‘I’ve never walked into a museum and seen myself on the walls’


Studio Lenca paintings tell an autobiographical story which navigates borders and identities destroyed, redrawn and erased through colonisation and war. The portraits depict the artist and his community proudly wearing hats and vibrant colours in noble defiance of the ‘western’ discourse around migration.

These colourful paintings depict male Salvadoran figures adorned with costume and ornaments that playfully explore masculinity, the colonial past of Studio Lenca’s home country and the current violent discourse of Salvadoreñxs. The markings of MS-13 and 18th street are absent, instead whimsical marks and bold colours portray a softer more vulnerable experience.

‘My mother is a cleaner. When we moved to the US from El Salvador it was one of the only jobs she didn't need papers for. When I was younger I was so embarrassed to tell people that she cleaned houses. But as an adult I see that it's the noblest thing a mother could do for her children. This series is a reflection on the labour that she's endured and the deterioration of her body because of it. This "mantel" isn't painted it's scrubbed with cleaning chemicals. As an artist I reflect on my relationship to her and to labour. Because of her I am an artist.’

"Esta fregado" 2021
Kitchen "mantel" scrubbed with cleaning chemicals

Vessels of magic

Haphazardly made in an inexpert way these vessels carry evidence of struggle and the printed marks of touch. The layered surfaces offer a palimpsest of the ‘make-do-and-mend’ experience . Delicate, laboured yet grotesque. Neither at home in the V&A or the shelves of IKEA these vessels masquerade as a useful object. Leaving El Salvador during the country’s civil war left an indelible mark on Studio Lenca in many ways. Like the namesake of these pieces, a 1946 Rothko watercolour, they speak of the body and it’s permeability to trauma. Like the experience of many immigrants Studio Lenca was forced to make something out of nothing, a façade, altering his name in a white space, changing identities at job interviews, spinning my story into a more acceptable tale, smoothing over the cracks.


Los Historiantes

Studio Lenca’s  photographic series ‘Los Historiantes’ looks at the folkloric dancers of El Salvador. This is an ongoing project in which he creates  portraits of himself and others dressed as a Historiante. Los Historiantes are a result of traditions brought over by the Iberian conquistadors during the colonisation of the Americas mixed with pre- Columbian beliefs. The Historiantes offer an embodied archive of trauma that is still relevant today. When building these costumes, the collection of materials becomes difficult and Studio Lenca often needs to borrow from different cultures with similar histories, this process becomes the performance. The inability to access authentic materials for the costumes highlights my distance from the place Studio Lenca was as well as a disconnect with Salvadoran culture due to being uprooted by war. The trajectories Salvadoran people and many Central American nations have taken stems back to violent histories, specifically the colonisation of the Americas by European colonisers. This postcolonial intergenerational trauma is present to this day and can be seen in public discourse of Latinx communities, especially in the U.S.