Decolonial Struggles and Performative Interventions into Western Politics
Interview with Marissa Lôbo
“Fuck Your Queer White Supremacy Celebration!” is a title of one of your recent performances. What can you comment on this title in relation to your critique of the reproduction of white supremacy within queer politics, discourse and movement?
I think the title is very clear: when I say “Fuck you!” it means, not in an artistic way “fuck!”, even though the word “fuck” is frequently used in a lot of performances, and I even think that the word “fuck” it’s not strong enough in the way how I want to articulate this critique inside of the queer movement and queer discourse. From my position, being a black woman, it is very clear and it is here my criticism; because queer which is supposed to be open for the intersectionality, we actually see that after thirty years we cannot speak about queer just connoting gender, sexual and political identities, that is, we cannot talk about queer not taking into consideration this other aspects that the black feminists and people of color or women of color were demanding. Feminism is not only about the social construction of women but about many processes of racialization, class issues, etc. and it is here where I situate my criticism, which is that queer still insists on this very exclusive way of putting politics together. Because when you talk about queer, there is still this reality that you are speaking about a specific group of queer or queerness, although we know that there are many other perspectives and that there are many positions that are not included in this discussion of queer, of this white queer, about this white supremacy inside of queer, that the title of this work is talking about. So, it is not the critique of queer, of being queer, or the concept of queer, but the critique of this concept of white queer which is excluding many other positions. This is a big controversy that the concept which has so many intentions of opening, of creating many identities, then still have the old problem of feminism; feminism that is created just by white feminists. So, this is what I tried to do, to articulate this counter-position in the sense, ok, let’s be queer, but let’s include many other social aspects that are important, like all the racialization processes of the bodies. When you are talking about bodies, about what kind of bodies are you talking about?
And in my performance there is all the time this question: about what kind of bodies are we speaking when we talk about queer? So it’s again about pushing for historization of the bodies, and when you talk about “abnormal” bodies, -how migrants, sex workers, refugees… many of this bodies that are not included in historization, in this politics of bodies-. Therefore, the performance is including in this body politics many other bodies which are not visible in the history.
Queer theory and activism has failed to address “race” and racism as integral parts of the queer discourse, relegating black queers and queers of color to invisibility. How the queer space is functioning, regulating the queerness? In which way do you elaborate your performance in order to expose this problems from within the queer space?
The proposal of the work was very clear; to criticize and to make this visible, this exclusion and reproduction of this exclusion. When you talk about queer you don’t connect racism, and this was shown in my performance, this video-performance. Actually, the work is related not only with the question of racism but as well with sexism, as black women or women of color are always related with this historization of being objects. Therefore, inside of this queer space we are constructed as “others”. As well, this is connected with our sexuality which is very reduced to being desired or not desiring.
I can see more concretely this situation in European or Austrian queer space. In the first place, I can see that it is very white space, I can see that my presence is very visible in all this spaces, and then there are certain codes in a way which is actually related with this definition of the “other”; who is allowed to live this queer life? This again comes from my experience of being a migrant, black or lesbian here, and how I see this division.
Here in Austria I would say that queer is related with many activist groups but sometimes in a very superficial way of sexual liberation, and by focusing only on this it is not reflecting on a concept of the normativity. And I think this is controversial, it is counter-productive. To produce queer spaces where actually you have all the time the regulations of the space. Spaces that are regulated by normativity of how you should be queer.
So I put this elements in this video-performance relating all this bodies that I have on me, not to produce a kind of identitarian body, but rather coming back to the position from where I’m speaking. This was important for me to make it clear, to say that queer should be an open proposal. There is a part in the film where I’m saying, “Yes, we are queer, we are migrants, we are sex workers or prostitutes, we are travesties or poor”, so here are all this connections that are disrupting this heteronormativity and not only this but also the regulations in society.
There are many elements in the performance so it is hard to describe this now. It is a performance long 45 minutes. It take place in the space of the Academy of Fine Arts (Vienna), because it was an intervention into the Academy of Fine Arts which is seen as an international Academy, very open…So, here again, I put myself in the role of migrant who is studying at the Academy. In the Department of Gender Studies you can see how all the theory, gender studies are very white. Therefore, from the beginning it was important for me to criticize the Academy from the inside, and all this white space that we have at the Academy…and this was related with my own position as a lesbian, black lesbian, because coming back to many performances I saw at the Academy about queer and gender, they were made in a very easy doing way, a kind of “Let’s commemorate queer”. This is why “Fuck you queer!”, this commemorating, always in relation with an easy way of doing and denying this history of exclusion, or denying any kind of positions which are not part of this eurocentric positions. This was more or less the concept of this video-performance and therefore I tried to connect space, time and body, bodies which can be a counter-hegemonic body.
How did you construct visually this performance, analyzing dominant queer codes to articulate different tactics through which to question them and intervene in into this white queer space?
Almost all of my works are connected with a collective work, and I would say with a very political construction of identities, not essentialist, but always in relation with the concept of being migrant, a political subject. So, all my work or most of my works here in Austria are related to this. As you saw in the film, we are four women and we are all migrants, although this is not clear from the visibility, it was not the point how visible they are as migrants. This was new for me because until now I worked a lot only with black women; for many years I had a specific work only with black women, and then it was quite spontaneous, we had this idea for a video-performance, again relating different experiences, different positions, such as migrants from Eastern Europe or South Africa, and this was the point; how we could connect this together to make this performance and play with this stereotypes of being migrants. Here again everything is linked with the question of bodies, queer bodies, which would like to intervene in this space.
And then I work a lot with the stereotypes, how we can use stereotypes. It is a question of self irony, when looking for this “authenticity” of the pictures or representations of being migrants. So at the beginning we start with having this tribal make up which is coming back again to the point that we are now the “authentic migrants”, so we are playing with this images. And the performance is also going into this ritualistic way; I’m going to give you now, to the white audience, we are giving you now this entertainment, this colonial bodies that are desired, and we give you exactly what do you want to have from us, and from this point we brake this. Then, the decision was to be always in relation with each other, so we are all dressed in black, and black is for me symbolic, which is always connected with Black movement, although some of the women were not related with black position. Black is the Black Power, that is why we are all dressed in black. It’s the uniformization of aesthetics, although we are different.
Also, during the last year the pictures of Pussy Riot were very present in my mind, and all this discussion; how feminist they are or not, and all the visibility they got, and there is also the question of how nowadays the image is functioning and it’s spreading, creating an image. It was this boom of Pussy Riot. That is why at the end we have this plastic masks. It is related with Pussy Riot, we put those masks and said “Now we are all Pussy Riot”, but again you are making this division when you speak about them; what kind of representation they bring, what does this mean in a moment when everything is about consume, about consuming.
So, we started with this tribalistic, migrant, authentic or not, making self irony up to the point of putting this masks as an identity or taking them down. We put the masks and take them down, because this is the point, here the question that arises is how do you deal with identity politics. How do you put something on in a strategic way and put it down again, and how hard it is to take this down again.
All this decisions were connected with a space, the space of the Academy, so there are not a lot of elements, it is like being in a studio. I’m very happy that it was not in a white box, no way, but it was in a very academic space, because the work is a mix of an old performance that we made life and a new performance. So you could identify that the space is a space of Academy, this hegemonic space of Academy, and then I think that all of us who made a performance, I said it was spontaneous but we had a lot of experience doing performance connecting our bodies, doing migrant politics, so that is why all the elements that we put together were related with something that we already did before. It was not new but a repetition of this kind of aesthetics.
The previous work to this performance was “Iron Mask, White Torture” which is related with the book by Grada Kilomba entitled “Plantation Memories, Episodes of Everyday Racism”. How do you relate in this work the history of colonization through the legend of Anastácia with the struggle against racism and sexism and the need for critical intervention today?
Before going to the history I have to say that I studied history in Brazil, so I have this background which I think it is very important, because when producing art it is always necessary to make the contextualisation, to think of the historic facts and how to deal with this in your art work. Actually, I say this because for many years I had this image of Anastácia in my mind, the image of a legendary slave woman from the 18th century. She was just legendary figure but she appeared at that time, it was a slavery time in Brazil, and I had this image of a woman, black woman with blue eyes and the mask, iron mask. A very strong picture, actually very controversial, because she does not look like a victim, although you see that she has a mask and she is in a position of being oppressed. But there is the look, the way she looks it is very strong…
I knew about this image for many years because she is part of the imaginary of Brazil, and Anastácia was also related with the religious aspects, she was a holy figure in Brazil; it took time that the catholic church recognized her as such, but she is recognized now as a holy figure…and this image was always provocating me; she is not a victim, it’s a fascination that I had because she was very strong, and then I decided to research more on the history of Anastácia and I found different perspectives about her. I found out that there are many histories around this figure, not only the holy figure. What I found out is that she was seen as a holy figure because she had blue eyes. A black woman who has blue eyes this is something that is seen in a racialization process as “black woman cannot have blue eyes”, because blue eyes are like Toni Morrison was saying in her book (The Bluest Eye), the blue eyes as a total element of whiteness. So you don’t need to go into the theory to understand how black children are terrorized by the blue eyes, because as Toni Morrison is saying in this book, it is the element of desire, this blue eyes. That is why Anastácia, because of having blue eyes, she should be seen as a holy figure, that is like something that was very special. So, this is just to say, that the black figure cannot have a place in a history if she hadn’t had a white element, so this is going to this white historization too.
Anyway, to come back to Anastácia, I was doing the research and I found many other perspectives about her: one of the historic narratives was that she got this mask because she was resisting, she was a kind of fighter, and she was collaborating with Quilombolas, the slaves who were living and resisting in master’s house, the slaves who run away and were creating spaces, new spaces of resistance, they were resisting to the colonial system, and one of the narratives was that she was helping them. She was one of the slaves who were not accepting the condition of a slave and there is a very famous sentence by her, she was saying: “I’m not a slave and I will never be a slave”. So, with this power I tried to connect my work, I had to do something with this picture in my mind for many years, and the idea came to me that I could make a kind of art work, that is not actually just an art work, but the historization and contextualization of my position here, as a migrant, as black, here in Austria. So for me the idea was to make a kind of work that was very complex in a way to explain who she was in this narrative that I said before; she was a slave who was resisting and she was a fighter, and then to connect this within the three parts of the work: one is the contextualization of Anastácia, the text that I wrote, the analysis of this colonial history until now, so I was projecting this in three projections on the wall, -I presented this work in a two very important museums in Austria, Vienna Secession and Ars Electronica-, I had this three projections there, and the one in the middle it was the photo performance of how to take down this mask. We have the black protagonist who is taking down this mask. This shows the process of the liberation of this mask, and the third projection it was about many histories of resistance, the historization of the Black Panthers, and from the Black movement in Brazil. This work is as well related with the history of black women, so that is why there was a historization of many resistance moments, and then on a day I made a presentation, during the opening of the exhibition we made a life performance, with nine black women who were reading texts, different texts in different formats, from theoretical texts to poetry, the poems from black positions, so this is now just shortly to explain how I constructed this work.
How do you articulate the relation between history, politics and intervention in the exhibition space of art institution in this work to expose the violence of institutional racism and everyday racism that people of color and black people are facing here in Europe?
I got the invitation and I was not sure about doing this work there, but I was thinking, ok, what could this really bring to me to make a political work in such a big institution, you know, all this questions about appropriation of this kind of positions. I mean, as I was very conscious that it would happen more the appropriation from the institution than I would have benefit from it, but anyway, I took the decision to do it because it was important for me to create a genealogy where this work could be part of, and this again was not for the inclusion, but as an intervention in this space. Here I saw the possibility for the intervention because it is a historical work. When we speak about museums, we are talking exactly about this concepts or subjects and objects. So, for me this was the chance for the subjectification of our positions and even for the position of Anastácia; in this way this decision was then clear.
Coming back to the performance, the performance took place in the opening of the exhibition, the life performance that we did once at Ars Electronica, and once at Secession and why it was during the opening? Because it is a moment when many people are coming, it is a big institution, so many people are coming to celebrate art, to drink their champaign and to be happy with all this environment of art space. This is why it was clear that we should intervene here.
In the first place I have to explain how the spaces of museum function, who are the people who are coming to museums, people who are interested in this kind of museums, or have access; so, it was totally white, curators, artists, intellectuals, and they came in this space where in a first place we could see and feel how it was hard for them to have this confrontation with nine black women. We were sitting at the table and before that we started we were looking at the audience, and this was already this tension. I think this was very important part in this work, because this moment was not about art or of doing performance, it was so real, and it is connected with everyday racism, daily racism, when you see white people looking at you and you look at white people, and this “what a hell is going to be here now?”. It’s a kind of now they have to look at our eyes, now they cannot pretend that they cannot see us, so they were forced by this situation, and this is what bell hooks says about this oppositionality moment; that we could give it back, it was clear that our position is oppositional, opposite position, and you cannot get away of this confrontation now.
Then, people were very scared, they started to be very loud and talk and talk, because this is how the opening of vernissage are, people are there to talk, to meet, the social network, and they don’t care, because for most of the art works people do not care about how to contextualize them. Then we waited a lot to begin with the performance and to give exactly this; we are here, we are going to start when we want, and then it was a big tension, people started to stand up, and you could feel it, and for us it was…we had to leave this space because we could feel this violence in this room.
Here there were many elements, one point is that at vernissage people are not used to have this kind of performance and to hear, because it was more a lecture-performance, and they had to listen to us for 45 minutes, and this 45 minutes were, as I said before, from very different text approaches, but mostly they were very deep theoretical production of texts. I chose this not because I think that we have to be intellectual to be in a museum space, but it was to make visible a canon that you don’t have visible, that is denying this history. So for me it was important to give this enunciation of this canon, but not only to read this text, to say we have black intellectuals, all this texts were connected with the history of the world too, talking about sexism, about migration, about self-organization, talking for ourselves, articulation, everything connected with Anastácia.
As you said before, my work is very inspired by the book of Grada Kilomba, “Plantation Memories, Episodes of Everyday Racism”, where she analyses the figure of Anastácia too, and she speaks about the colonial trauma, the traumatic process of racism, where she puts forward racism, sexism in the African Diaspora context in Europe. So all this texts were having the function to combine with the contextualization of the work, you know, all this elements of sadism, of the colonization, of the conquers, or like the objectification of the black bodies, the sexualization of the black bodies, the violence against the black bodies, and the desire. Because if you come back to Anastácia, she was part of this resistance, but she was paying a very high price, because when she got this iron mask, what does this mean for us? If you analyze this in the history, historical facts, it’s what was done to black people, not only to black women, but to black people, to condemn them not to articulate themselves or ourselves, it’s the question of power, the relation of power, the power of oppression.
There are a lot of associations that you can do, because as you know, in the history many of the slaves when they were punished by the so called master they were working in plantations. That is why Grada works with the concept of plantations, slavery and nowadays all this historical trauma coming from the slavery, because many of the slaves, when they were working, to avoid that they could eat in the plantations they were getting some kind of objects of sadism. Because we have to describe this as sadism, closing their mouths that they could not eat in the plantation. So there are many levels of oppression, besides the mouth is very important element of power, so as well prohibiting to eat in this process of slavery that was really a humiliation, the process of humiliation until the point to come to articulation of knowledge. Because when speaking, speaking! you come to the point of knowledge and who has a right to have knowledge and what is defined as knowledge, and of what kind of knowledge do we speak when we speak about knowledge.
So it’s the complexity of the performance that is connected with the appropriation of the body of the other, humiliation, violence, but then not to get stuck in this history of victimization, Anastácia for me when she looks at the eyes of the perpetrator, of the master and oppressor, she is giving back with this eyes, although she is condemned not to speak, or constructed as a victim, and this was my point of doing this work. This is a liberation of a very historical figure for me, and then the continuation of this history, coming from that specific slavery time and until now that things didn’t change. I mean black people, people of color are facing everyday racism in a very violent way and just to relate, we have a case of Omofuma in Austria, a black refugee who was killed by the police with some tapes they put in his mouth. So it is a kind of repetition, it is symbolic how this torture has happened. Omofuma is Anastácia case; he was attacked by the police the day he was supposed to be deported, and their argument was that they were putting him some tapes on the mouth because he was aggressive. But he was reacting to the violence of deportation, so for me this is very clear, or to be more clear we don’t have to stop this in the art space but to see how people are facing, migrants, black people… are facing this kind of violence, racism as a totally violent process.
MAIZ, Autonomous Center for and by Migrant Women
MAIZ is a self-organization of migrants, for migrants and by migrants. It exists since twenty years now in Austria in Linz, it is not in Vienna, it is in Linz, in another city in Austria, smaller city and we work in different fields; in cultural field, counselling, family counselling for visas…but I have to go back to the question of what was the proposal of MAIZ at the beginning; to create a space where migrant women were, this differentiation in the sense, we don’t need any NGO that are working for the migrants, many of them making money with this, the migration in Europe is a big topic, you can make a lot of money with refugees and migrants…So the idea was to create the autonomous space for women, the proposal at the beginning was very small, to create a space to meet, to self-organize, to talk, and the group who initiated this was saying that actually this was not enough, to talk, to meet and to exchange in a political way, to meet and create a social space, but the question was already present, how to problematize this, the problems of migrants, how to create this safe space for migrants, for women. At that time there were a lot of women, sex workers from South America, and three women who initiated MAIZ they are from Brazil, so at that time it was more a community from South America and Brazil, and from Dominican Republic, and many sex workers, so this was the beginning, this social space. Then from this necessity of thinking, ok, how far can we go, why not to think about, establish the space for us, and even with this feminist proposal of dissidents, like a group of women with this perspective of migrants, experience, knowledge and how we can intervene in this space.
At the beginning your struggle for integration was articulated as the struggle against exclusion. In which way your discussion about the integration changed through time?Why?
So now after twenty years we are an organization MAIZ, in german “Migrantinnen Autonome Integration Zentrum” (Autonomes Integrationszentrum für Migrantinnen), so now to answer your question… The discussion about integration was another one, it was coming from the social struggle from the social movements for integration and against exclusion. I think at that time the neoliberal system was not so clear to be seen in the sense how capitalism appropriates this concept of being and not being, or having the rights and not having the rights, or I would way, the capitalist system was still not in this kind of wild way that the global capitalism today operates. This kind of feeling that we are all part of it. And in that time it was still more clear to demand and to think that it would be possible to be integrated in the system, so it was more coming back to the demand of, against exclusion. And it changed a lot, because I mean, in the last 20 years this concept was appropriated by the government, they speak about the integration now, which is totally connected with exclusion. They want to integrate all those who are in this capitalist system important to be integrated in this economic and social system, they don’t want to integrate those, or this is not related with the rights of mobility and migration. So in this twenty years the discourse changed, that those who are speaking about integration this is not coming from those positions who are not integrated, this is for me the main point here, that we had to change in MAIZ. Nowadays we don’t talk about integration and we changed with the time, we were talking about participation, nowadays we are questioning what does it mean this participation …because, you know, the terminology is changing in a different contexts and it has different meaning too, so for us it was important to change, not to speak about integration at all, but at the beginning this concept was used against the exclusion.
The integration that is done by the government it is always related with the relation of power, who is integrating whom, because even if you would think about the possibility of integration, of struggle, so we should break this relation of power, there should be a kind of dialogue between those who want to integrate and those who want to integrate them, and this is the point, this relation of power, of who is integrating whom, and how, and this is very perverse, because many migrants they have always this feeling that they have to integrate themselves, so its very complex to discuss, because people want to live here and they don’t want to feel that they do not belong here and this is the feeling of this integration, of how do you deal with this permanent feeling of not belonging, so I can understand that for being a migrant it is a big dilemma, but then we have to talk about not the individual need to integrate but about the structure and this structure problem is connected with the racists laws, and with all this process of regulation, of controlling borders, and this is how European Union is dealing with this topic of integrating people, actually the integration for me here it means, it is very connected with the control, how they want that the people are assimilated, it is an old process of a very colonialist way of thinking this Eurocentric space.
Sex as work: demanding the rights for sex workers
But I have to be more clear, when I made a presentation about MAIZ I said that we have many fields and one of them is research; we are producing a lot of theoretical texts as well which are relating feminism and migration, the question of queer and migration and the question of the role of women and trans people in migration within the diaspora experience. So within this twenty years we produced a lot of texts and research related with the conditions and the role of migrants, and the function of migrants in this migration regime. Then we have to talk about the precarity, the migration precarity, and I think it is also important to say in order to explain the performance, that from the beginning one of the topics was sex work. Because we cannot talk about migration and not name, not speak about sex work. This is a reality and most of the sex workers are migrants in Europe. So, since the beginning our decision was to demand rights for sex workers.
I have to say here that I know that this terminology of sex work was implemented by NGO, trade unions, and that it is the terminology that we can actually criticize, asking if we can claim for sex work as work. Because in this sense it is inside of a totally legalistic logic, this recognition of the sex work as a work. But I think that in this case MAIZ took this position because being a migrant and sex worker, and within all this system of law, -this reality that many women are working as sex workers and they are not only living and working in bad conditions in different contexts of Europe-, it is a kind of a moment that we are demanding in a political way the recognition. That means that we are connecting here with the status quo, demanding that they can stay and work. This is why it is important for us to demand the recognition of a sex work as a work, related with migration, because I totally agree that prostitution should be something that we should not discuss if it is permitted or not because it exists and it is not about the regulation process but in relation with migrants. I want to say this because I know that there are different perspectives when we name and speak about sex work. So this is just to come back and say that this is another field of work by MAIZ, sex work and research, and this different fields that I said before.
How do you relate artistic practice and activism in the struggle against racism and sexism? What role do performative tactics play in order to intervene into the space of the sensible and visual?
I’m a coordinator of a cultural field of MAIZ which is a very important field too, because we give a lot of visibility or within the field of MAIZ we create this kind of representations. And since the begging until now, MAIZ was very present on the street, making actions in a performative way to show our demands in different forms. This was present since the beginning. I’m the second generation of MAIZ, I’m there for ten years but this was always there. MAIZ created a language, a certain way of how to deal with public space and this was very important. What we now define as cultural field it was always there as actions, how to go to the street and penetrate the public space, and to make visible who we are. Because we have a color that is a pink color and this was a decision to be recognized. So when you do stuff you are recognized, these are women from MAIZ, this pink. Pink is the color of brothels and this is the tradition that we always had, to go to the street not only on the street but to intervene in many spaces, and always asking how to play this identities of being migrants with a lot of irony and parody, to have fun with this…because it is hard, all this process of putting ourselves in all this process of talking about racism and sexism and violence, you know, and all this stuff. So it was a language that we created, and we are very know because of this. I mean, how to deal with this identity of migrant, this is not related with the essentialist position but with a political position, with the creation of a very political subject and with this representations is like this, always playing with this self-irony of what is really like to be a migrant, and within this being a migrant to confront the Europeans, the majority with their representations.
Because when you talk about this, yes, white supremacy exists because nobody is asking about what does it mean to be white. When you talk about racism it is always like very automatically let’s talk about the people of color and black people and we do not question the construction of whiteness. So for us it is always important how to reflect our position of migrants that is very diverse, that it is not fixed construction, this migration identity, so how do we reflect this on this white, European representation that is untouched, that is not touched.
So in many of this performances that we are doing we use irony as a way that we achieve more, because where the audience is totally I mean shocked with this ironization process, grotesque, over-exaggerating all the time, and many times audience, people in the audience, Austrians are saying like “how it is possible that you are so aggressive”, because within the audience all this process of being a migrant it is always connected with being a bad migrant or the good one, all this dichotomy, related with integration and assimilation. So there are ways of showing; no we are not the drug dealers, no we are not the bad ones, that is all connected with the colonial history again, and how we have to prove that we are civilized, and that we are ready to be integrated here in this society. So, we chose another way to make resistance to say “no we don’t want to be integrated, we don’t want to be the good ones, we are the bad ones, we are like the wild ones, we are like the colonial primitives, the one you want us to be”. So this is how we play with this performances to really make this kind of provocations, to provocate. I think this was always the approach of MAIZ.
What is the critical potential of performative embodiment in different characters which you created in MAIZ to disrupt hegemonic sexualized and racialized body regimes?
Since the beginning it was present this kind of mixture between reality and fiction, to create some kind of characters which would embody this different topics, mixing as I said before the reality and fiction. Because it’s interesting that people react to this many times in a sense “but is this really serious? Super puta is puta?” It’s a kind of not explaining anything, but how to make this things more complicated to define what is, ..but it’s there, the message is there but it’s complicated with this definitions of representations. So this was the way that we found to protect ourselves, because when you play the performance and you embody this kind of body you are protected in a way. I’m not doing the performance as Marissa but the character that I represent, many struggles. So, Super puta was the intervention in 2004 that was the first time that I played this character. Super puta is super whore or super prostitute, sex worker. MAIZ was invited on an international conference in Belgium, in Brussels. It was a project supported by EU about the politics of migration and I was there too with my colleague, and there were all this abolitionist positions talking against sex work and I decided to make an intervention. So I spontaneously created the character of Super puta because I was invited to make a speech. I started to speak as a sex worker, as Super puta and everybody were shocked. So this was a kind of intervention and they were not sure if I was a sex worker or not. So this was the moment when everything started, not as an art piece but it was more an intervention in that space, and at that time I said it would be important to have some kind of relation with our work, sex work, we need Super puta. So, I made many interventions in the street with this character, to intervene in the space with this double moral society when talking about prostitution and for me it was very clear to play with my sexuality in a way, playing a very sexualized body, being from Brazil, like this exotic woman and to play with this sexualized body because it is about fuck when you talk about prostitution, this body that is fucking, that is embodying this fucking as politics in a broad context of sexual politics, and at the same time articulating, giving all this very clear position of what this means to be a sexualized and desired body, and this is where the Super puta comes from. …I could speak ten hours about Super puta, because it is a character that I played many times and I put sexism and racism out through this character as an answer to it, with this violence and over-exaggerated sexualization.
We have Madam Cloe which is a very rich domestic, because the reality is that migrants are in this three fields of cleaning, sex work and care work, and she is playing with this de/priviligation process. She is studying at the University but at the same time she is cleaning, and her role has to do with this irony of cleaning and becoming rich, it’s the ironic way of how to speak about precarity and cleanin
Then we have She heroes, which is another character in position against the paternalism of many NGO’s and activists who are fighting against racism, in anti-racist struggles, and She heroes is the character who has to do more with this: we don’t need heroes we are our own heroes, the character is a little bit more of like luchadoras, the Mexican fighters, and She heroes was connected with the migrant strike in USA, the historical migrant strike, which is related with the question of what is going to be with USA without us, one day without migrants. So actually we are the super heroes, the workers, and it is against this paternalistic way of putting migrants always as victims, its about their own power, something like this.
Minister of Internal Organs
Then we have the Minister of Internal Organs; she is a very cannibalistic minister and she is eating everything and she is playing with…this was a critique of a Minister of Internal Relations here in Austria who has been very criticized because of the refugee and migrant laws here, that are very restrictive laws here in the last years, so this was the game with it.
And this characters are always like how do we play with things in a very easy way, in a very performative way. How you can approach very different formats of speaking about this problematic that is involving migration, and not seeing migration as a problem, so this is how we deal with this.
Eating Europe _MAIZ procession
Why and in what way do you use the concept of anthropophagy in articulating the protest through performative interventions?
Eating Europe, so we have to explain a little bit more about the anthropophagic concept that MAIZ has been since the beginning declaring; that we are like anthropophagic, that means eating, the anthropophagic means eating, “antro” for humans and eating; eating humans, and it refers to this cannibalistic ritual. But it’s related to the cultural movement in South America.
And for us this was important because when we started with this discussion about anthropophagy it was like to work with it, it was more against assimilation. Because this was how it was the so called cannibalistic ritual: to eat and to take, to appropriate just the things that you could need in that case of the whites. When the conquers were going to in this process of colonization, some indigenous were eating them and taking from them what they needed, and what they didn’t need they were putting it out.
But for us the meaning changed now, with the last project that we made a performance on the street, with the project Rebelodrom. This is a group of people, activists and artists who are working with the topic of performance and activism on the street, and we connected with this Rebelodrom different groups; we had like a group Vila Lila who did Perverse Partei (the perverse party) and then we had a Roma group, Roma attack group who made ninja punchers who are attacking Austria, and then we had MAIZ doing this procession, we made a kind of procession, this performance was very connected with …why we decided to do the procession? Because in a catholic country like Austria it’s something that connects with a ritualistic way of, so we tried to make this cannibalistic concept part of procession. So we made an adaptation of all characters, so there were the whole figure and the profane figure, it was a combination of both, and we made a kind of reproduction of this procession on the street, why? Because it is another way of how to demonstrate, because it was actually a demonstration, a protests, but it was a way how can we connect this with all this visualization of the protests, new visualization of protests and it was very strong, because people were confused, we are now seen as a procession, and like in a normal procession we have all things that we are carrying. The whole figure that we had was our voodoo, and everyone of us was doing a kind of, it was very silent like the procession is, like, to connect a big mass of people to go together, but this was more a decision to intervene through the visuality, to investigate more into aesthetics appropriating the aesthetics of procession, and this was in front of the church, Karlskirche church, we made all of this cannibalistic performance, and this people were supposed to go to the church, inside the church and it was like, “what the hell is going on in here”, so it functioned very well because the criticism it was very clear, not only of the catholic church but again how we migrants make ourselves visible in a very unexpected situation.
I mean, in Eating Europe this is clear, Eating Europe for us was more this kind of “now we are going to eat Europe” not only some parts not only the arms, …but everything, we are going to eat you and to destroy this concept of Europe.
Refugee Protest Camp Vienna
A few days ago the refugees “occupied” the Academy of Fine Arts. Why? What is the present situation of the refugee protest movement?
Since five days now the refugees are at the Academy of Fine Arts. Why the Academy of Fine Arts? For me it’s clear why. Because there is a lot of space, there are all this big ateliers. I think that all the artists, they should stop to paint because if you see only the painting and sculpture ateliers, it’s enough to have thirty families which could live there inside. And the Academy it was always quite open, supporting the demands of the refugees, and since the beginning many of the students who were supporting this protests were coming from the Academy of Fine Arts, me too. And if you see it now, they occupied the Academy of Fine Arts because they were quite trusting the Academy, because for one year now the Academy is saying: “We are supporting you” and there was always the banner outside the Academy saying: “Stop deportations”, so the position of the Academy was clear.
I think that refugees felt very comfortable to come to the Academy and they are not talking about occupation really, they are talking about the protection. They are looking for the protection at the Academy, because they were always symbolically there. So now it was like, ok, let’s see what is going to happen when you come to the house. It’s interesting how you can be in solidarity from far away, but “don’t come to my house”. So this is the situation that we are dealing with now, because there are all this problems at the moment; not many of the students or professors are coming to support refugees. We have a very small group of professors who are standing for the refugees, and even the position of the Rector it is not clear. It’s clear that she does not want that the refugees live there. She is quite nervous with the situation now, because she said that they have to leave until Monday, that they cannot stay there and that they cannot live there. I mean, you could understand this, but at the same time, what do you do when they decided to go there because they did not want to split, they wanted to stay as a group, and this was the only way that they could be together. Because one of the strategy of breaking the activists groups it is always the question of how to split them, to make this fragmentations of groups.
Since the beginning the refugees were very clear about this, that they didn’t want any shelters of Caritas. When they occupied, when they camp, one year ago, they came from Traiskirchen which is the biggest centre for refugees in Austria. They made a march from there to here, and the moment when they came, they were around 500 people, and one month before this march the Somalian community was demonstrating here at the Parliament of Austria during three or four days. They were sleeping there, camping there, so this means that for this history of protests it is a historical moment in Austria, because it is not the first protest in Europe; you know that there is a movement of sans-papiers in Germany, Swiss, France and Italy, or refugees here in Austria, but here, there is no tradition, even not of the civil society, of social movements here.
So just to connect historically, thirteen years ago the black community was going to the street to demonstrate because of the case of Omofuma, as I said before, the refugee who died. This was a big mobilization of black community, very visible, of going to the street, making the demonstration against this. During that time there was an operation by the police, named the operation Spring, that was criminalizing all the Black community in Austria. Because of that many people were in prison for many years. It is important to make this relation to explain what is the situation in Austria for minority positions, migrants, people of color, black people and this was a very historical moment of Black community, which afterwards was facing a lot of repressions. Then, after the silence of thirteen years in which you didn’t see something like this in Austria, the refugees came with their protest, rising their voices, making the march or going to the street making visible what is invisible. Because the refugees are the bare life of Europe, they are those who are seen as they don’t have the right to exist, are those who are reduced by the illusion of papers…Because when we speak about migrants and refugees there is this connection of status quo. In this structural racism you are in the condition of not having any kind o rights, because it does not mean that if you have the papers you have the rights, because it is about the structural racism, but it’s more to see these people in the condition that they don’t have any rights to move, to exist, because they are really not welcome here. That is why my T-shirt here it’s very clear saying: Refugees Welcome.
We Demand Our Rights!
In what way this statement changed the position of the refugee struggle and what can you comment on the importance of self-organization of this movement?
So this movement is, when we speak about this historical moment, it is historical, because we speak about the self-organized movement. The refugees decided themselves to raise their voice, to make this march, to make a camp, camping in a very famous park in Austria, this is the Sigmund Freud park. So I have to say something that is interesting, many of the activists, not the refugees, but activists who were let’s say supporting, who were there in solidarity with refugees, and the moment they were arriving to Vienna, they didn’t know that the refugees would stay in this camp. Because it was planned to be a more symbolic thing; there were buses everywhere so that they could go back, but they said: “We don’t go back, are you crazy? Do you think that we were marching for eighteen hours to go back to this center? NO!”. So this was a very conscious decision that day to stay. Then it was a long discussion, “but you are going to lose everything”, because the refugees they have some social insurance or something like that and if they are not in the centers, -they are very controlled in this centers-, one day, two days, they loose everything. So they are totally in the process of illegality, and they decided to stay, saying we don’t need this, we don’t want to go for the process of waiting and waiting, we want to scandalize what this situation is, the asylum politics in Europe, in Austria.
In the beginning there was this demand more talking about the situations in the centers, like to scandalize this, they don’t have the access to German courses, the food, that they would like to be more self organized in this centers to cook their own food, and to have the translators who are more sensible with the question of racism, to have more translators too, and the question of working. Because they cannot work, and many questions they were demanding in relation to this centers, then all this demands came to a very big thing, because they realized that what they were doing it was a big thing, like to march and to be so many refugees together, so this is coming back to the position of not being victims. Because refugees are always seen, worse than migrants I think, like someone who had to leave, or as victims, or someone who is forced to be here, so there isn’t an option of why people move, so this is always connected with this victimization, and I think that since the beginning for the refugees it was clear, this kind of, we are here but we should not be thankful to be here, it’s our right to be here, and they were actually criticizing with a very clear approach, the colonial history of Europe, confronting Europe with its big history of colonization, so that is why here is a kind of switch of paradigm, of how to change from this position of victim to a demand, demanding. Because they were not talking about “Please give us our rights to stay here, please we need, etc..” it was more “WE DEMAND OUR RIGHTS!”, this is the main statement of the refugees, so this is a total change of position. The refugees are completely invisible in Europe, refugees are totally marginalized. So to come from a totally marginalized position, and to “We demand our rights!”, and then to ask “What does it mean to be human here in Europe…?”
Because during this time we started to develop with them this different kind of demands, and then we came to write this demands, and then we came to the question of rights, who has the access to the rights here, what does it mean to have the rights, what does it mean to be human…
And I cannot forget it, one of the refugees once wrote on a banner, “I think we are not animals, we are humans, so if you fight for your nice, cute pats or animals, you should fight for the human rights.” It was even this kind of critique that here animals has more rights than humans, migrants, refugees, so it was again, with all this they were shaking Austria and Europe in all this context of how human rights function. There is totally this relation of power, of maintaining always this colonial relation of power of Europe, as this matrix of power. So this was very important to me to see this shift, because they risk everything, the moment that they left is to say we don’t have anything to do so we are going to contaminate you in a way, we are not going to put us in a position that we have to be diplomatic, it is a historical demand to come to Europe as refugee and to ask this. And this was very criticized by many leftists and so called activists from different fields, that they were so arrogant, and this arrogance is for me actually the very strong point of this shift again, because it’s like this when you speak about being oppressed you are seen as arrogant or aggressive, but they did not care and they were maintaining this kind of position in all this protests, they were all very radical, the refugees, they had many chances to go to shelters, the Caritas offers of the church and they were always very clear, we don’t want to split, we want to stay as a group and struggle in our protest, this is not only about us, it’s about all the system of asylum here, and also dreaming more with the international connections or transnational, because it’s not only here in Austria that has happened this, and it is now that 25 refugees are still at the Academy, if you see how from the beginning it was always breaking, breaking and you could say it’s over, but they don’t say it and they don’t want to declare that is over. Because after one year, and without resorts and there was a lot of criminalization, because for three months some of the refugees were accused of being part of human traffic network.
I mean this is how the European Union network is acting, it’s the same with Lampedusa now, they are not going to take the responsibility for what has happened in Lampedusa, they are rather reinforcing the campaign against human trafficking, because they want to connect always the refugees with human trafficking. But for me it’s clear as the refugees here were always saying that this process of coming back, even if people are dying in the sea they are not going to stop to come here, and this is what refugees are saying, you can deport us, you can try to stop us, you can send us, but we will come back, so we are going to come back, we are in the hands of the reality of Europe now …, so, just to finish here, I see this movement not as a symbolic but really important to connect this, many resistance that is happening now in different parts of the world, like how even with this history of occupation in Brazil, South America, Turkey, that we have to see what is going on now in this kind of position of not living with dignity. Because you could actually say it’s about rights and human rights and dignity, what would a life with dignity be, what this means, it is how to connect all this fights in a way of changing the system.