On the occasion of the exhibition El canto se hizo grito at Prometeogallery Ida Pisani in Milan, Regina José Galindo presents a new body of work that questions, through feminist practices of chorality, the concept of monumentality, the precarious dimension of memory and the violence to which women are subjected in our society.
Arnold Braho: You manage to dissuade and attack the patriarchal power structures that invade our society, highlighting the violence that extends to women -structural, sexual and feminicidal, as in this case-, raising awareness of the phenomenon in our society’s perception. To date, monuments in squares do not represent murdered women and they neither form part of the “culture” proposed as public commemoration motives. Your latest works present a sort of iconoclasm, not so much to destroy old images, but rather to build a new collective imagination from them. I specifically refer to Cuatros Sirenas, is it right?
Regina José Galindo: Generally, monuments do not refer to the history of women. Cuatro sirenas (Four Mermaids) was not about the destruction of a monument, but rather of the intervention (cover-up, disappearance) of a colonial sculpture in order to create a new discourse. Cuatro sirenas is an emblematic fountain in the city where I live: Antigua. There are few safe areas in Guatemala, which are those intended for tourism, and my city is one of them. With the aim of not frightening tourists, it has been agreed (almost forbidden) to avoid speaking about crimes or violent situations that have taken place here. A series of feminicides have been committed, and the bodies have appeared at sunrise, dumped in the streets of this picturesque colonial city. The day that we made the Cuatros Sirenas intervention, a woman had been murdered; she was activist Maya Tzutujil. As usual, the crime was hidden, and the hotel where her body was found continued working as if nothing had happened. It was February 2020 and I made the intervention together with my colleague, Esteban Calderón. Our true intention was to hide the mermaids so that reality was visible.
AB: Resuming the idea of image reconfiguration, it is interesting to observe how, in recent years, your performance approach has developed towards a self-sabotage of Regina’s image. If, at the beginning, you openly assumed responsibility by catalysing the problems associated with genre-related differences and abuses, now you work in favour of a reconfiguration of a crowd’s image which is made up of subjectivities that explicitly revert women’s objectivation, as in the case of Puccini’s Boheme. Every physical reference disappears under the veil, though the problem becomes visible. How did this concept originate?
RJG: I wouldn’t call it self-sabotage. It is simply about different ways of conducting research. In the series of works started with Desaparicion de 4 sirenas (2020) I use the strategy of covering up in order to raise awareness. My works are sculptures in which the body becomes dependant on its shape function. They are impermanent monuments and permanent sculptures. The body loses its individuality, but it doesn’t lose its strength, and it becomes an anonymous and powerful body. It is the human body in total abstraction. I have been very interested in the work of German artist Franz Erhard Walther and his idea of taking sculptures into action. Through these works, I have tried to produce sculptures where the raw material is the body, and I have also adopted fabrics. Obviously, in my case, each of these sculptures or monuments has the narrative load that characterises my work. This has been a constant feature along my entire career. I come from words, I am a poet, so there is a story behind every image, behind every action. In the collective monuments, we have cancelled women’s individuality in order to generate a scream within a fighting collective. In Monumento a las desaparecidas (2020), I wanted to show the space taken up by 28 bodies , so that we can keep them in mind and ask ourselves: how is it possible that 28 bodies disappear in a week within a particular territory? How? But this is what happens in Guatemala.
AB: In the last interview that I made you, you told me: ‘Although we speak about concrete political problems or situations, we have to understand that, in the end, great problems derive from great universal evils’. In this performance, you have highlighted feminine tragedies by inserting the voice as a universal element to address a universal problem. Due to its connection with the body, the voice turns into politics: the politics of the particular body that produces it, a social, cultural, political and gendered body. In this case, the voices singing Quando m’en vo (When I go), in Puccini’s Boheme, make up a choir that, as a plurality device, embodies the essence of being together, the common expression, by collectively rewriting the piece through a postlinguistic practice that is placed outside the male prescription of the word. Can collective voices allow for the reimagination of a political system that exists through revolution and constant change?
RJG: The voice has always been a weapon. Words are teargas bombs, missiles, grenades. The voice is a breaking scream and a healing silence. A single voice is a thunderclap; collective voices are the storm, able to devastate everything. Our voice is no longer a passionless request; it is a fierce scream searching to change those ancient and obsolete patriarchal structures. I want to highlight that voice and words are weapons that have been used by repressors until now. But they will not be the ones saying the last word. Up to date, history has been told by winners, but this will change. The survivors’ history will be the truth. You know, the idea of covering up the bodies as if they were withered flowers, as ghosts, also has the intention of forcing memory, of forcing attention towards these murdered women so that they cannot be forgotten. It is a sort of revenge: not disappearing, continuing to be present, and making it difficult for this patriarchal and misogynistic system to get rid of the bodies. They will not be able to erase our history; they will never be able to silence our voices. In the selected fragment of Puccini’s Boheme, the woman expresses her right to walking down the streets. Today, public spaces are usually harassment spaces where we must gain our right to move around. Quando m’en vo is an empowering scream, a strength scream, a presence scream.
AB: In today’s world, we find it difficult to accept the word itself and the problem that characterises it. Among the many reading levels within this collective performance, I get the impression that there is a need, by paying special attention to the evaluation of words – as in your poems- , that you shape and understand this performance as a producer of reality, as a subversive force.
RJG: As I already said before, the voice as a weapon, the voice as a tool of power. We have currently faced wicked and terrible situations, like downplaying the power of our voice. In criminal processes, like the well-known ‘wolf pack’ case, in Spain, the victim’s words continue to be doubted, and this can no longer be allowed to happen. For me, it is very important to speak about this, as I come from an extremely violent Guatemala, where -paradoxically- we have a gender-based law since 2008. Unfortunately, this law is not observed, since administrators of justice keep on thinking on and delivering a misogynistic and patriarchal justice. However, hope tells us that, at least, a law exists, and this makes us think that it will be observed in the future, probably in one or two generations. This contrasts with many first-world countries, where there are not even adequate laws, like in Germany, for example. As an anecdote, I can tell you that the words “rape” and “murder” did not exist in the Mayan and other indigenous languages. Those were crimes that arrived in these lands together with conquer and colonization. When a woman testifies in Mayan language, she must speak Spanish to refer to those crimes. Why is it important to speak about it? Because it is important to understand the violence on our bodies. The feminicides that we are seeing today have very deep roots in an economic capitalist system, and this capitalist system originated in the first world, the colonising world. When property of the land begins, the property over our bodies also begins, as well as the violence against us. There is still a rejection of feminist struggles because the problem of patriarchy has not been fully understood yet. The problem of patriarchy does not belong exclusively to us, the struggle of women is not only for us; we fight for all vulnerable bodies, for all the bodies subjected to others in an unequal relationship of power. It is also a struggle for raped men, for abused children, for men who have been assaulted, for those who have to go to war. Patriarchy is an oppressive economic system, and it is our enemy; male chauvinism is just the tip of the iceberg. Those who do not understand that patriarchy supports capitalism do not understand our struggle. A struggle faced by all peripheral bodies, vulnerable bodies. Girls, women, transgender women, men, transgender men, individuals who do not recognise themselves as within heteronormativity, men and women who, from an economic point of view, do not belong to a privileged group, etc. In this exhibition I address a feminicidal Guatemala with the intention of addressing a feminicidal Europe, a continent that started to murder and assault us since the beginning of colonial times. I was especially interested in showing this contrast during the exhibition. I wanted to stop speaking about the misfortune that comes with me as a Guatemaltecan woman, or to stop using it as a mirror; I wanted that you could see yourselves in your own problems. This is the aim of the project: showing a reality that traverses the world and breaking the myth of violence against women as something done by the migrant masses, which is completely fake, since in countries like Italy, Spain or Germany, 70% of crimes are committed by European men against their own female partners, who are also European.
For all the images: Regina José Galindo, “El canto se hizo grito”, installation view at Prometeo Gallery Ida Pisani, Milan-Lucca, 2021. Ph. Filippo Ferrarese, OKNO Studio, courtesy Prometeo Gallery Ida Pisani
AB: Well, to close this interview, I know that your name also comes from this conception of the word. Could you tell me about it?
RJG: Well, it is a childish expression, and when I did it, I had no idea that I was going to be an artist. At that time, I was dreaming of becoming a nurse. I must have been 12 years old when I already regretted the fact that men had certain privileges. I have three older brothers, and I understood that they had more space for freedom. One day, I asked my father, who is a lawyer, to change my name. He agreed, and one day he came home with the present of the changed name in my identity document.
 The work refers to events that took place in Guatemala, where in 2020 the peak of 28 women disappeared in a week was reached.
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