by Luis Lama
It is a recognized
fact in our medium today that the interest of Peru's arts has
focused over the past two decades on the work of our sculptors. They
have demonstrated sufficient energy and creativity to put forward
the proposals that have been able to revitalize art in Peru in this
second half of the twentieth century. Curiously enough, it is the
women sculptors capable of turning wood, marble or metal into works
of arts who have shown themselves to be the most skilled. It is they
who have toppled the notions of gender in art and have brought in
new ways of seeing and creating art. And in this terrain, Margarita
Checa occupies a foremost position. This artist was trained at the
Catholic University under the guidance of Ana Maccagno - teacher and
inspiration to Peru's most outstanding sculptors. Her work was
further enriched by the teachings of another notable Peruvian
sculptor, now deceased, Christina Galvez, who left behind
unforgettable works that tie her to schools of Bourdelle and
Her early works showed Margarita Checa to be the creator of a
fantastic universe under to hegemony of the human figure, at a time
when our sculpture was striving for abstraction. This was a period
when what we witnessed from her was a kind of phantasmagoric
dantesque-like world, worked in tiny formats. These gradually grew
into larger pieces in which anguish took the center stage, revealing
an inner torment that was reflected in both metallic volumes and
outstanding drawings, unrivalled today for their rigorous precision.
Gradually wood was to take the place of bronze as her material of
choice and Peru was to see bodies carved in super-human dimensions:
inscrutable women whose slender linearity moved is deeply. These
sculptures marked to beginning of Margarita Checa's maturity of
language, forms in which the anguish of living assumed more hidden
expressions and esthetic subversion sought not to create an impact,
but to lead to reflection. The sensuality of the carving of wood
gave birth to a strange physiognomy and the artist was able to endow
the dead material with a rhythmic vitality.
Margarita Checa's entry into the world of painting was an immersion
in a female world through a dense lubrication of shady jungles and
shadowed interiors. It was a memorable sample which she accompanied
with a wax sculpture in which woman and bird came together to show
the opening of a new course on her maturity.
Then came the silence. Margarita Checa left for Costa Rica and from
there we would hear about works laden with Central American woods,
where the carving was more elaborate and minute. Pleats and brocades
enriched their surface and woods of different tones were set into
incisions like jewels, in a highly enriching experience that could
well have been her individual manifestation of Caribbean tradition.
This became more noticeable with the applications of horn or metal.
A series of pieces on display in Corriente Alterna, on her return to
Peru, revealed an artist who, after three years of absence, had made
a surprising change in her working methods and achieved a different
refinement. This was a woman who had reached that moment of
plenitude in which beauty itself is reason for disturbance.
Today Margarita Checa is once again living among us, frequently
outside Lima where she can work in peace. The results of this
reencounter with her country are yet to be made known. But when we
analyze her two decades of work, the formidable energy she has put
into ti and the craftsmanship she has attained, we can no less than
expect new forms to emerge, different hints if sensuality and, why
not, that line has always identified her as one of Peru's most
by Iona S. Elliott
Margarita Checa is
considered by many to be the most celebrated sculptor from South
A product of her country, Peru, she's known for her figures composed
primarily of olive wood, many with inlays, exotic woods, and
bronzes, all intricate and emotionally compelling. With each new
form, she seeks to lead her sudience to reflection through a sensual
visual dialogue on the human spirit.
Says Margarita, "Many people have identified my work with Egypt,
with Africa in general, but not with the Peruvian culture. I feel my
work would not have the same meaning if I had not been born in
The elegantly carved bodies explore the anguish of living, the inner
torment universal to all cultures and their people. Bill Lowe, owner
of The Lowe Gallery in Los Angeles, California and Atlanta, Georgia
said, "She was destined to be a force in the international art world
and I wanted to be the engine that drove her evolution in the
commercial and curatorial arena."
Margarita Checa was born in Lima, Peru in 1950. She was one of four
daughters and two sons living in a large hacienda that had been in
her family for generations near Piura, on Peru's northwest coast
tip. Her father's family had a long tradition in agriculture while
her mother's was one of attorneys, Says Checa, "I believe these two
streams somehow marked my life".
Beginning in 1969 through 1980 her family was forced to take
worthless bonds for their homestead and pennies for their machinery
and move several times fleeing from revolutions and turmoil in Peru,
to Nicaragua, then to Costa Rica and back to Peru when it seemed
that their homeland was again secure. They brought with them the
green asparagus to Peru.
Margarita was always interested in art. While attending Hatchlands,
a British private school in Surrey, London,(just 14 girls from
around the world were in her class) the director, Dawn Hardgraves
who's husband was the messenger of the Queen, spoke to Margarita's
father and convinced him to let her study art in Paris. Although she
was allowed to go, Margarita decided to go to The Catholic
University, School of the Arts in Peru.
She entered the Catholic University to study drawing in 1972 and
started working in bronzes in 1977. At University, Checa met Anna
Macagno who introduced her to sculpture. Says Margarita, "I did
organic sculptures, tearing, bones, and when I felt that was not
fulfilling I dropped out of school to learn drawing with Cristina
and discovered many things, all of them priceless." She graduated
with honors in 1979 but Cristina Galvez, was her mentor, not only in
drawing but also in life. Says Checa, "Cristina influenced not only
my art but also my human side." Galvez had spent time in Paris,
married a Frenchman, studied with Germaine Richier, and was a friend
of Albert Camus'. She returned to Peru in 1953 for good and fought
for change. She thought that changes kept hope alive and worked
there up to her death in 1982.
Says Margarita "When my master passed away in 1982 we opened her
studio & rented it from her sister". She opened the Christina Galvez
Atelier along with Leslie Lee who was teaching painting, Ana Maria
Cogorno who taught pottery and Margarita was teaching sculpture and
In 1985, began painting because she felt that she did not understand
the nature of color. Says Checa, " life is never black and white
that is certain, so when I finally understood its essence, I quit it
after one year. I am mainly a sculptress".
Art was now her profession and in 1989, due to a need to enlarge her
pieces, she began to use wood as a medium. She said, "I had only
made one (wood) piece in school, I just did not feel the material
then, but I learned that everything has a pace and a rhythm,
specially life, at all levels. I felt that while a small piece is
something for you to guard, a big piece embraces you, so I went to
the old master carpenters in Peru and learned from them. Then wood
did its part, always teaching, guiding you."
Margarita taught for 12 years. She stopped when she moved to Costa
Rica in 1992. She says, "We decided to leave Peru because of the
terrorist movement, the Shinning Path, which destroyed Peru. "I went
to live in Costa Rica because it was difficult to raise two children
in those years because you never knew were the next bomb might be."
She left with her husband who she had married in 1972, her son Jose
Carlos, born in 1973 and now owns an e-commerce company and daughter
Carolina born in 1975, who's now an interpreter/translator and lives
From 1992 to 1995 Margarita, and her family lived in Costa Rica.
In 1995 Margarita had a very bad automobile accident, which forced
her to take some hard decisions and changes in her life. Checa, "Yes
I was seriously hurt and took me 3 months or more to recover. It
changed my life." She got divorced and came back to a Peru with her
She says of her current influences, "I long for the myth, I start
incrusting different elements in my work after seeing a cuchimilco
of the Chancay culture, one that has influenced a great number of
plastic artists in Peru. Most of the pieces of this culture are
privately owned rather that exhibited in museums. All my life I
lived through archetypes or symbols that I later used in my work,
this is the only way to keep their intensity. The puma came to me
after a long search between dreams and obsessions."
Margarita says of her early works, "It was a catharsis, like a
scream, like the first words coming out of the mouth of a child. I
believe that in order to make art you have to fly over your own
humanity to touch others, and this detachment comes with time and
tons of humility."
Checa used to teach to help support herself but since 1997 her art
sales have supported her although she thinks she may go back to
teaching at some point in the future because she love it but doesn't
have the time now. Says Marga rita, "I can tell you that teaching
was not simply giving lessons or so... I realized that I brought
home some of the inquiries, and I was constantly trying to find
different ways to transmit some ideas to the students.
In the United States she's represented by The Lowe Gallery in Los
Angeles, California and Atlanta, Georgia. Bill Lowe found out about
Margarita Checa by way of introduction from a correspondent friend
from CNN who encountered Checa's work in South America. Bill knew he
could place her work with his clients. Says Lowe, " I think
Margarita's "voice" is utterly unique in contemporary figurative
sculpture. Her ability to translate sweeping conceptual and
philosophical considerations into exquisitely crafted forms is
unparalleled in contemporary sculpture. While deeply mystical in
nature, these works eloquently articulate a groundedness in humanism
that makes them accessible to almost anyone."
She enjoys meeting her collectors when she attends the gallery
openings and explains, "The work of any artist is always very
lonesome, otherwise how could you hear yourself?. The fact of
showing your work in an exhibit is a confrontation. Selling is
absolutely necessary to continue producing, but more than that it is
the identification of the people with your art where you find an
echo, and that is wonderful."
Says Margarita, "My work is like a thread of life of mine that is
the one I have to live... If it helps others to let their fears go
or to find themselves in something or to identify themselves with
it, that would be an accomplishment."
Margarita uses the electric saw, pneumatic hammer, all kinds of
gouges, and the Dremmel tool with which she does the small detail
work. Her wood of choice is olive wood. She finds it hard to carve
but very easy to sand, and as soft as skin." Checa had bought 80
tons of olive wood that had been cut down. She says, "I am looking
for a new kind of wood, like the one I used to work on when living
in Costa Rica. It's called Guanacaste or Cenizaro.
Right now she is preparing to go to the jungle to buy some wood. "We
have the same trees here, but under different names. I often buy
trees that are already not alive and I am very careful about the
jungle so this will be the second time I go there to buy with care"
She still visits Costa Rica to see her son, her sister who is
married to a Costa Rican lawyer and to visit some friends but not
Margarita made only four new pieces this year, some of them she sent
to have cast in bronze, partly because she has been making trips to
the agricultural University to find out the names of the woods she
wants to buy, as well as well as building her foundry with her two
assistants who have worked with her since 1997. Her foundry will be
built in her studio which is 20 minutes from her home. Says Checa,
"I am building each machine and checking all, I took some lessons of
bronze foundry with George Beasley, at Georgia University."
I asked Margarita, where do you see yourself going? She replied, "To