© Regina Jose Galindo

Artist Regina Jose Galindo in conversation with dramaturg Aljoscha Begrich about her project Aparición. It was presented digitally last year at the Ruhrtriennale by uploading an image every three days. In 2022, posters of the 15 scenes created will be put up in the Bochum city center.

AB: Can you tell us a bit about how this project came about and why it’s so important to you?

RG: Since the beginning of my career, since I started in the late ‘90s as a poet, I’ve been working with the subject of gender-specific violence. That’s hardly surprising given the fact that I’m from Guatemala. It is known that we in the »third world« have long faced heavy misogyny and femicide. There was civil war for many years, and countless crimes against women were committed – the spoils of war, as it were. And these crimes have always factored into all conflicts and wars. When I started working outside of Guatemala, I realized that such suffering affects not only us women on this side of the ocean, not only developing countries. Hearing the numbers in Europe was very telling for me. I realized that crimes on our bodies are among the oldest crimes in human history. These crimes presumably reached our villages, our countries, our regions via colonial conquest, through all the processes that have taken place in more than 500 years. Guatemala consists of 21 different communities with 21 different languages – and in none of these 21 Maya languages does the term »violence« exist. So to talk about these crimes in Guatemala, people use the language of the Spanish colonizers. For this work I didn’t deal with the crimes in my region, rather with the crimes on the other side of the ocean, with the numbers in Germany. I was shocked to discover that every three days a woman is murdered by her partner or ex-partner. That’s an alarming rate, but even more alarming is the fact that in a developed country like Germany, the term »femicide« is hardly used; and that this kind of crime isn’t a separate criminal offense.   

AB: Based on the fact that we don’t have a term for this crime, it’s like it doesn’t exist. There’s no term for it. No one talks about it in Germany. In South and Central America, however, violence towards women has been an issue for much longer and feminist movements have established the term in discourse.

RG: The terminology surrounding femicide was created on this side of the world. Femicide describes the murder of a woman simply because she’s a woman. The term feminicidio, coined by a feminist in Mexico, also describes the murder of a woman; though here the non-action of the state is a factor. Acts of violence in Europe are also included in feminicidio, as the state tacitly accepts these acts and doesn’t even recognize them as an autonomous criminal offense.

AB: The fight against silence is very present in your works. Your art often encourages things to become visible or to be spoken of, as with these acts of violence. The work isn’t coincidentally called Aparición. The figure appearing every three days reminds us of the crimes like a ghost that won’t go away. A body that appears in the inner city, in the midst of things. Are you going for a religious experience?

RG: Religion is a really important cornerstone in misogynist and chauvinist regions where these crimes occur. Does religion somehow function as a pretext with regards to amorality towards women and guilt? The crimes that partners or ex-partners aim against us and our bodies are largely characterized by guilt and punishment. And that is directly linked to religion. The moral values we’re inculcated with since childhood, the ideas of how we are to be as women, and the virginal state we’re to embody definitely allow for a religious element in the appearances. And I like that. The title Aparición is in a way a criticism, a playful approach to this terrible situation and the recurring reports: Today two women died; Yesterday a woman died. In Guatemala, two to four women are murdered a day. We explain again and again that these women don’t just »die«. It’s about altering the language we use to speak about these circumstances. These women are being murdered. This kind of violence exists all over the world. Women don’t just suddenly, magically die. They are being deliberately and willfully murdered.

AB: And there is a murderer. It doesn’t just happen by itself; people are involved – men – who kill.

RG: It’s difficult to accept and express that it’s men close to us. These crimes are committed by partners and ex-partners. That is dreadful. Another issue that plays a role in Germany and is imperative to consider is racism. How does the state deal with this situation and these horrible numbers? Often these crimes are wrongly attributed to the migrant population. Yet 70 percent of crimes against women in Germany originate in the German population. So it’s a fallacy that these crimes were brought to Europe by migrants and their customs. The percentage we see in Germany is the same as in Spain or Italy. We have to point out the problem that many industrial nations have similar numbers.

AB: How would you classify your work – do you situate it as an artwork or as an activist project? Is it both in equal parts? Is there even a difference for you?

RG: I locate the work at a juncture – meaning it arose in reaction to a social situation and is a tangible denouncement of this situation – while simultaneously being an artistic action. The work lands in both spaces. We have a narrative premise that informs on the facts. But how we talk about these facts is just as significant.

AB: It premiered in Berlin in the exhibition Owned By Others, curated by Lutz Henke, after which there were shows in the Ruhr area. The performance has traveled to many different places. How was it different to show the performance in public space in the Ruhr area?

RG: The project was created during the pandemic. I received an invitation from Lutz Henke to participate in Owned By Others, which offered space for artistic works and interventions in public space during the pandemic. I prepared my project remotely. It was a series of appearances: veiled monuments in the form of women who are completely covered in a gray cloth and appear in stately locations on Museum Island in Berlin. So an integral part of the project were the living monuments who appear every three days wrapped in a cement gray cloth to show the dichotomy between body and sculpture. When we decided to show the project a second time – this time at the Ruhrtriennale – we thought I’d be the central figure in the performance. That was a major job for me because I love performing. I like the moment of catharsis, the energy, the feeling of being a part of something. In the second performance I was even closer to the project because I participated and was beneath the cloth myself. There were moments, for example, when I was standing in the middle of the street, veiled, and I experienced with my own body how the body is variously visible or even invisible. I experienced people approaching, children reacting to me in public places, and the complete opposite – I was downright ignored as if this body, this figure wasn’t even there. It was incredibly enriching to actively participate instead of just giving conceptual instructions.
And I felt the weariness that the project induced was really fascinating. The constant repetition leads to a fatigue that is of fundamental importance to the project. We’re aware that the repetition and the recurring images every three days can cause exhaustion and displeasure, but that’s precisely the project’s intention. How do we talk about the exhaustion we see ourselves facing as women with regards to the situation in countries whose governments aren’t doing anything about it? Fatigue and displeasure shouldn’t only be felt in the context of an art project, but also have to be perceived in real life in order to be able to change the situation so it doesn’t repeat. The repetition is thus deliberate.

AB: Watching the performance, I also noticed that the majority of people didn’t look at it, as you just described. But I don’t think people felt inhibited in approaching for whatever reason. I had the impression that some people really didn’t even see the appearance. And that had a symbolic value for me. It’s an unnamed issue. It’s invisible. It’s not being heard.

RG: There’s a huge difference between not seeing something and not wanting to see it. We did the performance in other places, such as Argentina, where people really reacted. You have to take into account the character of a society. In Germany the reactions were more discreet, reticent, and abstract because behavior regarding social difficulties there is much more reserved.

AB: Can you tell us a bit more about the performance in Buenos Aires? You didn’t actively participate there, rather the idea was taken up by other people. How do you see the issue of authorship in this project?

RG: With Aparición I was interested in developing a project to be performed as much as possible. I’m always glad when someone wants to do the project. In Argentina it’s supposed to be shown in Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and other places. Marcela Cortez, Sofia Smaldone and Leticia Spinosa wrote to me wanting to show the project over a number of months. We passed along the stage directions, which are really simple. You need a 4x4m cloth and suitable places for the sculptures to appear. Currently, we have an invitation from Munich. People who are interested contact us on social media. So it’s a project that doesn’t have authorship in that sense. The more people there are who want to show it, the better.
Of course, all places are suited to express, speak, and scream such a denunciation. Yet the greatest strength is always appropriating public space to express our denouncements and concerns. And one of the strengths of Aparición is that the project works on the street and is really easy to action. So I really hope it keeps going.