Mariana Silva Varela – Expedition Magallanes

13 April 12 May

Mariana Silva Varela, solo exhibition
Project room, Färgfabriken

Curator: Maya Nagano Holm


The works in this exhibition sprang from Mariana Silva Varela’s research into the Swedish polar explorer Otto Nordenskjöld’s expedition to Patagonia and the Magallanes region in South America in the late-19th century. Through woven pieces consisting mainly of wool, linen and gold, the artist traces the stories about the voyage and the colonial course of events to which the Swedish expedition contributed.

Six works from Expedition Magallanes are shown at Färgfabriken. In Rescue Blanket (2020), a silent movie from 1910 shot in Patagonia by an Italian missionary is projected onto a double-weaved wool poncho. The landscapes, people and events that appear clash with the poncho’s weave and remain as fragments. Figures also emerge from the weaves in Springhill (2023) and Xumanx (2023), while Torre de los Paines 1 (2023) and Cordillera Darwin (2023) present the landscapes that still characterise the region today. The work Ramon (2022) was woven by Silva Varela based on a photograph taken many years after the movie, during the military coup in Chile in 1973. The different woven works reference and highlight the relations and movements that have existed between Chile and Sweden historically. 

When light falls on the threads, they cast shadows, like memories and fragments of history that impose their presence in the now. Silva Varela reinterprets the historical material she encounters and explores a parallel world creation, where new characters and landscapes appear as phantasms along the walls of the room.

During the time the Swedish expedition was in Patagonia, a genocide was being committed against the Selk’nam, one of the region’s indigenous people. This was carried out by European sheep farmers, missionaries and gold-diggers during the colonisation and gold rush that was going on in Patagonia. In connection with his expedition, Otto Nordenskjöld brought the remains of three Selk’nam men to Sweden. They are held in Swedish university archives to this day.

With glowing shimmer and deep shadows, Silva Varela weaves a narrative on the Swedish presence in Patagonia around the previous turn of the century. The works in the exhibition show glimpses of mountains, sheep, gold and peoples, together offering fragments of the landscape and the world that the Swedish expedition encountered and participated in. 

The exhibition Expedition Magallanes raises questions about how history is told, and by whom. Mariana Silva Varela invites us to challenge the inevitability or absolute truth of these events. Instead, we can consult fantasy and our powers of imagination: How could history have been different? Who would then have told it, and how?

Expedition Magallanes was produced at Art Lab Gnesta, where the exhibition was shown in autumn 2023, curated by Caroline Malmström. The exhibition at Färgfabriken features the works Cordillera DarwinXumanx and Springhill, all of which Mariana Silva Varela created during her artist residency at Art Lab Gnesta in 2023.

About the artist

Mariana Silva Varela (b. 1973) is based in Stockholm and works with weaving, staging and light. In her artistic practice, she explores world views as historic and contemporary fiction in relation to migration and anthropology. She works with creating worlds in her weaving, always with a critical approach to the often nationalist and colonial mechanisms at large in the narrative processes and identity-building in which we all engage and take part. Silva Varela is interested in the similarities in expression and methods that exist between people – the common thread between us. 

Silva Varela graduated with a higher textile education at Handarbetets Vänner Skola, and has an academic background in the history of migration and theory of science. Her works have been shown at Art Lab Gnesta, Liljevalchs, Fiberspace Gallery, SKF/Konstnärshuset, the Swedish Institute in Paris and Södertälje konsthall.

Portrait of Mariana Silva Varela. Photo: Karin Björkquist. 

With support from

Colart och Beckers. 

Top picture: Springhill (2023) and Xumanx (2023) by Mariana Silva Varela. Photo: Johan Österholm.