Opinion

The 'sin' of diversified public art

La Pocha Nostra responds to criticism and threats over its Paseo performance

By Pocha Nostra
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 9/27/19

We are grateful to have spent creative time in such a beautiful city. Everyone we encountered was welcoming, gracious and committed to making art an important part of everyday life. Heartfelt thanks …

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Opinion

The 'sin' of diversified public art

La Pocha Nostra responds to criticism and threats over its Paseo performance

Posted

We are grateful to have spent creative time in such a beautiful city. Everyone we encountered was welcoming, gracious and committed to making art an important part of everyday life. Heartfelt thanks to everyone we met and worked with.

We confess that we left Taos with mixed feelings about the adventure. We fulfilled the goal of our project, which was to share our renowned pedagogy [method and practice of teaching], bring diversity to a public art festival and present a commentary on our political times using performance art strategies and humor all in the spirit of the "spaghetti western" genre.

During both nights, the response of the large audiences was overwhelmingly engaged and positive. But it became clear afterward that a volcano had erupted: Angry letters and posts from people -- most of whom had not actually seen the performance but had viewed amateur Facebook photos and video clips out of context -- sparked a "controversy" overnight. The performance opened a confessional space for extremists and fundamentalists to voice their bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, religious intolerance and hatred for contemporary art. After the second performance, our set was defaced with hand-painted religious signage and paraphernalia.

The last few days have been overwhelming. We have been characterized as "[expletive deleted]" with the purpose of "perverting the youth" by "exposing children to pornographic acts," "racists" (anti-whites) and outlaws committed to conjuring historical demons in "peaceful Taos" and "satanists" committed "to bring evil" and "desecrating the church." In each case, self-styled guardians of morality and aesthetics assume that we arrived to Taos with the intention of raising havoc! One concerned citizen even blames us for creating "a fault line between Anglos and Hispanics in our city." There have also been several death threats.

We must clarify certain points and bring focus to the important matters:

Regarding sexuality: All performers abided by the law -- the exposed breasts had covered nipples and body paint and there were no genitals showing. Physical contact between performers was highly stylized and theatrical, never literal or actual. No audience members were "forced" to pose with us or engage in a performance game. They all did it consensually and in the spirit of celebration.

Multiple announcements were made by festival organizers to ensure families present were warned of the "adult content." We believe parents are welcome to bring kids to our events but completely at their own discretion.

We can't begin to understand how our symbolic live images -- which have been featured in over 1,000 museums, festivals, universities and cultural venues around the world -- could be viewed as "pornographic," especially in light of the content children and teens have unbridled access to on a daily basis via video games, television and the internet. Why can't people differentiate between reality and symbolism?

Regarding the irreverent use of religious iconography: Images of madonnas, pietàs and cruxifications have been invoked for centuries by artists, writers, filmmakers and cartoonists to comment on the moral contradictions of religion, i.e., the role that the Catholic Church has had in the history of oppression of indigenous people in the Southwest, and the perpetuation of violence against queers, women and children.

Regarding the queering of "Wild West" imagery: These artistic strategies are used all over the world from mainstream theater to television in order to question toxic machismo, sexism and scrutinize patriarchy.

Regarding bigotry: The cast predominantly included indigenous Americans, Latinx and Afro-Americans spanning four generations from New Mexico and other parts of the world. Regardless, many posts describe us as "foreigners" or "outsiders" with "no place being in Taos." Would the response be similar if there had been an all-white cast? (This language has a striking similarity to the rhetoric of our current president.)

Finally, we feel that the much-touted "controversy" is an expression of the spirit of the times -- a country divided by dangerous borders of race, gender, nationality, religion and ideology which has made fear and hatred of difference [its] national policy. Characterizing these responses as a "local controversy" undermines the national conversation.

Perhaps the real debate exists in another order:

• Truly controversial is the treatment of immigrant families and the detainment and separation of children from their parents at our borders.

• Controversial are the weekly massacres by American citizens taking place in our schools and public spaces throughout the country and the lack of urgency around gun reform.

• Controversial is the long-standing sexual abuse by politicians and priests in Catholic and other churches.

• Controversial is disregarding the current burning of the Amazon and the effect of climate change generated by greedy corporations and governments.

• Controversial is to characterize contemporary artists and intellectuals as a hoard of deviant agents of perversion, chaos and violence because we don't practice apolitical or complacent art.

We sincerely hope that those who saw our live performances in person can engage in a fruitful public dialogue and help the city become a more tolerant and inclusive place. The only "sin" that The Paseo festival curators and Taos supporters engaged in was to present a diversified spectrum of public art. For that, we commend their valor and vision.

"Parallax" is a reader-submitted opinion column. To submit, contact Tempo editor Rick Romancito at tempo@taosnews.com.

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