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Art Confidential

Acquisition Stories: Disease Thrower #1

As told to Collecteurs by Jack Benmeleh

Artwork: Guadalupe Maravilla – Disease Thrower #1. Courtesy Benmeleh Collection

Jack benmeleh with his wife Tara

My wife, Tara, and I went to the ICA Miami in September of 2019 when Guadalupe Maravilla was doing his show. It was a very casual visit; the exhibition had already been open. 

We started looking at the pieces; there were four giant sculptures that had gongs on them and we found them very interesting. We then started reading the descriptive text of the artwork, describing what the work was and who the artist was. The artist, Guadalupe Maravilla, immigrated alone to the United States from El Salvador in order to escape the Salvadoran Civil War. He was part of the first wave of undocumented, unaccompanied children to come to the U.S. from Central America.

Each one of the pieces that we saw there, that had a gong, represented some type of disease. This was our understanding, but we didn’t get a chance to go deeper into the works because we were there with our young son, Max, making it hard to read all the text. 

So, fast forward from the day that we saw his work: it was 3-4 months later, we were walking around NADA, and we stumbled upon a booth that had one sculpture and instantly when I saw the gong, I recognized Guadalupe Maravilla.

The gallerist asked us if we knew the story; I told him I wanted to know more. He mentioned that Guadalupe, when he was in his mid-30s, developed colon cancer. It made him very weak, of course, and he did a surgery to remove part of his colon. He did chemotherapy and all of the modern medical treatments that are used to treat cancer.

Detail of a circular sculpture made from natural materials

He was trying to make work during this time, but he found it very difficult because, again, he was weak and he just didn’t have the energy to do it. He began researching how to cure his condition; what he could do to help himself get through it. He found out about water gongs that are part of sound baths in New York and that they could help with his condition. He decided to try the sound baths and, after the first time, he was barely able to walk. Only after 2 hours was he able to get up and walk home. He was completely astonished and amazed at how powerful the water gongs were.

To provide some context, the methodology of the water gongs is that the vibration of the gong stirs the water in our bodies as our body is made up of 90 percent water. What causes cancer is stagnation and blockages of cells that create masses; this is what cancer is. The water gong, through vibration, breaks up those masses and allows water to flow, like bodies of water. This was the thinking process of how the water gongs were able to help him get better. After the cancer was removed, he eventually went to Peru to visit a medicine woman and she told him that, in order to completely cure himself, he needed to cleanse his body of the chemotherapy. So, he started taking a frog poison called k__ambo. One of the four sculptures that were presented at ICA Miami had a big frog in the middle of it and was symbolic of the kambo frog poison that he took.

Most people, when they take kambo, will take 3 burns on their skin where they inject the poison and then they start throwing up and excreting all sorts of substances. That is how you purge everything that is in your body. He had so much chemo in his body that it took 150 burns over a period of a month to get everything out. It is a really long and traumatic process, but at the end of it, he finally felt that he was clean and healed.

Artwork: Guadalupe Maravilla – Disease Thrower #5, 2019 (detail). Courtesy Jack Barrett Gallery

I’ve never had this happen to me before where there’s a piece of art that is so powerful and so connected to something in my life.

After this process, he went back to Brooklyn to start working on a new body of work. He decided to incorporate his experience with cancer and the healing process through sculptures. The sculpture that was presented at NADA had a frog on it. I liked the piece but I wanted to know more about the three other works in the series. The gallerist explained that one of them was already purchased by the ICA, so there were only two remaining. He showed me the images of the other two and one of them I really connected with. He told me that it was the first one he had ever made and that they’re all called Disease Throwers. The purpose of these pieces is to get rid of diseases or throw it out of your body, similar to what he did to cleanse himself of cancer.

Detail of the sculpture, a green glass orb sitting on a platform, the materials around are organic and resemble body tissue

Guadalupe Maravilla – Disease Thrower #5, 2019 (detail) Courtesy Jack Barrett Gallery 

The first piece that he made was for the colon because he had colon cancer, and it just happened to be the one I picked without even knowing it.  I started getting anxious because my mother had very recently passed away from colon cancer, that same year, in January 2019.

I felt extremely connected to the work and thought that it was very poignant. In a way, I picked the work but it also picked me.  I wanted to see the work in person to see if we could acquire it because it made me very emotional and I’ve never had this type of an experience with a work before. I didn’t know if I could look at it everyday when it reminded me of my mother so much. The gallerist offered to take it out of the crate in storage for a viewing.

Close up picture of an artwork in detail

A few days after, we went to the storage facility where they took it out of the crate. Upon viewing it, Tara and I felt good vibes and good vibrations from it — no pun intended. We couldn’t play the gong though because we didn’t have a mallet. 

We felt that it was going to be a positive thing in our lives. It would be in honor of my mother and become a healing tool through Tara, who is also involved in the healing arts. Not to mention, we had been wanting a gong for a long time, but we had no idea what kind of gong was right and now all of a sudden we have a gong staring right at us. It was meant to be. 

On Monday, the same day we saw the work in person, we decide to acquire the work. However, the most interesting part of the story comes with the delivery. 

I asked for a delivery date and they were not sure, they had to get it out of storage, submit ICA paperwork, artist paperwork and gallery paperwork, and they would get back to me. I said, OK, I’d like to have it as soon as possible, but that I understood the requirements and paperwork. The next day was December 10th and I received an email from the registrar at ICA, saying that they can deliver the work that day, December 10th, if I am willing to accept it.

December the 10th is my mom’s birthday. Within 24 hours of seeing it for the first time, it was in my house. On her birthday. 

artwork: Guadalupe Maravilla – Disease Thrower #5, 2019 (detail) Courtesy Jack Barrett Gallery

To my surprise, the name on the rose water was Rosa, which is the name of my grandmother. The work was not only directly connected to my mother, but also to my grandmother.

To make matters even more interesting, when the piece was delivered and I finally had a chance to look at it in detail, I saw these little pink bottles that were glued into the work. I never saw them before because I initially just saw a picture of it on an iPad and I really wasn’t concentrating on the little details. They were little bottles of rose water. 

To my surprise, the name on the rose water was Rosa, which is the name of my grandmother. The work was not only directly connected to my mother, but also to my grandmother. 

Later that day, we called Guadalupe and we had a FaceTime with him and spoke for a long time. I told him the whole story, which made him cry. He could hardly believe it and he was so happy that we were able to acquire this piece and also that there was such a connection to the work. There could not have been a better fit.



About 18

Lucky Number 18 – The Meaning of “Chai,” one of the fundamental principles in the Jewish faith is the importance of life. In Judaism, the word “chai” is numerically significant and the number 18 is universally synonymous with this word. This piece is all about life; the life that’s been given to Guadalupe to continue making work, the significance in relation to Jack’s mother and grandmother. It’s all about life.

This story is part of a series of special features for the exhibition ‘1-31’ curated by Adam Carr.

Experience Digital Exhibition '1-31'

The Museum of Private Collections

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