As I began to think about this phenomenon, many other examples came to mind; the famous case of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, whose artwork skyrocketed in value after she “fell” from the window of the apartment she shared with her husband Carl Andre; Cuban filmmaker Sara Gomez, who was never permitted to explore the social issues that interested her when working at the Cuban Film Institute, but who was practically canonized by her colleagues after her mysterious death from an asthma attack; Frida Kahlo, who was never properly recognized during her lifetime, only to become the most well known symbol of female artistic martyrdom in the 1980’s; Evita Peron, whose corpse was hidden from view for several years by the Argentine military who feared the power she held over her people even after her death; and Sor Juana, who was forced to set down her pen by the Church hierarchy, and then sent to certain death as a nurse to plague victims in la Nueva España. I have decided to develop a performance that links these stories.
For this performance, I converted galleries into funeral parlors and held a series of wakes. Each wake was dedicated to one of the abovementioned artists. I appeared as a different personage each day. Texts around the coffin would offer pertinent details from each artist’s life, and one written statement from each artist would serve as the textual centerpiece. Sound effects for each day, a loop of music, prayers, and speeches, would be emitted from speakers lodged within the coffin itself. Audience members would be encouraged to respond by writing statements and leaving their own offerings.
I have explored the techniques of living dioramas in several earlier performances, including Mexarcane, Two Undiscovered Amerindians, and La Chavela Realty. I am particularly interested in this performance method, as it enables me to play with the border between the real and the fictional, and between appearance and reality. With this particular performance, all the feelings of the uncanny that direct encounters with the dead often produce would become the starting point for an emotional and intellectual exploration of the issues I raise.