'Charlotte No. 2' by Marcos Raya
Photos: Ratko Radojcic

Marcos Raya has a knack for finding beauty in the horrific. The 69-year-old Pilsen-based surrealist painter and sculptor has spent the last four decades building a body of work that tackles his early experiences—he was a teenager in Pilsen during the height of the neighborhood’s drug and gang epidemic—and the brutality entwined in the history of his home country of Mexico.

Charlotte No. 2, a human skeleton delicately wrapped in rhinestones, silver and gold thread, and traditional turquoise necklaces, addresses the latter, paying homage to Empress Carlota (the wife of Maximilian I of Mexico) who was caught in the crosshairs of Napoleon III’s failed attempt to colonize Mexico in the 1860s. The piece is featured in Night Train, a major survey of Raya’s work on view at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art through July 30.

As for where he found that skeleton? “You need to be at the right place at the right time,” he says. “I got it for cheap.”