Performance Art in Latin America. Part 1

Posted on August - 30 - 2017

Lotty Rosenfeld. Photo courtesy: Makma

As the present seems such a complicated scenario in the contemporary arena, new spectators sometimes just have the short end of the stick and are left standing baffled at the maddening circus that is called the art world. As the main spectacle, performance art is always a modality that never fails to impress; spectators are fascinated, puzzled or resentful of the enactment devised by the artists.

Since the Dada artists were around, Performance art has been developing into a different medium, reshaping in the 1960’s and taking various forms since the 1990’s and reinventing itself to enter the new millennium. From Yves Klein to Joseph Buyers and Allan Kaprow, from Carolee Schneemann to Marina Abramović, Performance art initially boasted a Westernized agenda, but as influences started creeping from Latin America and the peripheries, new narratives came into play and mixed to create hybrid practices.

In Latin America performance art has been strongly aligned with concepts such as identity, looking back in history into ancestral practices from indigenous groups, or other forms of syncretism’s that have been concocted since Colonial times. Since there has been a collective conscientization of Latin American circumstances, the concept of identity has fascinated and perplexed scholars and artists alike.

An artist that cannot escape being mentioned in the evolution of performance and body art since that time is Cuban-born Ana Mendieta. Forced to leave Cuba from a young age, Mendieta moved to Iowa, where she developed an active and influential body that propelled through a hybridization of elements from North America and Afro-Cuban culture. Throughout her practice, Mendieta displayed a constant interest in indigenous and primitive ritual from both cultures, finding a meeting point. Her work gained international hype and recognition, which served as a beacon to a new generation of artists that were interested in joining new practices with regional circumstances. Mendieta is best known for her Silueta series, which took place between 1973 and 1980 in both Iowa and Mexico where the artists placed in these areas silhouettes of her with different natural materials.

Ana Mendieta “Silueta”. Photo Courtesy: historiesdrawingsprints

Since Mendieta, several artists have emerged from Latin America, a geographical and cultural space where the thin line that separates art and life becomes diffused in a cacophony of limitless practices and interactions. Other artists’ actions shaped Latin America’s performance practices where align with the critical political turmoil that lashed their countries. In a Pinochet-driven country, artists such as Chilean artist Lotty Rosenfeld stood their ground and sought to create performances that questioned the structures of modern social order, driven by the conflicted circumstances that afflicted everyday life. In her ongoing performance Una milla de Cruces Sobre el pavimiento, initiated in 1979, Rosenfeld appropriated the image of the cross in the public road to disturb the order of the roadways in the city of Santiago de Chile. With the successful reconquering of the public space, Rosenfeld re-conquered the open space of her own country and replicated the action in other major cities such as New York, London, and Havana, Cuba. This action has been an emblematic work of a mixture of performance and public art.

Also gaining importance in the 1980’s was Chicano artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña. As the artistic director of the San Francisco-based performance group La Poca Nostra, he’s creative work centers on US/Latino transitional border relationships, pushing mainstream cultural and centering his focus on normalizing more extreme facets of social and national cultural boundaries. Gómez-Peña develops the idea of a meeting place for displaced Third World groups living in the First World. Gómez-Peña landmark projects include Border Brujo (1988), The Couple in the Cage (1992), The Cruci-fiction Project (1994), Temple of Confessions (1995), The Mexterinator project (1997-1998), The Living Museum of Fetishized Identities (1999-2002), Mapa/Corpo series 2004-2008.

In the last decade, several contemporary artists have emerged as capable and talented performance artists, adjusting to the ever-changing social and political surroundings, desperate to conceal in their work a poignant social critique, which will move the spectator and engage further generations.

By: Gabriela Martinez de la Hoz

Guillermo Lopez Peña. Photo courtesy: body pixel