Feliciano Centurión, a Paraguay-born artist who died in 1996, at just 34, from the complications of AIDS was a central figure in the artistic renewal that took place in the 1990s in Buenos Aires, around the Ricardo Rojas Cultural Center. Artists of this generation exploited subjectivity in a variety of ways, often incorporating elements of popular culture that were previously thought to be kitschy or inappropriate.
Under the rightwing dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, Centurión’s family was forced out of the rural Paraguayan town of San Ignacio Guazú into the tiny village of Alberdi, on the border with Argentina. Their father crossed to Formosa in Argentina every day to work. Feliciano was raised mostly by his mother and grandmother, and was a gay man in an ultra-conservative society. The artist’s move to Buenos Aires in the 1980s put him more at the cultural centre of things — he became part of the city’s irreverent and progressive Arte Light movement.
As painting was the official visual language of the dictatorship, Centurión and others in the Arte Light movement turned to irony, colour and kitsch to represent repression. Centurión’s turn to handicraft recalls his female-dominated upbringing, a Paraguayan legacy since the 1864-70 War of the Triple Alliance, which devastated the country’s male population. Centurión's early works usually featured extravagant portraits of animals, painted on cheap blankets. He also made a series of embroidered fabrics, in which he expressed desires or wants, almost like an intimate diary.
After his HIV diagnosis, Centurión worked in increasingly small and intricate formats. He liked to embroider animals and mythical beings, in keeping with Paraguay’s Guaraní weaving traditions, and used his own text, too, often in reference to his ill-health.
The use of sentiment and traditionally feminine visual languages puts Centurion in the context of artists who began to explore gender and sexuality throughout the 1990s. Although his career was tragically short, he remains a central but little-recognized figure of history of recent contemporary art.
Cecilia Brunson Projects represents the artist’s estate and is working closely with Feliciano’s two sisters. His work can be found in important public and private collections such as The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, and Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum has work by Centurión, part of a donation from the collector Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. Other collections include the Latin American Art Museum (MALBA), Buenos Aires; The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA), Buenos Aires; The Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat Art Collection, Buenos Aires; Clarice Oliveira Tavares, New York City; Don Mullins, Austin, Texas; amongst others.