"I live in a violent country, and that is where my violent art comes from" – Regina José Galindo.
Modern Art Oxford is showcasing performances and actions by Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo until March 29. The Body of Others surveys her work over the past decade and includes newly commissioned actions.
Using her own body to express visual metaphors of her country’s condition, Regina documents the carnage of civil war, sexism and violence against women. Her video performance Quién Puede Borrar las Huellas? (Who Can Erase The Traces?) achieved wide recognition back in 2003, but her more recent work involves the public as a material through which to reflect on cultural codes, histories and difference. Below she discusses her background and influences, and we explore some of her key works...
"My family and my country influenced my art. My father is a judge, my brother a philosopher and my mum, even though a housewife, was always passionate about reading and surrounded by books. I was very bad at studying; my older sister convinced me to take up advertising at university but I gave it up. It was through working at an advertising agency, however, that I met Juan Luis González Palma, a Guatemalan artist. He was the first one to sponsor my works and my poetry. Through him, I met Virginia Perez Ratón, a curator from Costa Rica who became passionate about raising Central American action art to a more notable level. All this happened from 1997 onwards, after the Peace Treaty. During our adolescence we were brought up to be quiet because ‘walls could hear’ and it was dangerous outside, with killings happening around us all the time. Once the Treaty was signed, we all burst into the streets to make art, write poetry and attend demonstrations. This Peace Treaty, though, was a manipulation by other countries with economic interests. It was a strategic peace to make us believe it was real. For me, the transition from poetry to performance was easy because I already had this advertising experience. I basically deepened and transformed superficial ideas, adapting them to what I wanted to convey. The first references I got, which helped me create this personal artistic expression, were Teresa Margoz and Santiago Serra. They work with bodies and since I was not academically trained in painting or sculpture, I became interested in this different form of art."
LO VOY A GRITAR AL VIENTO (I WILL SHOUT IT TO THE WIND)’, 1999
Regina is suspended form the arch of the post office in the capital of Guatemala, reading a book aloud and tearing its pages, throwing them to the wind. The artist wants to convey through this work that women’s voices are not heard in her country.
"It is very hard to be a woman in Guatemala, but it is as tough to be Guatemalteco. We are in such a difficult situation that simply living, surviving in my country is tough. The population doesn’t have the basic needs covered – they need to eat and to ‘dream’, but art is useless in their eyes because it doesn’t feed their stomachs. So being an artist, in my case, is twice as difficult, because we have the urge to express ourselves, and we are feeling restrained."
QUIÉN PUEDE BORRAR LAS HUELLAS? (WHO CAN ERASE THE TRACES?)’, 2003
Regina walked from the National Palace to the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City with a bowl full of blood, recreating footsteps along the way, in a response to General Rios Montt’s presidential genocide campaign, for which she received the Venice Biennale Golden Lion award and numerous other recognitions.
"Any artist creates from a concept, and for a Latin American artist it is very difficult to keep surrounding circumstances at bay. However, there is a huge distance and separation between being an artist with a clear political point of view and being an activist. I respect activists because they are altruistic humans, who will give their lives for the causes they believe in. They get killed and they work to help others, which is totally opposite to an artist’s mind and way of acting. An artist has ego problems and is always looking to find himself. His main objective is himself and no other. With my work, I am not even getting close to offering solutions to problems, and that is why I am not an activist at all."
NEW WORK FOR THE UK, 2009:
ACTION: CALENTAMIENTO (WARM UP)
A group of ten people walk into an empty hot and humid room, and are filmed for five minutes.
"This was a less pretentious action. I wanted to make the public participate in an experience previous to the show, as a warm up to what was being displayed at the museum. I wanted to create a space that would place the audience in Latin America, where it is hot, humid and suffocating.
SCULPTURE: LA CONQUISTA (THE CONQUEST)
"This is a sculpture made of hair of indigenous poor women who culturally would never cut their hair, but they have to do it because they are hungry. This problem will always persist. Even though the conquest happened centuries ago, hunger is still around. Because the first world is rich and uses hair for extensions and fashion, these women will give it up so they can have to eat. It is a vicious circle.While the third world consider their hair as a cultural identity (which they are losing), the first world sees it as a trophy (they are still in power) – this takes us back to the ritual of scalping in a different form."
ACTIONS IN THIS EXHIBITION:
‘Lo voy a gritar al viento (I will shout it to the wind)’, 1999
‘Quién puede borrar las huellas? (Who can erase the traces?)’, 2003
‘Recorte por la línea (Cut through the line)’, 2005
‘Limpieza social (Social cleansing)’, 2006
‘Curso de supervivencia para hombres y mujeres que viajan de manera ilegal a los USA (Survival course for men and women who travel to the US illegally)’, 2007
‘XX (II) – unidentified burials’, 2007
‘Confesion (Confession)’, 2007
‘Mientras, ellos siguen libres (Meanwhile, they are still free)’, 2007
‘Reconocimiento de un cuerpo (Identification of a body)’, 2008
‘America’s family prison’, 2008
‘La Conquista (The Conquest)’, 2009
‘Calentamiento (Warm up)’, 2009