How Ecuadorian Artist Edison Peñafiel Evokes the Chaos of Migration

How Ecuadorian Artist Edison Peñafiel Evokes the Chaos of Migration

Miami-based artist Edison Peñafiel moved to the U.S. to escape the instability of his native Ecuador. He uses video, painting, photography, and props to create ‘surreal echoes of our world.’ Combining historical moments with the personal experience of being wrenched away from the country where he was born, Peñafiel investigates socioeconomic and political themes that center on migration. His immersive multimedia installations evoke the chaos of being uprooted to an unfamiliar place.

Not Real Art Artist Of The Day Series

Peñafiel earned a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and Art History from Florida International University in Miami. He has exhibited his work in museums and galleries throughout his adopted state of Florida and around the U.S. His assemblages of piled-up belongings, paintings of immigrants hauling suitcases, and stop-motion videos, have a sense of unanchoring and loss. While some might view losing one’s cultural bearings as a liability, Peñafiel makes it an integral part of his work. Growing up as an outsider freed him from the need to fit into any particular artistic movement or group.

I have not felt unwanted or alienated, because I am already that way. I do not follow trends, or try to be part of the local art group. All the work I produce is based on what the work needs to be rather than what is the trend or market out there. This has worked out for me, as it has caught the attention of curators who have facilitated project spaces to present my work, or a site-specific version of it. I have figured out that this is an individual journey, and that one as an artist must believe 1000% in the work so others can believe in it..

By examining global migration from multiple perspectives, Peñafiel hopes to shed a light on political and economic inequities as the world struggles to accommodate increasing numbers of refugees fleeing from untenable situations. His multimedia installations and videos encourage viewers to experience the jarring and clashing of people from different cultures and climes, and consider what it feels like to lose one’s sense of ‘home.’

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Edison Peñafiel — Artist Statement

Edison Peñafiel. Headshot
Edison Peñafiel

Edison Peñafiel creates experiences about those on the underside of the world’s major conflicts: the migrant, the laborer, the surveilled. Clashing ideologies and the repetitive cycles of history produce the human catastrophes that his multimedia installations speak to. He draws the eye to odd angles that our world often intersects at — using sculpture, animation, video, and space to create disturbing reflections of the realities we participate in and witness every day. These unnerving views break us out of the desensitized lull that ongoing crisis creates. Interweaving projection with physical space mirrors the way concepts interact with the real world. Video projection introduces movement, rhythm, and montage to stationary, three dimensional objects.

At the same time, these objects provide weight and fixed form. This presentation invites the viewer to merge the tactile with the ephemeral, each informing and complicating the other in dialogue. Through visual references to German expressionism and the surveillance state, Peñafiel keeps the work inside a long term discussion about the turning gears of modernity and the alienation it continues to produce. This visual approach brims with an anxiety illustrated in crooked lines, all informed by the dismal cruelties of bureaucracy, the policing of human movement, and empty rituals of labor.

The hidden peril of these destructive cycles lends urgency to exploring the history of how we got here, how we perceive what’s going on, and the hard truths of those who must face the darkest parts of the present. That urgency and import is always matched by emotional impact. For Peñafiel, the outcome of his work must bring a visceral change in the viewer, equal parts intriguing and unsettling. These confrontations with injustice through surreal imagery are conjured to produce what we need in the world today: empathy for the oppressed.

Edison Peñafiel – Grant Submission Work

Edison Penafiel. Land Escape Paintings (Installation), 2020
Land Escape Paintings (Installation), 2020
Acrylic Wall Paint on Canvas, Archival print on cotton paper, Barbed Wire, Galvanized
Poles, Concrete
10 paintings, 9 x 7 feet 2 inches each
Edison Peñafiel. Neither Her nor There, Installation
Ni Aqui Ni Alla ( Neither Here, Nor There), 2018
Multimedia Installation : Multichannel Video, Single Channel Audio, Crates, Luggage,
Furniture, Dishware, Rope
25 x 25 x 17 feet
Edison Penafiel. Erase Una Vez ( Once Upon a Time), 2021
Erase Una Vez ( Once Upon a Time), 2021
Archival Pigment Print
63 x42 inches
Edison Penafiel. Sempiterno, 2017
Sempiterno, 2017
Multichannel Video
25 x 14 feet
Edison Penafiel. Land Escape Multimedia Installation
Land Escape Multimedia Installation
Multichannel Video, Single Channel Audio, Chiffon Fabric, Barbed Wire, Wood
30 x 60 x 14 feet

Edison Peñafiel – Artist Bio

Born in Ecuador, Edison Peñafiel migrated to the United States to leave the political and economic instability of his native country. His work focuses on video and immersive, site-specific, multimedia installations that create surreal echoes of our world. Informed by his own life, Peñafiel centers the migrant as a subject. While his early photography focuses on deconstruction and perception, absurdity, and politics, his shift towards multi-media installations has deepened his engagement with socioeconomic and political themes.

Peñafiel has presented his work at numerous prestigious venues including Atchugarry Art Center, the Contemporary Art Center New Orleans, the Bass Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, the Orlando Museum of Art, the Elsewhere Museum, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the USF Contemporary Art Museum, and the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale. Notable awards include a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art, and the South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship. He lives and works in South Florida.

Edison on the Web And Social Media

Here’s where to find out more about Edison Peñafiel on the web and social media:

About the Artist of the Day Series

All artworks have been published with permission of the artist. Our "Artist of the Day" series is a regular feature highlighting artworks from the 100's of grant applications we receive. The "Not Real Art Grant" is an annual award designed to empower the careers of contemporary artists, and this is one way we honor all entries we receive. Find out more about the grant program here.

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis is a writer, photographer, and former New York gallerist based in Richmond, Virginia. She has a masters in fine art, a BA in Russian literature, and is earning a masters in nonfiction writing at Johns Hopkins University, AAP.