Lesson of Dissection

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Commissioned by Art Exchange, University of Essex in partnership with ESCALA 2011 Photograph courtesy of Dr Matthew Bowman

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Regina José Galindo is a prolific Guatemalan artist who uses her body to convey the immense hardship her country has suffered, both past and present. She was born in 1974 and raised in Zona 3 in Guatemala City near the notorious barrios of La Ruedita and El Gallito, by father who was initially violent and a submissive mother. (1) Her oeuvre makes evident issues of violence, racism, sexism, poverty, repressed sexuality, rape and the inadequacies of the Guatemalan government. Galindo has gained international notoriety through the extremity of the measures she is willing to utilise in order to raise awareness of Guatemala's situation; her work brings the silenced women of Guatemala into international discourse and challenges the world to hear them. Galindo's main preoccupation is with the inscription of indelible memories, with embodying crimes that still take place on a daily basis but which are, for the most part, invisible. Galindo does this for the sake of memory and social awareness, using 'shock value’ in order to create a call to action.

The performance piece Lesson of Dissection (2011) references Rembrandt's masterpiece The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp (1632) by drawing comparisons between the clinical precision with which Dr Tulp and his students opened up the cadaver, and the ruthless butchering of innocent people which took place throughout the thirty-six year Guatemalan civil war —described by Galindo as “evil” with “spine-chilling corruption”. She uses her own body as the focus of the performance; this is made all the more poignant by the fact it is a female body. According to Amnesty International reports, Guatemala has the worst record for violence against women and the world's highest rate of femicide. During the performance, supervised medical students draw on Galindo’s naked body, as they are instructed to mark out the lines through which they would cut the flesh during a dissection. Soon covered front and back with a network of lines, Galindo is reduced from a human being to a meat carcass ready for butchery—as have the victims of violence in Guatemala. Galindo represents the social body of Latin America, and exposes the injustice of methodically calculated political killings.

Galindo has produced numerous profoundly politically works, including Who Can Erase the Traces? (2003), which was awarded the Golden Lion prize at the 2005 Venice Biennale. The award demonstrates the relevance of her work beyond Guatemala.

1. ‘An interview with Regina José Galindo’ by Francisco Goldman. Translated by Ezra Fitz and Francisco Goldman from Performanceología: Todo sobre Arte de Performance y Performancistas, http://performancelogia.blogspot.co.uk/2007/04/interview-to-regina-jos-galindo.html, accessed on 1 July 2014.

(Text commissioned by ESCALA for the exhibition Connecting through Collecting: 20 Years of Art from Latin America at the University of Essex, 2014)

Jessica Hughes

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