And so their scars turned to gold
The Museum of Portable Sound’s Cristina Sousa Martínez interviews Mexican artist Ana Paula Santana about her upcoming sound art installation Resiliencia.
Ana Paula Santana is a Mexican artist who currently lives and works in Guadalajara, Mexico. In her work, she is always trying to find a way to make meaningful little noises. For this #MuseumWeek special article, I had the chance to conduct a Skype interview with her to talk about her latest work, Resiliencia, one of the projects to be awarded last year by The National Fund of Culture and Arts (Fondo Nacional Para la Cultura y las Artes, FONCA) within the Young Creators — Multimedia division. Santana’s work combines ceramics and sound art, and is still in progress. In this work, Santana addresses the importance of the courage it takes for a woman to denounce sexual aggression. Without speaking about it herself, Santana is telling the stories of six brave women who dared to relive their experiences by facing them through Mexico’s legal process — and most importantly, they also made the decision to heal and carry on with their lives. Apart from celebrating the courage of these women that have spoken up and, of course, Santana’s poetic piece, I dedicate this text to Valeria, one of the voices that were silenced far too soon and didn’t have the opportunity to claim justice. She was just 11 years old.
At the very beginning of our interview, Santana made it clear that she decided to address this sensitive topic for two main reasons: the profound outrage she feels every time she learns about a case of rape and also, having the phobia of being abused herself.
And I share her feelings. In Mexico (where I’m from, as well), a woman is raped every 7 minutes — and if we get our Maths right, this means that 205 women are raped per day. Indeed, there is nothing that can assure us that one of those women wouldn’t be one of us, anytime soon. This is why Santana is very insistent upon stressing the value of the legal denouncing process, because, in her own words:
it has two attributes: first, there is the obvious one, the psychological, because there is this need for change and overcoming the sinister and on the other hand, there is a political impulse, a political change, why? Because if more than 3% of women dare to file complaints, the national security agenda would pay more attention to solving the problem and… well, we live in Mexico, but let’s imagine that things work.
But, to be fair, this is not a strictly Mexican problem; I don’t think the justice system (when it comes to sexual crimes) works properly in any place. Let’s not forget about, for example, the five times that Banaz Mahmod went to report her ex-husband’s abusive behaviour and was ignored until she was found dead. In most cases, the victim is discredited and the easiest way to cope with this reaction is remaining silent, because ‘when you are quiet you look prettier’, as we’ve been told since we are little girls.
Santana came up with the idea for the Resiliencia project while the news of the rapes and murders of Marina Menegazzo and María José Coni were starting to spread. After she saw that a lot of people were reacting, she thought ‘Why aren’t we taking the streets if this is every day bread here, in Mexico?’ and so, Resiliencia was born. To address the matter, she first began researching which local centres were working with abused women, and she discovered the Women’s Justice Centre Jalisco. She got in touch with the principals there, presented the proposal for the project, and then teamed up with the psychologists that had worked previously with the women who participated in the piece.
The first stage of the project, entitled ‘origin’, consisted of creating 10 ceramic vessels (with the help of ceramist Roberto Guevara). For Santana, the vessel is a metaphor for the female uterus, and also a utilitarian instrument used by women since ancient times, so there was no doubt what symbol to use to represent the purely feminine. ‘As in Coubert’s painting’, she said.
The second stage, ‘rupture’, involved working directly with the women, all guided by the psychologists mentioned above, also women. In it, Santana gave a lecture about wabi-sabi, ‘the Japanese philosophy that looks for beauty in the imperfection of things’. She watched some videos with the women and presented a small collection of artworks that showed the possibilities of working with accidents as aesthetic values. Later on, she made them participate in group dynamics that conveyed the message that even though a piece of art can seem ruined when something unplanned happens to it, one can transmute the experience and make the most of it by accepting the change and carrying on. This mindset was then applied, of course, to their own survival stories.
Then, the rupture of the vessels happened. Santana recalls,
It was a very emotional moment, they were all holding their pieces while the other was breaking hers and the idea was that they placed it at the height of their hearts and that they only let them go. Crash! They were not violent fractures (…). The rupture sound, as we were doing it all in a room that had tiles on the floor, was so loud that it was painful to us all.
And not only that, the most painful aspect of the project was reliving the moment of the sinister attacks, because it was as if these women were actually breaking themselves once again.
It’s important to mention that these women didn’t know each other until Santana’s ‘psychoart’ workshop took place, but the process bonded them all together. They walked their own paths overcoming all sort of difficulties to be together in that very room. Surely meeting someone who understands everything that you’ve gone through in such a terrifying situation, without judging you or questioning the reasons why you made such and such decision, must be soothing, even empowering.
The final stage of Santana’s project, ‘resilience’, involves kintsugi — a Japanese technique to restore broken pieces of pottery with resin and gold dust. As Santana comes from a family of ceramists, she has been able to figure out how to work the technic by herself. She has chosen to document the whole process sonically at the Women’s Justice Centre Jalisco, while Roxana Anaya, a Mexican filmmaker that has also been awarded by FONCA during the same period, has been making visual documentation of Santana’s project. And so, the rupturing sounds of each piece will be heard at the moment that the public interact with any them: people will hear the particular sound of a piece’s own rupture just by putting their hands close to it.
At this moment, Santana is putting the final touches on the pieces and preparing for the shows in which the pieces will be exhibited. The first public showing will be held at her workshop/studio in Guadalajara (Mexico) before the end of July; the second will take place in Chur (Switzerland) in August; and the third, which will happen by the end of the year, will be the touring show organised by FONCA.
Resiliencia is a very timely project that represents one of the most painful wounds of Mexican contemporary life. Santana’s cathartic, provocative project not only uncovers this wound, it metaphorically pours lemon, salt and chilli powder into it. It is a piece with a strong social message that goes beyond merely aestheticising such painful and traumatic experiences. Like the scream that makes your throat soar but gives you a sense of relief in the end, what could be better for bringing attention to and healing this problem than for a group of women to scream together, in sisterhood? Screaming for change, for the women who are gone, the ones that are still here, and the ones to come.