I would like to share this poem from poetess Adrienne Rich, whom I discovered while researching about the artist I chose for the essay writing for this course, Alfredo Jaar. He takes her as inspiration for titling one of his exhibition´s at Kiasma Museum in Helsinki, Finland in 2014.
Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, (2007) Adrienne Rich
Saw you walking barefoot taking a long look at the new moon’s eyelid
later spread sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair asleep but not oblivious of the unslept unsleeping elsewhere
Tonight I think no poetry will serve
Syntax of rendition:
verb pilots the plane adverb modifies action
verb force-feeds noun submerges the subject noun is choking verb disgraced goes on doing
now diagram the sentence
Adrienne Rich, Baltimore USA (1929-2012), Poetess, writer and activist
When a person is deprived for their rights, is art and poetry ways in which is possible to mend irreparable wounds?
I would like to start my post with this sentence from “Las Tesis” which, translated in English means “And the fault wasn’t mine where I was or how I was dressed”. This was created as part of the song and choreography “Un violador en tu camino” that this collective of women perform in the public space in 2019 the context of the social awakening in Chile.
The statement reminds me on many passages of the book, when Ahmed describes the process of filing a complaint, which can involve a series of hesitations and lack of support from the people around and also, hesitation from the self, not believing in the own judgment. In Complaintivism, about a student been harassed by her Professor: “Her first reaction is to question herself rather than his behavior. She tells herself off, even; she gives herself a talking to; she tells herself to stop being paranoid,…” ( Ahmed, pg. 104).
I also definitely relate the hymn phrase with complaint situations in which the victim is charge on responsibility for the harassment, like saying that the person (woman) was provocative, or that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This argument resonates as so familiar. In Chile, there are raped and abused women who, when they go to report the situation to the police, are for example asked how they were dressed, in an intention to blame the victim.
There was and still is, even beyond the “Me too” movement, a certain miss-believing on the victim’s speech, especially when abuse of power it’s implied. These miss-trusting also many times delay complaint process, resulting on people´s criticism “Why did you not complain earlier or sooner” (Ahmed pg. 113). Fortunately, in recent times and thanks to social movements, the characteristic of public climate have made people feel safer regarding speaking out these situations.
The testimonies in the book actually relate in the majority of cases with abuse of power. Sexual harassment, sexual commentaries etc… mainly directed by men. The testimonies are a synecdoche of the systematical patriarchy atmosphere that we have and still experience.
Coming back to the title of the post, what I find really powerful on “Las Tesis” work is that they created a hymn and choreography to be performed as a public act, to re-position feminist demands, in a space of power, which is the street. They embrace the collective complaining voices as a chorus and communicative bodies that are choreographed altogether in different stages in the public space. The collective action acts as a voice amplifiers of those who are afraid to reclaim, but that they feel free to do, throughout this communitarian experience.
“Complaint can feel becoming a chorus, all these conversations take up time and space in your head, more and more voices, they become loud, louder still” (Ahmed pg. 111). “Las Tesis” invite a collective body to let out this grooming voices in the head letting them out as a common scream.
In the singing and dancing, the body positions itself politically in the street, which is the most dangerous place for a woman’s body, a body that is exposed and transits into daily violence. Complaining as a collective act feels less tidy, less frightening. It is an awakening of all those who felt censored or afraid to say it.
The name of the collective comes from the aim of these four women on researching theses by feminist authors and translate them into a performative format in order to reach multiple audiences. They recognize themselves in the anti-patriarchal denunciation of writers such as argentinian Rita Segato. They have also collected testimonies from woman in context of sexual abuse and raping.
The complete song “Un violador en tu camino”:
“The patriarchy is a judge, who judges us for being born, and our punishment, is the violence you don’t see. It is feminicide. Immunity for my murderer. It is disappearance. It is rape. And the fault was not mine, nor where I was, nor how I dressed. And the fault wasn’t mine where I was or how I was dressed. The rapist was you. The rapist is you. The judges. The state. The president”
This hymn functions as a declaration for direct sexual intimidation but also as a metaphor for daily harassment or, in a macro perspective, for the systematic patriarchal order in which we are immerse, specially in the Latin-American context, where discrimination, sexual abuse and feminicide rates are still violently high.
Since the first day “Las Tesis” performed “Un violador en tu camino” the song and its choreography became a worldwide phenomenon. It was fast spread in other countries, such as Mexico and Colombia. Then they decided to make the musical base available, which was also created by them, with the idea that each territory could perform it and transform it for each context. After that “Un violador en tu camino” has been also performed in more cities in Latin-America and Europe.
in the Chilean case, “the effectivity” of the performance, evidenced in the high amount of participants in each public intervention, relays in the fact that there is still an oppression feeling by memory related with the dictatorship and the experiences of violence that the state can exercise on the citizens, oppression like the one experience by Carabineros (Chilean police) in the social awakening in 2019, where there was an evident abuse of force.
Through “Las Tesis” the feminist body re-apropiates the public space and breaks-trough spaces of masculine domination, by the power of collectivity.
Looking up for artists that work with communicative bodies, I reminded chilean artist Francisca Benitez. In her work she amplifies the voice of deaf people through a series of performances in which she uses ASL (American Sign Language), involving the community, in public space and in museum context. These series of works function as a call of attention on how discriminative oral language can be to people that lack the hearing sense.
My aunt, the sister of my dad is deaf. She lost her hearing capacity due to meningitis disease when she was six months old. In the time when I was a kid, she frequently came to our house on Sundays for family gathering. I remember how she read the lips. For that reason, we needed to talk with her really pronouncedly and slowly so she could understand what it was said, although I could sense in collective conversations how she got lost. She could also feel vibrations. During one summer we went with her to the beach house. She slept in the room next to my brother, so we should walk quietly at night not to wake her up. “She can feel your steps in the wood” thats’s what my mother said. I don’t see her so often anymore. Fortunately with internet and chat interfaces she is connected and participates actively in social media. We have encountered lately in that virtual sphere.
As I have researched, laws for deaf people in Chile and globally have improved to more integration in different levels. In the last decades, sign language has been recognized in the laws of different countries.
By the time I was a kid and an adolescent, and until some years ago, I was not completely aware of the difficulties that a person with disabilities need to face in daily life. Therefore I ask myself about “normativities” of the language. What I didn’t know for example, and realized after reading Benitez artistic research is that facial expression, unlike in oral communication, is part of the grammar: it is not an exaggeration, it is part of the word. It is not enough to make the sign of “happy,” you have to appear happy to make that sign. This is extremely interesting as the body integrally needs to perform the emotion.
Benitez learns the ASL language of signs in the middle of her artistic career and delivers it, through actions involving herself and other participants, in single or collective actions. Through her own biographic experience, her father a non hearing person, she realizes the importance of learning other ways to communicate. She didn’t urge to learn it before, as her father was adapting to the situations, more than the context adapting to him.
What I find more interesting and relevant in her practice is how she experience this act as a way of decolonization of the language, of questioning the system of domination in which we live in. And also how society omits disabilities in order to perform unilateral forms of communication. She uses the artistic context as an area of intersection, where people come with a curious attitude. In this environment she triggers in the audience different communication possibilities, through the body, and beyond orality.
Francisca Benitez percibes her work as disruptions, not pretending to give solutions, yet to bring a question to the viewers. I think about solidarity and empathy within this work. And how the artistic practice can be not only an aesthetic tool but also an agency to society integration, by extending language in a post-colonialist perspective.
Francisca Benitez “Son en señas” (2015) Performance. Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wilfredo Lam, Cuba.
“To file a complaint can also mean to become alienated from the history that led you to complain, an intimate alienation that you feel in your own bodily being” (Ahmad, pg. 42)
How reclaims and complaints interferes in our own bodies? Mind and body relation have been a topic that has overcome day and day more important, as studies showing their strong interconnection. Lately I read an article in an online magazine called Mental Health America which says that the intestine coating functions “a second brain”. Both intestine and brain are connected physically by the vague nerve, and chemically by hormons and neutroansmitters. Therefore they are interconnected back and forth. Consequently, the intestine is the main psychosomatic organ. A good mind influences a good intestine functioning and a good intestine functioning conducts to a healthy mind. When I swallow my complaint my body “resiente” Spanish word that means literally re-feels. Metaphorically meant that it reacts with pain. As a matter of fact I have a condition called “inflame intestine” a psychosomatic reaction in the gastrointestinal apparat. It started when I was 20 years old and comes and goes depending on the season. It was triggered by a family crisis, which in that moment was difficult to elaborate through words, with text. So, my body took the work of materializing into a feeling, an uncomfortable body feeling. Ahmad says our body can be converted into an archive, as a document. Our whole existence is involved in the process of letting a reclaim out. In my case, I have learned that when I don´t speak out the situations that bother me, if I don´t “file my complaint” my body resents and reminds me that is important to elaborate this discomfort through speech. Since my first intestine crisis I started a psychotherapy process, for many years in a row. That helped enormously. That safe space with an objective ear that heard unprejudiced became an effective way to file and convert those life complaints into a document that possible to be analyzed, letting it out of my body as a knit, out from my guts. The possibility to elaborate the difficulties of experience through text. Although the psychotherapy space is a different institonalized space, and it is not conducive to bringing grievances to any formal process, It helped at that moment to organized the ideas in order to lead them in the future to other spaces of pleading. And certainly to learn how to manage my guts.