Teresa Burga

1935 - 2021

Born in Iquitos (PE), died in Lima (PE).

Teresa Burga studied painting at the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima. Between 1960 and 1962, she interrupted her studies to accompany her father, an admiral in the Peruvian navy, on his diplomatic mission to Paris and London. After graduating in 1965, she founded the Grupo Arte Nuevo with Jaime Dávila, Gloria Gómez-Sánchez, Luis Arias Vera and several others. This collective brought new art movements such as Pop Art, Minimalism and Fluxus to Peru. 

In her Bodega paintings from the early and mid-1960s, she captures the dynamism of daily life in the city, zooming on women who go to bars alone only to be subjected to displeased male gazes or who stare out of the window in an empty living room sat next to a flowerpot, or have to fend off advances while on the phone, women who knit or stare forlornly ahead at a funeral, or other marginalised women such as prostitutes. Burga described her painting style as controlled expressionism in reaction to the traditional, exuberant, dramatic and emotional art movement previously popular in Peru. This austere, understated style highlights the precarious self-determination of women within the patriarchal society she depicts. 

During the Grupo Arte Nuevo era, she embraced Pop Art. For her installation called Sin Titulo (1967), she built a brightly coloured domestic space whose design seems to refer to North American abstract expressionism, which was more popular with the middle classes. On the bed lies a female contour, flattened, with the head and breasts making up the headboard and limp arms hanging over the edges of the bed. 

In 1968, Burga left for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on a Fulbright scholarship, enrolling in a multidisciplinary course and earning her Master's two years later. She became fascinated by information systems, algorithms and new computer technologies. In 1970, she created the work Work That Disappears When The Spectator Tries To Approach It, a wall of light bulbs that gradually extinguish as spectators approach it, giving them a sense of what it feels like to be deprived of neutral images or transparent information. Burga also removes any markings attesting to her authorship and continues to do so throughout her oeuvre. 

Upon her return, Peru was ruled by a military regime with little use for her avant-gardism, which questioned identities, information flows, and positions. Under the dictatorship, nationalism had to be affirmed with representative, traditional Peruvian art without too much humour or provocation. Burga went to work in the general customs department, where her duty was to improve and make the department's digital information database more efficient. This gave her an income and the freedom to create work that did not have to be sold. 

"When you create art that is not for sale, it's like attacking someone. It seems strange, but I think many people feel attacked."

In 1972, she created Autorretrato. Estructura. Informe, 9.6.72. In this installation, she subjects herself to a medical and scientific measurement of her body and face to produce a depersonalised self-portrait, in which her heart, face and bloodstreams are meticulously depicted in medical reports, electrocardiograms and tables. In so doing, she makes her own contribution to a long tradition of self-portraits in the visual arts but also challenges the half-baked scientific skull measurement, the conceptualisation of the human body as an object of study to find a possible scientific basis for a race theory or as a playground for the empirical scientist. The work is in the M HKA's collection. 

"When art becomes a life form, it becomes 'biopolitics' because it begins to use artistic means to shape and document life as a pure activity."

Similarly, she collected data for Perfil de la mujer peruana (Profile of Peruvian Women), which she co-created with psychologist Marie-France Cathelat in 1980 and '81, when the military regime collapsed, on the physical characteristics, affective state, economic status and other aspects of the country's female population through an in-depth survey of 290 Peruvian women. The information was then interpreted and presented by employees through various visual diagrams. The results were later published in book form.

At the end of her life, Teresa Burga turned to painting again, finding inspiration in paintings and drawings of children in whose style she wanted to paint. Teresa Burga received global recognition for her pioneering multimedia work in 2010. 



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