‘Freedom and Irreverence’: Delia Cancela X Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires

POSTED: Saturday, January 12, 2019



The Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires (MAMBA) is currently hosting a retrospective of the life’s work of Delia Cancela: a pioneer of the 1960s pop-art movement, an iconic fashion designer and social campaigner. I visited the exhibition and have rarely been so delighted and enthralled. Everyone should know the name Delia Cancela. Curated by Carla Barbero, the exhibition is aligned with MAMBAs emphasis upon art that creates a ‘vibrant atmosphere’: you are immediately transported into a dream world of colour, humour and inventive energy. 


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 Cancela studied at the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires. She graduated in 1964 and immediately found her place at the heart of the pop-art scene in Argentina. Since 1965 Cancela worked in close collaboration with her life partner Pablo Mesejean who sadly passed away in 1999. In 1966 Cancela and Mesjean solidified their popularity and fame at the acclaimed Torcuato Di Tella Institute with their groundbreaking exhibition titled Nosotros Amamos (We Love). The exhibition was a visual manifesto of their love for popular culture and a celebration of all gender identities. The couple were true pioneers of the acceptance and love that we so dearly need today. 



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One of the most delightful things about this retrospective is the eclectic nature of Cancela and Mesejean’s creative output. The couple flits effortlessly between costume design, cartoon, textiles, painting, collage and fashion design, their playful and joyous style runing through the entire collection. Cancela’s early works include collages made of male and female clothing, combined with photographs and cuttings from magazines. Her clothing design sketches are works of art, and their costume designs double as graphic design. While living in London in the 1970s the couple created a clothing brand which was featured on the cover of Vogue and Harper’s Baazar and was worn with pride by celebrities like Bianca Jagger.



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The eclectic nature of the couples work blurs the lines between genres of art. In the 1960s this was a political as well as artistic move. The duo stood against the traditionalism that subsumed much of Argentinian culture in the 1960s and enacted this by crossing divides between fine art, theatre and fashion. At the same time, Cancela sought to challenge gender binaries, social norms and sexist stereotyping. For example, her choice to break away from the traditional two-dimensional canvas in the 1960s was a metaphor for the need to renegotiate a space for ‘feminine’ sentimentality within a sexist and macho society. Their work has left a global and lasting legacy: they crafted new horizons for multi-disciplinary creativity and experimentation. 



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Cancela has lived and worked in London, New York and Paris, as well as her beloved home town Buenos Aires. She has always had an international outlook and has been fed by global inspirations. “I was interested in the conditions of women, and in everything that was happening in Europe. For instance, the English cinema and the French Nouvelle Vague, particularly Jean-Luc Godard, European pop music and fashion”. Her love and respect for multiple cultures and outlooks and the ease with which she blends influences teaches acceptance and appreciation and is now more pertinent than ever. the couple were true vanguard fighters for self-love, acceptance, and self-exploration. 



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