Exhibition with Zaida González Ríos and Sebastián Calfuqueo at Galerie Tart in Zürich on 24 – 27 Juli 2019
Zaida González and Sebastián Calfuqueo thematize the body as a cultural construction and negotiation of gender, sexuality, political rights, and pictorial representations.
Calfuqueo draws from his personal experiences as a feminist and Mapuche (the native people of the south of Chile). This culture recognized the spectrality of genders and sexualities and members with non-cis identities were considered gifted with particular skills and often acted as shamans or leaders in their communities. The Christian culture of the Spanish conquerors, however, imposed their binary gender conceptions on the native population and marginalized them politically as well as socially. This re-valuation has been normalized in laws, official history, and even the immediate physique stereotyped as the other. Calfuqueo points out this process of marginalization in his works on the chief and hero Caupolicán, the male gaze on women and the indigenous, and the customs of today’s Mapuche population. Besides the artistic-documentary reworking of this socio-political situation, Calfuqueo appropriates the symbols and turns them into tools of acknowledgment of this culture within the official Chilean national culture.
González, too, speaks from a marginal position, in her case as a woman in the patriarchal society of Chile. The sense of unease, which she formulates as an explicit common feeling in Chile, arises from the suppression of genuine emotions by unrealistic goals of consumption and self-optimization, which also hinder alternative lifestyles from being voiced. One of González’ recurring examples is the sexuality of women, particularly women of a certain age and non-compliant with common beauty standards. In her photographs and photo-installations, she therefore leaves behind any kind of moral judgment and boundaries and creates a multifarious universe in which neither gender nor behavior are normalized. In her series “Tarot Trans” she draws up a matrix of possibilities in which, like with other tarots, every constellation allows a personal message to be addressed to the viewer, who is invited to expand their personal spectrum of potential lifestyles.
González and Calfuqueo tackle the categorizations of the body in sex, gender, ethnic heritage, cultural role models and symbols, and moral-political value systems. Their works show both the subtle nuances of pre-established identities and the cleavages that are created by the dissolution of these categories in our society.
In Switzerland, there is an awareness of these issues and debates around the inclusion of marginal groups in society. However, what we do not have is a violent fight for political freedom and cultural acknowledgment, as minorities in other countries experience it. Yet there is no binary relation between Chile and Switzerland, good politics and bad politics, enlightenment on the one side and social crises on the other. The perceived position of us as a role model is dangerous in looking at and talking about other societies. Since it is difficult to recognize the implications of our position, we have to ask ourselves: What kind of images and ideals do we make of our own culture and how do we advertise and export these models? For instance, does cross-dressing always look like Rupaul’s Drag Rage? Is a sexually tolerant society that of the Street Parade? Such models may work in their context, but are not be able to account for the particular situations of indigenous and mestizo populations and lower social classes in Latin America and elsewhere. González and Calfuqueo present us colors and histories of the feminist spectrum which can teach us about bodies and their cultures in their native Chile, and make us reconsider our own spectrum as well.
Zaida González Ríos was born in 1977 in Santiago de Chile. For over twenty years Zaida has been developing an unmistakable style of vivid colors and a stable studio setting. Trained (but never active) as a veterinarian, she has worked with scientific specimen which on the one hand yield a surreal effect in her photographic compositions, yet on the other hand, never obscure their true form and never abstract, beautify, alienate, or distract from the subject matter. The numerous and oftentimes recurring props from Chile’s popular culture constitute a broad repertoire from which Zaida draws ever new connections to current socio-political problems. In all her works, the defining feature is the expression of body positivity and alternative sexualities. Normalized beauty ideals as well as conservative moral systems are the constraints which she identifies inhibiting Chilean society as a whole, and actively suppressing countless alternative lifestyles. Zaida’s photographs draw up a spectrum which does not follow neither rigid logic, nor value judgments, but offers a space for everything trans.
She was awarded the Premio Rodrigo Rojas de Negri for her outstanding work as an emerging photographer. Her work has been exhibited in numerous solo shows in renowned national institutions, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, and several group exhibitions in Belgium Sweden, Portugal, and Spain. Exhibitions and a gallery representation in France complement her distinguished career.
Watch an interview with the artist on YouTube: https://youtu.be/EAEBlBsVE1k
Sebastián Calfuqueo Aliste was born in Santiago de Chile in 1991. Sebastián is of Mapuche descent (the indigenous population of the South of Chile), but he grew up in Santiago in constant contrast between the culture of his ancestors and that of the culturally European capital of the country. The history of this transculturation—starting with the first contact between Mapuche and Spanish conquistadores, hundreds of years of sometimes peaceful, sometimes belligerent exchange, forced integration into the Chilean state, up to current political and cultural confrontations—is the starting point for his own biography as well as the fate of others, which he represents and interprets through his performances, sculptures, photographs, and installations. Sebastián calls himself a feminist and Mapuche, thereby making use of the conceptual and historical potential of a geographically independent feminism, and at the same time delineating the radius of his own work around his culture, notably in opposition to the vague and nationalist idea of the “Chilean.”
His work has been exhibited in various significant national museums, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, both in Santiago, and the Parque Cultural in Valparaíso. He has been part of group exhibitions in Spain, Sweden, and Germany and has lectured about his work North and South America. MAPA presented his video performance Alka Domo during the videojournée in May 2019.
Watch an interview with the artist on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Xe4By7RwDB0
MAPA is pleased to present „Reconquest“ by Sebastián Calfuqueo. This work was developed and produced for the exhibition BODIES, CULTURES in July 2019.
In 1863, the Chilean sculptor Nicanor Plaza (1844-1918) took part in an art competition in the United States, for which he was supposed to hand in a sculpture of an indigenous person. As he did not know any indigenous people and during this time was living in Paris for his art education, he turned to James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last Mohican and its illustrations for inspiration. The sculpture was received with mediocre success in both the US and Paris, but was acquired by the Chilean government in 1873 and installed in the recently re-modeled Cerro Santa Lucía, an ancient tomb site turned bourgeois leisure park in the heart of Santiago. In Chile, the sculpture became known as Caupolicán, the much admired Mapuche hero of the 16th century. Caupolicán was the winner of a competition among the peers of his community by carrying a trunk for two days on his shoulders, consequently being named Toqui (leader) against the conquistadors (Calfuqueo dedicated his video work Alka Domo to this legend). However, Caupolicán not only was a hero and symbol of virility for the indigenous Mapuche, but through Alonso de Ercilla’s poem also became a figure of military admiration for the criollos, Spanish colonizers born in Chile. This group also elevated Caupolicán to their symbol of liberation against the Spanish crown during the Independence Wars 1810-1826, and continued to develop this history as a national myth while waging war against the Mapuche in the second half of the 19th century.
Calfuqueo already worked with the legend of Caupolicán and his representation in Plaza’s sculpture in an earlier work, „Gato por liebre“ (2016). He bought a cheap plastic reproduction of the sculpture at a flea market in Valparaíso and re-cast it in dozens of resin figurines, each in a different color and exhibited in this multitude. This was a first act of re-appropriation: not the Chilean (i.e. white) art elite and their conceptions of high art, but Calfuqueo, of Mapuche descent, and a pop-art like presentation take over the sovereignty of representing Caupolicán.
Already the art critics of the 20th century questioned the authenticity of Plaza’s sculpture. Although its opportunistic recontextualization and renaming from a Mohican to a Mapuche was well known, it had been visually cemented as a symbol of Chilean history in countless postcards. It was also clear that the feathers, earrings, and entire physique did not correspond to Mapuche traditions and appearance. This critique has long been without a strong lobby in the still elitist Chilean art scene. This is why it was very important to Calfuqueo to keep developing his work Gato por liebre. When the curator of BODIES, CULTURES, Matthias Pfaller, suggested to produce Gato por liebre as 3D prints for the show, Calfuqueo took this idea one step further to create a completely new work. This time, Caupolicán should be represented as and by a Mapuche. Following the idea of the curator, Calfuqueo did not produce the model as a ceramic figure—a medium which he has used in the past, but which is all too often associated and stereotyped as a technique of indigenous artists and especially artisans. Printing in 3D has thus become an art-political gesture.
While the exhibition of Reconquest follows its predecessor in its presentation as multitude, one color stands out. The deep blue is the sacred color of the Mapuche and bears a double meaning for the artist: Calfuqueo in Mapudungun means blue stone.
Ever alive. Ever hurt.
From a political and emotional, biographical, autobiographical, and feminist viewpoint, the intense works by Zaida González Ríos and Sebastián Calfuqueo interlace with each other. Both artists articulate themselves based on a critique of the hegemonic identities that define sex, race, gender, and social class. Their investigations draw heavily from the visual, generating displacements and nuisance in square eyes: the normalized homo and hetero. The two dive into the multiplicity of the I. They look into their own, far memory. They formulate the defiance of Latin American bodies. They present and represent themselves before the world; with a deep wound that cannot be stitched and with a sharp and vivid anger against those who smudge the histories of the indigenous and dissidents.
Zaida and Sebastián are expansive twins that disobey a Chile that wants to be white and blond. A Chile that wants to eliminate the stories of classrooms. A Chile that only wants to create body machines to keep feeding the rich and powerful. Expansive twins who fight coloniality while they build up a space of love and sociability for those who feel suppressed by their families and the supremacy of a neocolonial society. They are expansive, furious, peripheral twins. They know exactly what it feels like to be discriminated against and assaulted. They deny biological sexuality, derange the dogmatic, and break through Machismo and conversatism. They have become visible in their profound and extensive works of art boasting with a baroque and scandalous verve. They are workers in an inexhaustible universe, weavers of memories and masters of pastel and watercolor. Enemies of morality. Indeed, they are becoming travestis in their intimate encounters and strange movements of their bodiliness that makes them unique before the curious gaze.
The pose as political action. The pose as rebellious overflow. The pose as life and death. The pose as resignification of memories.
Zaida, the eccentric cat, works with her analog camera and rolls of black and white film. With pens and brushes she gently colorizes the images that appear out of the dark. Zaida, quiet and precise, uses her own body as support in the self portrait to give life to her experiences. Moreover, portraits, as other experiences that she values. She teams up with other bodies that have become part of her trembling physical and mental world, thus creating and forming a world full of respect in which she embraces and loves every type of living and dead appearance that poses in front of her fierce and penetrating eyes, such as travestis, people living with albinism, HIV, Down syndrome, obesity, and animals, among so many other things. She is a mother of dead and anomalous children, without names as the doctors would say. But Zaida dedicates them a note of love, a Recuérdame al Morir con Mi Último Latido [Remember me when I die with my last heartbeat, book of the artist, 2010], she tells us that they will never be forgotten, pushing aside the eternal casket of glass and formol.
The mis-en-scène is another significant and important space for the artist, who uses both common and often familiar materials and hand-made objects. In these prepared stages, distinguished friends of the cause have posed for her, two of them are Ignacio Contreras in Ni Lágrimas Ni Culpas and Hija de perra in El Castigo. The first was a spiritualist photographer, the second an activist of the bizarre and dissident of normativized sexuality. Both have become Latin American icons of struggle and resistance.
Furthermore she gives us an intimate and poignant glimpse into her life through small cell phone photographs, in which we see a pensive Zaida wandering through the streets of Santiago and her childhood neighborhood San Miguel. In close touch with her frail and wonderful mother tied to the bed in pain and agony, she portrays her in her bodily decline. The artists speaks to us about a conjunction of a double negative, neither tears nor guilt, transforming the suffering of her mother, her family, her friends and her own body. Zaida poses in the mirrors of her home, her bathroom, the patio, the streets, and watchea Cielo, her mothers’ cat and thinks of her, Aida’s, smile.And she tells us that in some way, or she warns us that in any moment, the body of her mother will languish like the most beautiful red cardinal of her garden which she most remembers in the memory of her heart. Finally, Zaida reveals to us that through her esoteric cards of the series El Juicio Final, Tarot Trans she transmits unbreakable memories, of corporeal and learned connections; links through which moves the protest and honest, loving metamorphosis.
Similarly, Sebastián Calfuqueo, visual and Mapuche artist, worker of the materials of the earth, unfolds her story like Zaida does, in a political but honest way. In this respect, her first work, the video performance You Will Never Be a Weye, is a strong example. She explains the history and the biographical importance of the body of the Machi Weye with the words of his grandmother, who told her: in Mapuche culture, fags do not exist. Consequently, Sebastián decides to pose in front of a camera, half naked, from the back, dressing in a perishable, fleeting costume bought in a popular commercial part of Estación Central. The Machi garb, made in China. The Machi in Mapuche culture keeps the link between the supernatural and the human world. A Machi Weye, according to the Spanish chronicles, practiced sodomy, and feminized himself. A family story connects to Mapuche history. Colonial Europe exterminated the Machi Weyes and eradicated them from history. This is why Calfuqueo embraces this practice, feminizes herself in front of several eyes, de-constructs her body, while her voice accompanies this act and gives testimony of a painful family and personal life. With a strong grip, her works repeatedly take up the history of the Mapuche, intertwining it in their contemporary contexts. She uses the documents of the past, including manuals of the colonizers interrogating Mapuche sexuality and punishing it with the full force of religiosity, as exemplified in Costumbres de los
Araucanos Gay. It is this history on which Sebastián bases her body politics, disobedient and decolonial.
The pose, just as in the work of Zaida, is a constant, as if Calfuqueo became another in multiplicity. Pulling down and shaking up identities all the time. In this respect, Sebastián presents us a reinterpretation of the female body in her work A Imagen y Semejanza with two photographs: one Yagana woman and one Caucasian woman in erotic pose, both in the same posture. The artist embodies this reinterpretation in her feminine pose, in order to be photographed and looked at. Printed life-size, she appears as a third woman on the wall. Sebastián is manifesting an idea of desire, as well as the “figure” of femininity and the colonization of the genders. In his video performance Alka Domo, in turn, she presents herself in black clothing, carrying a hollow trunk made of Coihue, a native plant from the South of Chile. Representing a hybrid Caupolicán, nurtured by earth, with high heels in the colors of the LGBTQ+ flag, Sebastián causes discomfort in the frivolous and dismissive passersby. Repeating this performance in strategic locations of the city in her personal history and that of the Mapuche, the artist is habitually insulted, which makes her relive a historical past that she is still so fulminantly experiencing. In Chile, the word “hueco” is used to revile people and identities that escape heterosexuality, and who are problematic for the patriarchal system. Finally, Calfuqueo is showing his newest work, an updated version of the mythic figure Caupolicán which she carefully sculpted, therefore exploring the medium of 3D printing and criticizing the stereotype of the indigenous artist cum artisan.
This is how Zaida González and Sebastián Calfuqueo are travelers of a dissident periphery, of memories ever alive and ever hurt. Two who go into exile, away from the hetero- and homo-patriarchal traditions as they spread anew in a disconcerting Europe. Two visual artists who emancipate their tears in BODIES, CULTURES, cutting into pieces, in certain ways, the rampant capitalism. They are two bodies with intertwined voices that bend and break social norms. They are two versatile bodies proud of their Mapu-Sudaca being and becoming.
Diego Argote, Photographer, July 2019
Translated by Matthias Pfaller. Encuentre la versión original en castellano aquí (PDF)
Zaida González’ and Sebastián Calfqueo’s practice revolves around specifically Chilean, in Calfuqueo’s case, Mapuche-Chilean topics. Zaida creates portraits and scenes of women, trans people, different ethnicities and overall, humans not fulfilling universal Western beauty standards. Sebastián works from his experience as a Mapuche. Historically, the native culture of the South of Chile does not distinguish between male and female as harshly as the Christian conquerors made them to during hundreds of years of colonization, so that nowadays non-binary members are marginalized in their community as is the whole Mapuche community in the Chilean state. Both artists, it can therefore be said, work with queer identities. However, this term is controversial, especially in areas outside of its initial scope, that is, the non-Western regions of our world. Hence, the cultural translation of these works into a Swiss context requires some precisions.
Both artists work with masks, costumes, props and especially their own body, which is not only a formal commonality, but expresses the underlying principle of their work as a medium for the many particular identities marginalized in our societies. This was also the main reason to organize this exhibition in Zurich. Historically, Zurich is a city with leftist politics (despite its conservative wealth), a large cultural community, and accepting of different lifestyles. Among the many lobbies for human rights, the LGBTQ community is particularly strong. The reason for this is the limited range of topics it pushes and the compatibility with capitalism. As such, the universalized version of non-normative genders and sexualities is tailored to wealthy people, which makes it accessible to the elites of non-Western states and therefore supposedly global. On the basis of its compliance with established class systems, it has been adopted by institutions, corporations, and governments, which surely increased its force, but it also has been subjected to their agendas. However, this agenda is primarily white, imperialist, and sexualized. Western politicians opportunistically use human rights as an excuse to exert pressure on less developed countries, religious groups stigmatize abortion as a matter of careless sexuality, large corporations sponsor gay parades as advertisement, and social media are producing homogeneous looks for specific types of gays, lesbians, or trans people geared toward an often traditional sense of (Western) beauty.
The Chilean writer Pedro Lemebel described this incongruence of the achievement of the white gay agenda with his own experiences in his text “Crónicas de Nueva York.” Invited to the twentieth anniversary of Stonewall, he visits the famous bar in New York and its neighborhood, feeling ignored and looked down upon by the gay population. “Belittled like a Latin mosquita” and stared at in his “third world undernourishment,” he wanders around among the ostensible virility and pride of the locals, in muscle shirts and sex shops. Ultimately, he heads to other neighborhoods where he feels less like a “stranger.” This short reflection obviously points out the cultural specificity of the homosexual community not only in the United States, but also in the city of New York, where Lemebel probably found other parts and communities with other symbols and attitudes that fit better to his own body and culture. But in his most visible, celebrated form, “the gay soars up to power, he does not confront it, contravene it.” (Quotes taken from: Pedro Lemebel, Loco afán, Barcelona: Seix Barral, 20185 (1996), 94-95, 166).
In its political and economical homogeneity, questions of class and race rarely come up in the white agenda (compare the phenomenon of “traveling gays”), as wealth is considered a given and race easily ignored if the economic standing is right. Without either money or white skin, however, the chances for inclusion are low. Therefore, human rights are only in reach when they are de-coupled from economics and reduced to parts of human life, such as sexuality. Yet this utterly intimate side is not at the center of the demands of queer people. The realization of their lifestyles in a public society involve a host of policies in need of change, and this is where the difficulty of human rights are: they are specific to each one of the sub-groups, and they are costly (a pejorative way of saying they make demands on the state to distribute wealth more evenly). So every sub-group of the LGBTQ community has their own goals: gay couples aspire to the right to adopt children, trans persons require support in their medical treatment, women demand equal salaries, and people of color denounce racial discrimination in housing and job applications. If it were for extravagant outfits they would pay for themselves, resistance to the extension of human rights would be minimal. Where they involve access to economic resources, support is waning. The queer agenda is thus insufficient when it does not consider class and race, and it is hollow when its subgroups are artificially united through the generalization of sexuality. It is necessarily an umbrella term for many, many groups with different needs that should work together for their goals, but should not efface their differences, because this creates exclusions as Lemebel experienced it.
This is why this exhibition is not a queer show, because it is not exclusively about sexuality or gender. Zaida’s women, people of color and of different genetics, and Sebastián’s history of Mapuche culture tackle the fragile social cohesion in our societies in general. This exhibition in Zurich is also not a postcolonial effort to introduce Zaida’s and Sebastián’s work into the Western canon of queer art. They make no claim to a place in our history of art or art scene. Zaida and Sebastián claim a decolonial position that is not defined by the relation to the North Atlantic. Before anything, they try to present their share in Chilean society and re-present it in favor of a more respectful environment. By extension of their general principles we can try to identify the conditions that create inequality for people all over the world. In learning about their viewpoint and specific situation in Chile, we in Switzerland may reconsider the particularities of our own fight for human rights, and the needs of our local communities, all by acknowledging that these circumstances are never universal.
In this superficial high time for LGBTQ visibility, the exhibition is meant to be a reminder that these letters neither stand for set categories of gender and sexuality, nor problems of individuals. BODIES, CULTURES is a celebration of the spectrum of human life and the invitation to see ourselves maybe not as one community, but many communities in respectful coexistence.