galería Lirolay in Buenos Aires, they presented their environment Love and Life, comprised of music, performances and a wall-to-wall representation of astronauts and spaceships. In those years they also did portraits of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Jean Shrimpton combined with images of clouds, hearts and floral bouquets.

After their first visit to Paris, in 1968, D. Cancela and P. Mesejean returned to Buenos Aires and held a fashion show with non-professional models, Ropa de Reisgo [Risky Clothing]. They put out a fashion magazine, Yiyisch, which they showed at the exhibition Experiencias‘ 68 at the ITDT. The next year, they left Argentina for New York, and then London in 1970, where they founded a brand called Pablo & Delia and made covers for Vogue and Harper´s Bazaar. By the mid-1970s, then living in Paris, the work of this duo was based on the conception of clothing as a language and as a collective creative process involving the participation of models.
D. Cancela’s almost two decades of production with P. Mesejean came to an end in 1980. Gradually, she began to consider clothing as a kind of soft sculpture (Sin título [Untitled], 2018), no longer a part of the fashion world but meant to cover multiple bodies and be shown in specific spaces. In her performance Coser y cortar [Sew and Cut, 2000] at the Centro Cultural Parque de España in Rosario, she covered a cloth soft sculpture with lapacho tree flowers that fade rapidly, a direct reference to her unwavering ecological concerns. Her paintings of those years returned to the representation of landscapes and nature as female bodies, a theme that first appeared in her 1962 Páginas Vogue [Vogue Pages].

In recent years, D. Cancela has combined her cloth work with an intense dedication to painting and drawing, continuing to employ an iconographic vocabulary including flowers, hearts and portraits. Some of her most notable works are a series of paintings in homage to Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), such as Te odio, te amo. Te amo, te odio y cómo llego a amarte a pesar de todo [I Hate You, I Love You. I Love You, I Hate You (and How I Manage to Love You Despite Everything, 2012)] and the production of pieces made of books wrapped in fabric, on which she portrays writers, filmmakers, musicians and other celebrities (the series Mis favoritos [My Favourites], 2005-2009).

Agustin Díez Fischer

Translated from from Spanish by Leo Stephen Torgoff.

A notice produced as part of AWARE’s academic network, TEAM: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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