Accepted Paper:

Public Expectations: Mexican feminist art from the streets to the museum  

Author:

Tania Islas (University of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

This paper engages with the work of Mexican artist Lorena Wolffer to analyze how logics of representation, political meanings, and power relations change when socially-engaged, ephemeral art that tackles issues of gender violence is transported into the institutionalized space of the museum.

Paper long abstract:

This paper analyzes how logics of representation, political meanings, and power relations change when socially-engaged, ephemeral art intended for the streets and public plazas is transported into the institutionalized space of the museum. To do so, I focus on contemporary Mexican art that tackles issues of gender violence and sexual stereotypes, and specifically on the case of a retrospective of the works of Lorena Wolffer - a performance artist and queer, feminist activist known for tackling issues of sexual harassment - which took place in 2015 in the Modern Art Museum (MAM) in Mexico City. While the exhibit was being set up, a female museum employee was harassed by a male co-worker and them promptly fired. The victim published an open letter in which she denounced the attack, her firing, and the museum's lack of accountability, but also directly criticized Wolffer for her lack of support. Many members of the Mexican artistic community also accused Wolffer of politically incoherent by denouncing gendered violence while showing her work at the MAM. In this paper, I study the innovative strategies that both Wolffer and the curator adopted to keep her work "alive" inside the institution, while also examining the reactions and critiques sparked by the exhibit and accompanying scandal. In doing so, I reflect on the mounting pressures faced by feminist artists in Mexico to address gender violence and the tensions that arise when they do so in the museum, a place from which they have been historically excluded.

Panel P019
Art (and anthropology) beyond materiality and representation