Down a dark set of stairs, just off the NYC Museum of Sex‘s main lobby, a new temporary exhibition from Peruvian artist and puppet-maker Ety Fefer transports guests into otherworldliness. “Los Grumildos” succinctly blends inspiration from Lima’s old world red light district and the mythic imagination of Fefer. Her handmade automaton puppets oscillate and gyrate, in a perverse manner, as each figure represents something both human and animalistic. This is a dream theater, with miniature musical performances coupled with brothel voyeurism. And while elements of the grotesque manifest strongly, there’s a certain charm to each piece—and a sheer attention to detail that defines the quality of the work and the overall Grumildos experience.
Fefer, a self-taught artist from Lima, began Grumildos as early childhood drawings. It was only after a move to the Czech Republic, where she perfected her craft, that they became self-moving dolls. Over the last ten years, she’s traveled the world displaying them in over 40 locations across most continents. As for her origins, Fefer explains to CH: “I started drawing when I was very young. I also used to love playing with dolls, but because I was bad in school, one day all my dolls were taken away. So I started to make my own puppets from plasticine and I’ve never stopped since then.”
The step toward automation happened through artistic pursuits. “I always wanted to make automatons,” she continues. “I was in love with the idea of giving life to a puppet without manipulation—but I couldn’t find a place to learn that, so I thought to work on puppet animation films. I did a working experience in Ardmann Studios in Bristol, England. There, I understood that it wasn’t for me. After some time, I found a fantastic man who invented a little system that could make my puppets alive. Since then I kept working, trying to improve this system. Today, I feel that making my puppets move is a mixture of mechanics and magic.”
Regarding the appeal of a red light district, Fefer shares, “I was always attracted by those people who are kind of refused by society and that are pushed to live in a world of their own. That is the world I imagine to recreate: one that lives parallel and hidden from the mainstream. It is a world we can all relate to, one way or another.” This also infuses Fefer’s desire to world-build, the idea of celebrating that difference. “I like the idea of creating a world where these beings not only fit well, but where they seem to enjoy themselves.”
In addition to being half-beast and half-human, Fefer’s figures are equal parts Peruvian and universal. “The inspiration has for sure a lot to do with Limenian streets and life, but I feel that the world these beings represent is very universal, almost archetypal. That is why the exhibit has traveled so much, because the world it represents is so universal,” she concludes. Her characters could exist in the subversive backstreets of any city across the globe. They’re eccentric, inspired and worldly—much like Fefer herself.
With Funland as a perennial attraction, it’s never a bad idea to visit the Museum of Sex. However, with Grumildos in the Lower Level Gallery, a one-of-a-kind world lies just beneath, complimenting their already exotic programming.
“Los Grumildos” runs through 11 January 2015 at the Museum of Sex, 233 5th Ave, NYC.
Images courtesy of the Museum of Sex