Kranidis Maria—Holy Terrors– Synthesis 3
The book Holly Terrors edited by Diana Taylor and Roselyn Constantino is a collection of plays written and performed by Latin American women. These are artists who by definition they become political with their art because in their community and culture art for women is not allowed. They many times are thrown out of the public main stream theaters and so they are forced to create their own theater where only women perform This organization is called FOMA. The first section of the book is called Unimagined Communities. In this section we discover the political positions these women take under the male dominated world. Their work stresses communication with their audience more than representations of real life events. “Though committed to the disruption of oppressive forms, these artists share no aesthetic position” (HT15). Their performances and their artistic expression unsettle all that is expected in the theater by the heteronormative theater. Their style changes the practices of the theater as well as the beliefs of the world outside the theater. These women belong to the outside. But there is an open world of queer temporalities that allows them to adapt personas and other identities. They collect past stereotypical identities of women and they reinforce their views by way of interpretation in their work It is what Gopiath calls “ resignification of home within a queer diasporic imaginary makes three crucial interventions; first, it forcefully repudiates the elision of queer subjects from national and diasporic memory; second, it denies the function as threat to family/community/nation; and third, it refuses to position queer subjects as alien, inauthentic, and perennially outside the confines of these entities” (Gopinath).
Their acts many times satirical many times macabre it liberates women’s right to laughter and to freedom of expression whether it is political, religious, social cultural or straight down bodily, they allow sexuality to be part of the show and to share the same space and body with shier audience. They have organized what they call collective theater which includes the performances of many women artists who create their won personas, address individual issues but who meet and allow other women to share the experiences with them. “Part of the collective theater sprang up in the 1970s based on Marxist ideals of collective social responsibility” (HT 7). Founded by Petrona de la Cruz and Isabel Juarez Espinosa, the theater also plays a different role in their community, that of a cultural center, where women go to learn how to deal with problems they face domestic violence, cultural identity, displacement, as well as racial, gender, and economic discrimination. Many of them offer workshops for women. “This space allows women to assert their views on civil rights in a society that has doubly excluded and silenced indigenous women” (HT 10).
From what we have seen in Queer theory the outsider is not always unseen or within an undeveloped social identity. This formation of women gatherings and the expression of political beliefs through artistic expression brings thoughts of Home Girls and the formation of a political movement that helps women of color feminists design their own existence within the system that boarders their independence. “We believe that sexual politics under patriarchy is as pervasive in Black women’s lives as are the politics of class and race” (Home Girls). Just as these women had experienced that racial sexual oppression and united in defining their own political agenda and their own political identities, the NOMA women gather to organize through art a way of sharing political consciousness. The group of artists bases their political identity in the belief based on Marxist precepts that privileged class, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist struggles at the expense of a gender conflict” (HT).
We cannot really apply the Women of Color Feminists to the women in Latin America but we can see how the relationships to the cultural biases are similar. “We have arrived at the necessity for developing an understanding of class relationships that take into account the specific class position of Black women who are generally marginal in the labor force” (Home Girls). This class struggle is seen in the description of the NOMA that “the group undergoes constant transformation as members come and go in their efforts to earn a living” (HT).
Even though Queer theory is not presented in this book, one can see that these performers are queer in the way they function within the margins of theater and in the ways they deal with the meanings of their bodies on stage. They use comic ways to interpret the heteronormative ways their male counters embrace. So and so get married on stage having made two wedding dresses made out of paper. The other one uses her sexuality and body art to comment on political issues, such as abortion and birth control.
Many of these women are queer in the way they interpret heterosexual normative and specifically the physical connections women’s bodies shave to each other in relation to men’s. Two of the performative artists play the role of wrestlers. The arena of the match is their theater. They are connected to each other by a vacuum hose that is connected from pone vagina to the next and they battle to the four corners to reach the poles that are dressed into large penis-posts. This activity is called the wrestle of the Phallus. Under the notion that women do not want to watch their lives of crisis on stage they began a satirical interpretation of how their world is controlled by lame dominance and heterosexual political normatives. Juggling the historical and political sexual identifications women were given they turn their acts into hysterical confrontations.
The sexual or the erotic is “considered a source of power and information within our lives” tells us Audrey Lorde. This power we have been taught to “suspect this source, vilified, abused and devalued” (Lorde). These women feel that what they do in theater invites a new space of queer into existence. The erotic as described by Lorde is a combination of the spiritual in connection to love and practice. Their queer creations give opportunity “to handle other people’s substance –which wasn’t something external, formal, but something that was really shared, much more internal” (HL 230). Cohen tells us that:
“the label queer symbolizes an acknowledgment that through our existence and everyday survival we embody sustained and multisided resistance to systems based on dominant construction of race and gender) that seek to normalize our sexuality, exploit our labor and constrain our visibility. At the intersection of oppression and resistance lies the radical potential of queerness to challenge and bring together all those deemed marginal and all those committed to liberatory politics” (Cohen).
These artist women are very aware of the oppressions they endure as a gender which fuels their identity reinvention-by not being predictable, by not obeying to the heteronormative rules they become queer-and by becoming queer it becomes more difficult for the masculine centered society to speculate what make them queer. Within their performances, in the theater itself, they invent a queer imaginary place. And so by their performances, these women as “Queer activists must confront a question that haunts most political organizing: How can we put into politics…..individuals with intersecting identities?” (Cohen).
These women use their bodies as the opposition and tool of change. They make their own costumes and write their own work for performance. They look into the past for material for their acts. “A queer Diaspora mobilizes questions of the past, memory, and nostalgia for radically different purposes” (Gopinath). The search of a past which encourages and rebuilds a diaspora that shows women’s relationships as not so heteronormative builds a tension which erupts the political inadequacies of an oppressive system, by changing “the particular fixing of female diasporic subjectivity” Gopinath). The originality of these women’s work lies in the creation of their queer identities. They imitate old stereotypical-masculine-bases-social, cultural gender roles and create a queer community within the theater which while it provides them with space for creation it isolates them form the heteronormative world of their nation. They are performing what one of the actresses calls “juggling the hysterical and the historical has paradoxical effects” (HT156).
This theater has opened possibilities of expression and of queer existence. “The very limited possibilities for women have dictated that their strategies of intervention were determined by their sex” (HT 4). Their imitation of the normative is seen by Gopinath as the “Queer other of the nation as its inauthentic imitation.” But for these women this imitation through their art is the specific rapture of the past and the liberation into queer existence.
Cohen, Cathy. Punks Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens. GLQ. Vol. 3, pp. 437-465: 1997.
Gopinath, Gayatri. “Impossible Desires”. Duke University Press: London 2005.
Taylor, Diana. Holy Terrors: Latin American Women Perform. Duke University Press:
Lorde, Audrey. Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic Power. Mount Holyoke College conference presentation, August 25, 1978.
Smith, Barbara. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. Rutgers University Press:
I was thinking about Diana Taylor’s book The Archive and the Repertoire while I was reading this, because it is such a great exploration of the interventions that performance can make into queer and feminist politics; I didn’t realise that the anthology you are talking about is by her as well.
I wonder about the relevance of *diaspora* as well as queer to this work; does the colonial context of Latin America suggest a different way of thinking about the queer and diasporic? Even if the women performers aren’t queer identified, your description of some of the performance pieces makes it clear that their work provides a queer as well as feminist intervention; it would be interesting to explore the different and similar ways in which critical queerness and feminist intersectionality play out in north and south American contexts as well as across gender, class, and race divides.