Bodies of Resistance

May 2014

     The bodies of resistance of women around the globe who undergo totalitarian regimes, especially after 1980, carry deep marks. They are still battling against not only the dictatorship of the patriarchal model imposed by white male man ideologies in regards to racial, sexual and religious differences, but also colonialism, oppression, censorship, isolation, indifference, in both private and public spheres. These revolutionary works are voices of resistance. They have challenged society through art practices. They pushed the fight for equality from the personal to the political realm.

     In Eastern and Central Europe, the grant of equality is a double bladed knife. These women were already part of the working force; there was the totalitarian assumption that they were officially equal in front of the State. Women assumed more responsibilities and more roles than before and were expected to fulfill all of them brilliantly in their demanding jobs and households.

     Totalitarianism leaves deep marks of both physical and intellectual deprivation. During the 60’s and 70’s, information was heavily delayed or censored by the government. After the fall of Communism regimes, many countries faced poverty and access to material goods as goods under the excuse of the western consumerism influence. Promoted by commercial media, women were increasingly expected to be beautiful, young, fit, and fashionable.

     Serbian artist Tanja Ostojic recreates Courbet’s iconic image L’Origine du monde  (2002) by showing the European Union flag on her panties. (Fig) Thus, she denies the viewer to gaze into her sex, pointing instead to the site of power – the emblematic yellow-star-circle. The artist stages the inherent ambiguity towards Europe – its cultural supremacy and its economic power.

     Until today, we face the recurrent terrifying news of female sexual exploitation in these countries. These post communist governments seem to have abstained itself from the question of sexuality and woman objectification. They have failed to take a stand to protect women who are still being treated and trafficked as merchandises.

     Women are still far from having healed postcolonialism marks. They have won some remarkable fights: The right to vote, to be home with our children in their first year of life, in some places, to marry a same-sex partner legally. However, when we exam art practices closely, we still face the fact that in most fields representing and producing power, including what is considered the  “art world”, is dominated by the privileged white heterosexual Euro-American. Therefore, there is much work to be done.


Regina José Galindo

     Regina José Galindo is a Guatemalan performance artist born in Guatemala City in 1974 who specializes in body art and performance. I find her works tremendously visceral. Her body is a raw “bleeding” site of resistance against inherited oppression of a dictatorship regime. Francisco Goldman says “Galindo expresses the Guatemalan experience with searing intimacy, its pain and horror and daily humiliation, but also its resiliency and peculiar vividness.”

     A Guatemalan who did not know that it was a performance titled Who can erase the traces? —Or even who had never heard of performance art—would have had no trouble understanding the symbolism: the ghostly footprints representing the hundreds of thousands of civilians murdered, overwhelmingly by the Army, during the long years of war and after; the persistence of memory in the face of official policies of enforced forgetting and impunity. I have read (and have contributed) plenty of words, a surfeit of words, about violence and injustice in Guatemala. That trail of bloody footprints was the most powerful statement I had encountered in ages.

     She walked from the Congress of Guatemala building to the National Palace, stopping at times and dipping her bare feet in a white basin full of human blood as a protest against the presidential candidacy of Guatemala’s former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt.

Sonia Andrade

      Sonia Andrade is a Brazilian artist born in Rio de Janeiro in 1935. She is the pioneer of video art in Brazil beginning in the early 70s. Her works of resistance involved performances where she deformed her face nylon threads, imposes small self mutilations I her body such as cutting her body hair with scissors, and praying as she held her own hand on a table with nails and wire. Andrade discusses the tenuous boundaries between lucidity and madness featuring the creative act. The self-violence acts are half real and fictional medium.

     Andrade also makes a powerful critique on politics, modern media culture, and the role of the spectator to an image and the “contemporary colonialism” of through the monopoly of the television in Brazil (one country, one channel). She performs critical intervention on the television itself, covering both its structural and ideological aspects.

Early Videos

Her earliest video works were solitary projects involving only the artist and a television; the object was the oppressive entity, representing the banality of modern imagery and its effects on viewers.

Tania Buguera

     Cuban installation and performance artist born 1968 in Havana, Cuba.

     El Peso de la Culpa is also a part of the series Memoria de la Postguerra. This piece, which is a 1997 performance, distances itself somewhat from my prior work, I think it is a turning point in my art. In this piece, I take on issues of guilt and responsibility in a conscious way for the first time. These elements, together and in relation to the issue of silence, constitute a new focus in my most recent efforts.  In this piece, I specifically refer to the collective suicides of the indigenous Cuban people during the Spanish occupation. The only way that some of them could rebel – as they did not have, any weapons and they were not warriors by nature – was to eat dirt until they died. This gesture, which has remained with us more as a historical rumor, struck me as hugely poetic. In a way, it speaks to our individuality both as a nation and as individuals. Eating earth, which is sacred and a symbol of permanence, is like swallowing one’s own traditions, one’s own heritage, it is like erasing oneself. It is electing suicide. What I did was take this historical anecdote and update it to the present. This acts in combination with the fact that in Cuba, when one is said to be “eating dirt” in the popular sense, it is understood that one is going through a very difficult time. The performance manifests as a solemn ritual which also involves salt water, which engages with the earth as a symbol of tears, and a headless lamb hung from my neck which functions as a protective shield which, in turn, because of its weight, functions as a symbol of submission. It is a work in which the idea of punishment (in this case, self-punishment by “suicide” and the “erasing” of oneself) converges with the causes of guilt (submission, passivity). The first materializes in the act of eating the dirt; the second in the image of the lamb hung around my neck.  The punishment is for being submissive, but that passivity is also a way to survive, and that kind of salvation is a slow death.

Octavio Zaya [4]


Veronika Bromova

     When I think of the body as the site of subjectivity construction beyond the binary male/female, as complex and political, hosting the struggles around issues of sexuality, exploration, idealized beauty, isolation, the Czech artist Veronika Bromova and her multimedia installations comes to my mind. She uses digital technology— video and photography, to augment the representation of her own body and others.

Elzbieta Jablonska

     Elzbieta was born in Poland in 1978. I personally attracted to her works. She explores the struggles of womanhood with the heroic social expectations as we take more roles in traditional societies than we can perform. To ground this criticism, she explores the mundane rituals embedded in everyday life in the private sphere (this is where I am focusing my thesis on) embodying the super mother persona. I appreciate the irony and humor she brings to her work, something I find refreshing in contrast to other feminism/ post-feminism works.

[1]  Regina José Galindo by Francisco Goldman

BOMB 94/Winter 2006, ART




Aditional Bibliography:

Jovana Stokic, Un-Doing Monocultures: Artists from the Blind Spot of Europe (The Influence of Sanja Ivekovic)