Donna Huanca

Empowering the femme body with performance and paint.

Donna Huanca stood in her studio framed by a green painting and with a large blue abstract painting behind her
large sculpture of dark green crinkled cloth in the artist's studio
Donna Huanca crouching down to face one of her large abstract paintings in her studio
5 images

Donna Huanca was born in 1980 in Chicago, USA, and now lives and works in Berlin, Germany.

At Auction

Her painting PISCES (BROWS) sold at Sotheby's for $41,184 in 2019, more than triple its upper estimate.

Did you know?

Huanca creates a bespoke scent for every show, designed to recall particular memories - from bleach and burnt feathers to a bustling market in Mexico City.

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Practice overview

Donna Huanca blends performance and paint to defy the male gaze and decolonise contemporary art. Her multidisciplinary installations show painted models - which the artist refers to as ‘skin paintings’ - amidst serene environments created with sculpture, painting, photography, sound and scent. Symbolic gestures suffuse throughout: rectangular free-standing paintings represent phone screens or digital interfaces, while cobalt blue embodies female power. Huanca uses a range of materials including silicone, plastic, clay, sand, textiles, hair, turmeric and metal. This mix of artificial and organic materials became particularly pertinent in 2020 during the outbreak of Covid-19: “I wanted to acknowledge ‘nature’ in a new form, both toxic, artificial, yet protective. The layered scent of wood, mingled with the sanitary, antiseptic hand-sanitiser gel we are bathing in.”

Huanca’s process manifests her political ethos for social change. Because she works with people, a certain set of ethical perimeters - or ‘guidelines’ as the artist calls them - are required. Firstly, the personal relationships between Huanca and her models must be based on trust. Secondly, the models must feel safe within the environments that they are performing in, namely galleries and museums. As institutions are generally designed to house objects, not people, this often presents practical difficulties. But Huanca embraces such difficulties as an opportunity to disrupt business-as-usual, challenging intuitions to shift notions of ‘exhibition’ which are fundamentally rooted in colonial and sexist power structures. As a result, Huana changes the art world from inside to out in brave, incremental and powerful steps - just like those of her models.

“Intuition is the only way I can be authentic to my present moment.”Donna Huanca