Holy Terrors: Latin American Women Perform



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822332275
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 12/24/2003
Pages: 464
Product dimensions: 5.96(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.36(d)

About the Author

Diana Taylor is Professor of Performance Studies and Spanish and Director of the Hemispheric Institute on Performance and Politics at New York University. Among her books are The Archive and the Repertoire: Cultural Memory and Performance in the Americas, Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina’s “Dirty War,” and Negotiating Performance: Gender, Sexuality, and Theatricality in Latin/o America, all published by Duke University Press. Roselyn Costantino is Associate Professor of Spanish and Women’s Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

Roselyn Costantino is Associate Professor of Spanish and Women’s Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

Read an Excerpt

Holy terrors

Latin American women perform
By Diana Taylor

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-3240-X

Chapter One

Unimagined Communities


This volume brings together a divergent group of women artists involved in some of the most important aesthetic and political movements of Latin America. In one sense, these women don't have a lot in common either ethnically or artistically. Diana Raznovich, a feminist playwright and cartoonist born in Argentina in 1945, is descended from Russian Jews who fled the pogroms at the turn of the nineteenth century and boarded the wrong boat (they thought they were going to the United States). Griselda Gambaro, Argentina's most widely recognized playwright, was born in 1928 and is of Italian origin. Denise Stoklos, author, director, and Brazil's most important solo performer, was born in 1950 in the south of Brazil, and is of Ukrainian extraction. Diamela Eltit, born in Santiago, Chile in 1949, has a Palestinian grandfather. Astrid Hadad, performer, singer, director, and manager of her show, born in the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo in 1957, is of Lebanese heritage. Jesusa Rodriguez, director, actor, playwright, entrepreneur, and feminist activist, born in 1955, is of Mexican indigenous and European ancestry. Also born in 1955, Sabina Berman, playwright, director, poet, novelist, and screenwriter, is of Polish Jewish extraction. Petrona de la Cruz Cruz andIsabel Juarez Espinosa, cofounders of the Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya (FOMMA) in Chiapas, Mexico, both born in the 1960s, are Tzotzil Mayan and Tzeltal Mayan, respectively. El teatro la mascara (the Theatre of the Mask), a woman's collective from Cali, Colombia, which started in the early 1970s, includes women of diverse ethnic origins. Teresa Ralli, a founding actor, director, and writer of Peru's foremost theatre collective, Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani, is a limena of mixed ethnic origin. Teresa Hernandez, from Puerto Rico, is a fair-skinned mix of African, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry that characterizes the mestizaje of the island. The same is true for Tania Bruguera, born in 1968, a Cuban performer who explores the long history of extermination and political repression and intervention through her work. These backgrounds attest to the racial and ethnic diversity of Latin America, and make visible a complicated history of Spanish and Portuguese colonialization, mestizaje, slavery, migration, and political turmoil that has often resulted in displacement and exile.

Yet there are many reasons-cultural, economic, political, military -why all these women identify as "Latin American." All of them-whether from the highlands of Chiapas or the far reaches of Europe-undergo profound processes of identity (re)formation by participating in the "imagined community" of Latin America. For some, the process began hundreds of years ago when preconquest ethnic identities came into violent contact with European colonial systems. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, highly ambivalent structures of ethnic identification both flattened and highlighted difference. While all native groups were simplified to "Indians," terms such as mestizo, mulatto, zambo, and many others came to designate the racial by-products of miscegenation. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century nationalisms privileged national over ethnic identity, even as they based nationalist policies in racial distinction. While several countries, especially Peru and Mexico, continue to celebrate their glorious native past and invoke a nation evolving from preconquest empires, they nonetheless exploit and disparage contemporary "Indians." Some of the authors and activists included here, especially Petrona de la Cruz Cruz, Isabel Juarez Espinosa, Jesusa Rodriguez, and Teresa Ralli, fight to give native peoples their rightful place in the here and now of a heterogeneous Latin America. For groups whose population spreads out over different countries, ethnic identity does not necessarily dovetail with national identity. The Mayas, for example, extend over three modern nations-Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Tania Bruguera, to posit a radically different example of the same phenomenon, envisions a "greater Cuba" that spans both sides of the Caribbean to transcend recent political chasms. For Teresa Hernandez, an artist from a "Tiny Country ... the only pre-state country in existence," the struggle has been to define herself as "Puerto Rican" and, by extension, Latin American, rather than accept a colonial status as a second-class citizen of the United States. Puerto Ricans, who endure the ambiguous status of U.S. colonial subjects, are often missing from the Latin American political and geographic map. For others, the identification with Latin America involves exile and migration from the poverty or terrors of their countries of origins. For each artist in this volume, "Latin American" proves more a negotiated political, ethnic, and cultural positioning than a genetic or racial identity-that is, a political, rather than biological, matrix.

For each, moreover, Latin America proves quite different-for some, it consists of huge metropolitan centers like Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Lima, or Buenos Aires. For others, it's the indigenous communities in the highlands of Chiapas or the Andes. If the differences and divergences prove so great, and if Latin America does not have a clear explanatory power, to what degree does the term provide a useful framework for discussion?

Amerique Latine, like America, are European constructions-the first coined in mid-nineteenth-century France to refer to countries in the Americas colonized by Spain and Portugal, the second in honor of Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who first argued that the newly "discovered" landmass was not, in fact, Asia. There is no general consensus about how many countries make up Latin America: does Puerto Rico count as a country or as a U.S. commonwealth? Does the term include French speaking countries such as Haiti and Martinique, or English-speaking or Dutch-speaking countries such as Trinidad or Surinam? Nonetheless, for all the problems with the term, it does have some virtues for Latin Americans themselves. In the nineteenth century, Simon Bolivar labored to unite Latin America under one political banner, convinced that only by uniting could these countries defend themselves from external political and economic pressures. At the end of the nineteenth century, Jose Marti wrote "Nuestra America" (Our America) to urge Latin Americans to wake up and get to know each other before the giant from the north with the big boots crashed down among them. The current economic treaty among nations in the southern cone, MERCOSUR, basically echoes the belief that political and economic independence lies in unity. For all the disparities of ethnic background, class, and racial privilege among them, the women in this book share certain histories of social engagement that allow us to think about them as Latin American artists. Geopolitical identity has less to do with essence than with conditions of (im)possibility and opposition. Latin American gains its political edge through negation: not European, not U.S., not "First World." These artists have commonalities in practices and strategies, tackling systems of power that date back to colonial times-church domination, imperialism and neoimperialism, political oligarchy and dictatorship, and the pervasive sexism and racism encoded in everything from education to eugenics efforts, to theories of mestizaje and progress. Each, in her own way, uses performance- broadly understood here to include theatre, performance art, cabaret, and political performance interventions-as a means of contesting a sociopolitical context that is repressive when not overtly violent. Some make their political intervention through writing-whether it's a manifesto, a cartoon, or a play. Others participate in embodied performances that signal a break from accepted practice by forming a feminist collective, building an installation, engaging in self-mutilation, or abandoning traditional dress. Yet, these women are not activists who turn to performance as a means of making a statement. Rather, as Denise Stoklos asserts in an interview on the Holy Terrors web cuaderno, the political thrust of their work is the inevitable consequence of their living conditions: "It's all very present. It's a kind of work where you don't have to first think about the issues and then try to respond to them. They are with you because you live with them." The force of these works comes from the urgency of the intervention.

This volume represents three generations of artists that grew up and worked in periods of extreme social disruption-whether it was Argentina's "DirtyWar" (1976-83), or the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-84), the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-87), the decades of civil conflict and criminal violence in Colombia, the divided Cuba that resulted from Castro's revolution, the 1968 massacre of students at Tlatelolco and the 1985 earthquake and recent student strikes in Mexico City, or the civil violence between the Peruvian military and Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) of Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.

While female artists and activists have played a pivotal role in human rights and social justice movements in Latin America-we need only think of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo or Rigoberta Menchu-the very limited possibilities for women have dictated that their strategies of intervention were always predetermined by their sex. The Mothers could only intervene as mothers (Taylor, Disappearing Acts, 183-207). Rigoberta Menchu insists in her writings that she wielded the same power and authority as her male counterparts, only to reveal again and again that she was able to gain authority in spite of the fact that she is a woman. Female activists had to fight not only the "enemy" but the men in their organizations as well. Petrona de la Cruz Cruz describes how she and Isabel Juarez Espinoza were expelled by their male colleagues from Sna Jtz'ibajom, a Mayan theatre collective, even though the group had received substantial new funding. Because these women had faced extraordinary personal and social hurdles in exerting their right to participate in a theatre group, they decided to form their own group, FOMMA, to highlight the gender and racial violence they experienced. Their theatre work has helped them fight the fierce discrimination visited on indigenous peoples in Mexico. From not being allowed to walk on the sidewalks in Chiapas, they are now celebrated as guest artists around the world (figure 1). Diana Raznovich (like many artists) returned to Argentina from self-imposed exile to participate in the Teatro abierto movement. Teatro abierto brought together hundreds of artists who had been blacklisted during the military dictatorship to stage a repertoire of twenty-one short plays in defiance of the governmental prohibition. Still, even within this "open" liberatory movement, Diana Raznovich was chided for being "frivolous." How could her play, El desconcierto, which depicted a female pianist who tried in vain to wrestle sound out of a silent piano, have anything to say about the culture of silencing associated with the "Dirty War?" She was asked by her male colleagues to withdraw her contribution to the event. Denise Stoklos, though an internationally acclaimed artist, works at the periphery of the theatrical establishment. Her solo performances and authored texts get little more than a passing reference in histories and overviews of contemporary Brazilian theatre. Astrid Hadad has generated such controversy and disdain from the establishment that some male practitioners threatened to withdraw from events that featured her work. El teatro la mascara in Colombia has been in existence longer than most collective theatre groups. Nonetheless, it remains virtually unknown because, members claim, people simply don't care about "women's issues." Jesusa Rodriguez, a legendary artist who is considered to be "the most powerful woman in Mexico" (Weiner A4), still survives on the margins of Mexico's artistic and intellectual communities. And so it goes for most of these women.

For these artists, then, political intervention (in the broadest sense) takes on many forms and many fronts, including national and ethnic political movements, human rights activism, anti dictatorship battles, anticapitalism, anti-imperialism, and struggles around issues of gender, sexual, and racial equality. Often these struggles involve the Catholic Church. Since the implementation of the Holy Inquisition in the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church has often supported civil authorities in the repression of disenfranchised groups-Jews, Native Americans, African Americans, and, of course, women. During the various "dirty wars" in Latin America, the Catholic hierarchy usually sided with the dictators. They blessed the military's weapons with holy water and turned in "subversives" who revealed their dissidence during confession. Liberation theologists were either targeted for murder or forced out of their positions. The church continues to meddle with issues pertaining to women. The Vatican has ruled against birth control, divorce, and equal opportunity and access for women in a number of areas. It opposed the Plat form for Equal Rights for Women presented at the Fourth World Conference on Women at Beijing in 1995 and has continued to try to dismantle the gains made in the fields of reproductive rights, civil liberties, and education. As women working in deeply entrenched Catholic societies, these artists have become "holy terrors," taking on not only the authorities, but the systems of belief that demand that they behave like obedient, subservient creatures. They fight for cultural participation- access to space, to resources, to authority, and to audiences-on local, national, and international levels. Most of them have forged their own space -physical and/or professional-to stage their aesthetic and political acts of resistance. Some clearly needed to find their own ways of working, having been closed out or expelled from existing groups or organizations.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xiii

Unimagined Communities / Diana Taylor and Roselyn Costantino 1

Diana Raznovich (Argentina) 25

Manifesto 2000 of Feminine Humor / Translated by Marlene Ramirez-Cancio and Shanna Lorenz 27

From the Waist Down / Translated by Shanna Lorenz 43

What is Diana Raznovich Laughing At? / Diana Taylor 73

Griselda Gambaro (Argentina) 93

Strip / Translated by Marguerite Feitlowitz 95

Diamela Eltit (Chile) 105

Excerpts from Lumperica (E. Luminata): "From Her Forgetfulness Project" and "Dress Rehearsal" / Translated by Ronald Christ 107

Diamela Eltit: Performing Action in Dictatorial Chile/ Robert Neustadt 117

Denise Stoklos (Brazil) 135

Selections from Writings on Essential Theatre/ Translated by Diana Taylor 137

Casa / Translated by Denise Stoklos and Diana Taylor 140

The Gestural Art of Reclaiming Utopia: Denise Stoklos at Play with the Hysterical-Historical / Leslie Damasceno 152

Astrid Hadad (Mexico) 179

Selected Lyrics and Monologue Fragments / Translated by Roselyn Costantino and Lorna Scott 181

Politics and Culture in a Diva's Diversion: The Body of Astrid Hadad in Performance / Roselyn Costantino 187

Jesusa Rodriguez (Mexico) 209

Sor Juana in Prison: A Virtual Pageant Play / Translated by Diana Taylor with Marlene Ramirez-Cancio 211

Nahuatlismo: The Aztec Acting Method / Translated by Marlene Ramirez-Cancio 227

The Conquest According to La Malinche / Translated by Marlene Ramirez-Cancio 231

Excerpts from "Genesis," "Barbie: The Revenge of the Devil,' and "Censorship: The Bald Rat in the Garbage" / Translated by Roselyn Costantino 235

Katia Tirado and Ema Villanueva (Mexico) 245

Wrestling the Phallus, Resisting Amnesia: The Body Politics of Chilanga Performance Artists / Antonio Prieto Stambaugh 247

Sabina Berman (Mexico) 275

The Agony of Ecstasy: Four One-Act Plays on a Single Theme / Translated by Adam Versenyi 279

Petrona de la Cruz Cruz (Mexico) 291

A Desperate Woman: A Play in Two Acts / Translated by Shanna Lorenz 293

Eso si pasa aqui: Indigenous Women Performing Revoultions in Mayan Chiapas / Teresa Marrero 311

Teatro la Mascara (Colombia) 331

Teatro la mascara: Twenty-Eight Years of Invisibilized Theatre / Marlene Ramirez-Cancio 333

Teresa Ralli (Peru) 353

Fragments of Memory / Translated by Margaret Carson 355

Excerpts from Antigona / Jose Watanabe, Translated by Margaret Carson 365

Rosa Luisa Marquez (Puerto Rico) 371

Between Theatre and Performance / Translation and photos by Miguel Villefane 373

Teresa Hernandez (Puerto Rico) 385

How Complex Being Is, or The Complex of Being / Translated by Marlene Ramirez-Cancio 387

Teresa Hernandez vs. the Puerto Rican Complex / Vivian Martinez Tabares, Translated by Margaret Carson 394

Tania Bruguera (Cuba) 399

Performing Greater Cuba: Tania Bruguera and the Burden of Guilt / Jose Munoz 401

Selected Bibliography 417

Contributors 441

What People are Saying About This

David Román

The editors have done a remarkable job in assembling an important group of women playwrights and performers whose work remains terribly under publicized. The work included in this volume provides an excellent introduction to the diverse ways Latin American women have used the performing arts to engage the particular political and cultural conditions under which they live.
author of Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS

Cherrie Moraga

Holy Terrors makes available to our English-speaking studient a solid compilation of Latin American women artists and criticism heretofore absent from our reading lists
coauthor of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color

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