Thirty-six years of civil war and a brief brutal dictatorship have blood-soaked Guatemala with hundreds of thousands of deaths. Efrain Rios Montt, this is the name of the dictator, used the pretext of collaborating with opposition groups in order to deprive Maya territories in the north east of the country. A project of extermination, compared by the writer Sergio Ramirez to that of Herod, who with massacres and various iniquities hit children and women in particular, symbols of fertility of the earth in Mayan culture. Perpetrate violence, preferably during pregnancy to induce abortion, was the strategy adopted to scar and insult a whole civilization, in order to get annihilation.
The wounds of this debased society are absorbed by the skin, into the body and soul, of Regina José Galindo (Guatemala City – 1974) and proposed again in her extreme actions with a sacrificial aesthetic intent on the atonement of the sins of the whole community. Exhalation (Estoy Viva), her last performance presented at PAC in Milan March 24, 2014, shows the artist bringing her body into a state of apparent death. Instead, the anatomical hardening of Galindo slows down the action of sedatives, subjecting the audience to an unexpected and dilated delay. Completed the process of drugging, she exceeds the threshold of the small aseptic tomb to reach the front of the body that, wrapped in a purple cloak, is lying helpless on a kind of tombstone and illuminated with a white light that makes the whole thing more sacred than clinician. The performative practice of the Guatemalan artist, always opens a deep drilling in the time line, obtaining an hypothetical space of revival in history in which empathy and perception of the action blend art-life-death in a very narrow psychomagic ritual. And with that sort of magical aura of an ancient rite, in a cold anemic room, the breath, the traitor’s death is announced. The symbol of the many meanings is the statement that the power of life needs a body to be.
The performance opens Estoy Viva, retrospective exhibition divided into five sections: Politics, Women, Violence, Death and Organic. Excluded from this partition, La Verdad (2013) announces the sense of all the research. The artist sitting behind a desk from school read the testimonies of the victims of abuse. The reading is threaten by a dentist who injects, from time to time, an anesthetic in the mouth, increasingly restricting the ability of discourse. We are faced with the application of the methodological and scientific censorship. It should be said that, in the work of Galindo, the body is not limited to the simple display, but it is a tool of analysis for a survey on the exercise of violence, practiced against the weak, the people, ethnic minorities and women. It is the unit of measurement of the despotic pressure and at the same time the unique body that surrounds the cruel and naive world, to repeat it upon himself, in sacrifices and immolations, the atrocities suffered by the collective body. The direct involvement in the artist emotionality, infects, folds, dirty, rips the consciousness of the public with an accurate method aimed at the preservation of the collective memory in order to avoid that the trauma caused by the removal is buried under a corrupt land. In Guatemala, the retrograde situation in which women live is reported with the famous performance Himenoplastia (2004) that shows a surgery for the reconstruction of the hymen, illegal practice popular because of the difficulty that a no longer virgin woman has to get married.
Among the various works, Infiltrado (2008) shows how Galindo is attentive, not only to the success of the complaint, but also to the development of a never predictable language: she hires a detective to collect information about the invitees to a vernissage and makes a report. There are a number of files with personal information such as a state secret archive. Emblematic is ¿ Quien puede borrar las huellas ? (2003), during which she walked barefoot, in human blood, the route that goes from the Constitutional Court to the National Palace of Guatemala. Each imprint is a sign in memory of the victims of armed conflict and against the candidacy of the former dictator Montt, then sentenced to eighty years in prison for genocide. Sentence subsequently annulled by the present government. Soon the process should reopen. Galindo through the “disturbational” (to use a term coined by Arthur C. Danto) use of her corporeality, doesn’t return the specific historical event, but she makes it possible. The body, which is “body of art”, elevates into a paroxysmal sharing the repressed past, staging it in a museum or on the street or precisely in the place in which it occurred, effectively creating a space “other” in which her moral is superimposes to that existing one, in an act of justice directed out by the state.
Reflect on abuses in Guatemala means to participate in a political discourse that involves the whole human condition, to perceive the insecurity on which we stand is to know that the loss of freedom is always possible. The artist knowingly use a language capable of imparting visibility with a network of meanings that are projected outside the body, expanding the need to denounce those who above all should protect us, and kill us instead. Being dragged into her communication mechanism causes a wrong trend, not a simple voyeuristic participation, but a slow walk that takes possession of those who face the path in her research, while compressions restrict movement, while the infected blood on the face closes the look and the mass graves widen expanding a resounding empty. Stumbling repeatedly on a tangle of bodies in a senseless war, you have always to stand up, with the fiery and bewildered energy of the flesh caressed by a scorching brand.
Regina Josè Galindo, ¿QUIÉN PUEDE BORRAR LAS HUELLAS?, 2003. Foto: Victor Pérez. Vie di Ciudad de Guatemala
Regina Josè Galindo, CAMINOS, 2013. Foto: Jorge Linares, David Pérez. Concepción 41, Antigua Guatemala. Courtesy dell’Artista e PrometeoGallery
Regina Josè Galindo, FALSO LEÓN, 2011. Bronzo in bagno d’oro guatemalteco. Foto: Giulia Talini. Padiglione dell’America Latina 54a Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, Venezia. Courtesy dell’Artista e PrometeoGallery
Regina Josè Galindo, LA VERDAD, 2013. Foto: David Pérez, Jorge Linares. Centro de Cultura de España, Ciudad de Guatemala. Courtesy dell’Artista e PrometeoGallery