“Subverting the Feminine: Latin American (Re)marks on the Female Body” Exhibition

Y Gallery (319 Grand St.)

poster for “Subverting the Feminine: Latin American (Re)marks on the Female Body” Exhibition
[Image: MARIA EVELIA MARMOLEJO, Photographic documentation of the performance 11 de Marzo, 1982 (March 11th, 1982), Black and white photograph. 11 ¾ × 8 ¼ in. (29.8 × 21 cm). Photo: Camilo Gomez. Image courtesy of the Artist.]

This event has ended.

Curated by Isabela Villanueva

Subverting the Feminine: Latin American (Re)marks on the Female Body presents the work of six Latin American artists who question the phenomenology of the female body, while exploring the complete form in which society constructs the notions of femininity, sexuality and the roles and / or cycles of a woman’ life. Through actions and artworks, the bodies of these artists are converted into metaphorical receptacles for politically and socially coded information.

The artists included in the exhibition inquire about the social, political and sexual problems related to women’s identities. There is an emphasis on the corporeal, on the use of the body as support and medium of expression for questioning the chauvinist and patriarchal society that surrounds us.

The show, curated by Isabela Villanueva, includes a record of historic performances, like Yeni and Nan’s “Integrations in Water,” Colombian artist Maria Evelia Marmolejo’s, “March 11th,” and Mexican feminist group Polvo de Gallina Negra’s “Mothers!” The show also includes more recent works from critically acclaimed artists like Teresa Margolles; who will present her video “Incision,” also “Hymenoplasty” by Regina José Galindo and a series of drawings by Peruvian artist Elena Tejada-Herrera.

Yeni and Nan’s (Jennifer Hackshaw and María Luisa González) work in Subverting the Feminine includes performance ephemera such as photographs and video documenting their performance “Integraciones en el Agua” (1981) - in which the artists presented their submerged bodies within small plastic containers filled with water symbolizing birth, survival and transformation of space. In a broader sense, the duo’s unique body of work is crucial to the history of action-based art in Venezuela. They arrived at the concept of body-art via metaphor as seen in their underwater gestures that provide us with an image and memory of the natural cycles of the origin of life. Their slow movements evoke the vastness of the oceans that were the source of life, and the almost amniotic concentration inside the plastic containers that expand their movements until they emerge into the light.

Also on view will be two sets of photos that document Maria Evelia Marmolejo’s performances titled, “March 11th” (Ritual to the menstrual cycle, worthy of every woman as the antecedent to the origin of life), and, “Anónimo 4” (at the Banks of the Río Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Colombia); both from 1982. “March 11th” deals with the experience of menstruation, which has had a history of being taboo, and has been considered shameful and repugnant in most cultures and religions. In this performance Marmolejo emphasizes the pivotal role of womanhood in the origin of life and of her civil rights in the world. The performance took place at the Galería San Diego in Bogotá, where Marmolejo arranged paper on the floor in an L shape, lit the space with black lights and played in the background a soundtrack of a toilet flushing. The work, titled after the first day of her menstrual cycle which is when she the performance took place, consisted on the artist using her menstrual bodily fluids to paint and mark the Gallery walls and white papers lined on the floor.

Photographs of Marmolejo’s “Anónimo 4” are exhibited as well, this is a performance that took place at sunset on the banks of the Río Cauca, Colombia; where the artist dug a triangular pit of 1.5 meters, her height, filled it with layers of human placentas of births from that same day in Cali, that she collected from public hospitals. Three adjacent smaller pits were filled with sewage water. The artist tied placentas to her body with plastic strips and stood on the placentas in the larger triangle. Through this action the artist attempted to embark on a psychological and sociological self-exploration of the fear of being born in a society in which there are no guarantees of survival. These self-reflections, produced involuntary physiological reactions, including vomiting and crying.

A work by first feminist art collective in Mexico, “Polvo de Gallina Negra” (“Black Hen Powder”), composed of Maris Bustamante and Mónica Mayer, is also included in Subverting the Feminine. Polvo de Gallina Negra’s actions combined radical social criticism with extravagant doses of humor. For their 1987 project “¡MADRES!,” the artists performed a long-term social intervention on motherhood. Their first action was to become pregnant. And, indeed, Mayer and Bustamante each gave birth to a girl three months apart. Shown in the exhibition is the video Madre por un día, where Mayer and Bustamante appeared on the well known talk show “Nuestro Mundo” to discuss motherhood and female archetypes, they also persuaded the popular news anchor Guillermo Ochoa to sport a maternal feminine prosthesis and granted him the “honor” of being “mother for a day.”

Also exhibited is “Hymenoplasty,” a project carried out by performance artist Regina José Galindo, that interrogates social norms and practices, particularly as they apply to women and their sexual objectification. For this work Galindo was filmed getting a hymenoplasty, a surgical reconstruction of the hymen, a procedure that is unfortunately common in her native Guatemala and other conservative countries, in order to retain a woman’s intactness for their wedding nights, as well as for feeding the demand for ‘virgins,’ real or otherwise in sex trafficking rings. This video brings viewers to the threshold of visual tolerance and sadly left the artist bleeding from a botched medical procedure, but earned her the Golden Lion award for Best Young Artist at the 2005 Venice Biennale.

Another powerhouse artist featured is Teresa Margolles with her 2016 video “Incision” a piece that registers a crack being made with a sharp and blunt instrument onto the wall by Sonia Victoria Vera Bohórquez, a transgender who works as a prostitute in Zürich (with whom Margolles worked with for her recent Manifesta 11 project). The strenuous action performed by Sonia is referencing the difficult struggle people of LGBT community face on a daily basis for tolerance, acceptance and equal rights.

Finally, Elena Tejada-Herrera will be presenting drawings from her project “Lectures”, a hybrid work; part performance and part registry of the talk the artist attends to, where she drew the speakers, and took notes and commentaries in regards to what they were saying - all of this is included in the image. The artist´s aim is that, in presenting the drawings, she is also transferring the information received in the talks. For the exhibition we will only be presenting a selection of drawings, that feature only women speakers.

Regina José Galindo was born in 1974 in Guatemala City, where she still lives and works. Galindo’s artistic practice situates her own body in a public dimension in a way that can be identified by anybody who has witnessed the violence and sadism of certain political events and personal disgrace. Galindo’s oeuvre highlights old problems that persist in the “new” Guatemala. Her works are combative and often shocking, bringing into the public realm topics that few Guatemalans dare confront. Works like Perra (Bitch) (2005), in which she cut her thigh with a knife, or Hymenoplasty (Himenoplastia, 2004), in which she underwent surgery to rebuild her hymen, challenge the ways that women are objectified in her highly conservative homeland. Galindo’s unapologetically graphic actions amplify her confrontational statements. She aims to stir her Guatemalan viewers from passivity, disrupting a numbness born from long years of violence. Galindo has had solo exhibitions at Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Arnhem, Netherlands (2008), Modern Art Oxford (2009); Muzeul Național de Artă Contemporană, Bucharest (2010); Fundación Joaquim Nabuco, Recife (2011); Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, California (2012); Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain (2013); and Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan (2014). Her work has been featured in the group exhibitions Arte ≠ Vida: Actions by Artists of the Americas 1960-2000, El Museo del Barrio, New York (2008), and I Have a Dream, Thessaloniki Centre of Contemporary Art, Salonika (2013). She participated in the Havana Biennial (2009); Venice Biennale (2009 and 2011); Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates (2011); Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia (all 2011); and Cuenca Biennial, Spain (2012). She has received several awards, including the Golden Lion for a Promising Young Artist at the Venice Biennale, and the Grand Prize Award at the Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia (2011). In 2014, she completed a residency with Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin. Her work is also present in important private and public collections such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Rivoli Museum in Torino and the Miami Art Museum amongst others.

Teresa Margolles was born in 1963, in Culiacán, Mexico. She is a visual artist who examines the social causes and consequences of death, destruction and civil war. For Margolles, the morgue accurately reflects society, particularly her home area where deaths caused by drug-related crime, poverty, political crisis and government’s brutal military response have devastated communities. She has developed a unique, restrained language in order to speak for her silenced subjects, the victims discounted as ‘collateral damage’ and nameless statistics. Subtle and seductively minimal, Margolles’ works initially offer a pleasant aesthetic experience. Viewers walk through mist before realizing that it is made of the water used to wash the dead bodies of destitutes. A small concrete block basking in the glow of a spotlight in a vast, empty room contains a stillborn fetus that would have been disposed of if the impoverished mother had not pleaded with Margolles to save it. At the 2009 Venice Biennale in the Mexican Pavillion displayed cloths used to cover the corpses of victims of drug trafficking, while in another room of the palazzo men and women who have lost a relative washed the marble floor with a mixture of water and blood from murdered people. Such intimate proximity to the material of death produces visceral shock and psychic fear that initiates profound self and social interrogation. Margolles is known for creating powerful artworks that demand attention to violence, poverty and alienation; for exposing the social and economic order that renders violent and destitute deaths an accepted normality; for her courage and integrity in transgressing social and artistic conventions; and for speaking truth to power through public exposure of government complicity in violence and poverty, not only in Mexico, but throughout the world.

Maria Evelia Marmolejo was born in Pradera, Colombia 1958, she currently lives and works in New York. She is one of the most radical performance artists that emerged in the 1980s from Latin America.

The political and feminist performatic work by Maria Evelia Marmolejo started in the late 1970s in Cali, Colombia. In her work, the woman’s body plays a powerful role addressing socio-political issues, pertinent to Latin America and the world at large.

Marmolejo’s work has been shown both inside and outside the art institution, often taking place in secluded locations away from the public view, others in public places with or without the authorities consent, and also in institutions such as Museum of Modern Art of Bogota, Museum of Modern Art Cartagena, Contemporary Art Museum Guayaquil and the 19th Bienal de Arte Paiz in Guatemala.

Her work has been published through research projects such as Re.Act.Feminism, a performing archive based in Berlin, and articles in international publication such us Art Nexus and Arte y Critica. Marmolejo recently received the 2016 Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation Achievement Award, she is also featured in the upcoming exhibition “Radical Women in Latin American Art: 1960-1985”, curated by Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta for the Hammer Museum in 2017.

Polvo de Gallina Negra is the first feminist art collective in Mexico, created in 1983 by Maris Bustamante and Mónica Mayer. The group’s title which means Black Hen Powder, is actually a “remedy against the evil eye, which we felt we needed given that we were women, women artists, and even worse, feminist artists” said Mayer. Their aim was to ponder the role of women in the Mexican society and its artistic scene; their work was diverse and included mail art, performances and interventions that reflected on the experience of being a woman in a patriarchal system, especially in an artistic world ruled by men. For the project “¡MADRES!”, which was a long-term social intervention on motherhood, they created several performances: in some they invited prominent men in Mexico to be “Mother for a Day”, they also created a competition in which people wrote letters to their mothers “with everything you ever wanted to tell her but didn’t dare”, and made performance interventions during protests. Polvo de Gallina Negra worked together for a decade, and then each artist went their own way. Their works were exhibited recently at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Mexico, MDE15: International Art Encounter at at the Museo de Antioquia in Medellín, Colombia and other venues.

Elena Tejada-Herrera is an interdisciplinary artist, known mostly for her performances but who also works across the mediums of video, installation, drawings and social interventions. Her work facilitates the public’s creative participation, she sees her practice as “cultural exchanges, where the conversations and interactions for the creative experiences feed the artwork.” From the beginning of her artistic practice in the late nineties, Tejada-Herrera has opened an area of ​​inquiry and action almost unexplored throughout the history of Peruvian performance: the assertion of the artist’s self/body in its sexual, racial and social otherness or specificity as a vehicle to critically intervene in the public space. Tejada-Herrera lives and works in Miami, USA. She has received scholarships from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Virginia Commonwealth University, holds two Masters in interdisciplinary media, new media and painting. Her work has been exhibited around the world and has earned her numerous awards, such as: the James Nelson Raymond Prize (USA, 2013), the Grand Prix at the XIII Festival of Film and Video Parnu (Estonia, 2007), Pasaporte Para Un Artista (Peru, 1999), among many others. She recently had a solo exhibition at the Proyecto AMIL, in Lima.

Yeni and Nan (Jennifer Hackshaw and María Luisa González) (Caracas, 1948 and 1956) met in the Cristobal Rojas Art school in Caracas in 1977 and began a relationship, both romantic and professional, which continued into the mid-eighties. Under the stage name of Yeni and Nan, they created performances and multimedia installations that reflected on the body, nature and the creation of life, and their oeuvre is pivotal to the history of action-based art in Venezuela.

For nine years, between 1977 and 1986, Yeni and Nan developed a body of work that reflects on the cycles of life, personal identity, individual and shared space, and the natural elements. The artists performed events where they involved the natural landscape of Venezuela, like the Araya Peninsula that was featured in one of their most emblematic work: Simbolismo de la cristalización.

Amongst some of their most acclaimed exhibitions are: “20 Venezuelan artists today” CAYC Buenos Aires (1979); Salon Arturo Michelena in Valencia, Venezuela (1979); Various performances in the National Art Gallery of Caracas (1979, 1980, 1982, 1983), the Bienal de Sao Paulo (1981), Symposium of Art Non-Objectual, Medellín Museum of Modern Art (1981), Biennale of Young Artists at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris(1982), Ateneo de Caracas and Sala Mendoza, Caracas (1983) , III National Exhibition of Young Artists, Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas (1985) where obtained the First Prize, Museum of Art La Rinconada, Caracas (1986).

In 1986 they dissolved as a group, each went her own way. Hackshaw now lives and works in Salamanca, Spain, while Nan González has remained in Caracas, where she resides and works. Each artist has continued to develop her own artistic and creative practice.


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