The Politicalness of Art: A Case Study of Performance Projects by Guillermo Gómez-Peña by Eva Zetterman

This essay will elaborate on the politicalness of art and art as political witness through a theoretically reflected case study of a selection of performances projects by Chicano artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña. As an artist from Mexico living in the US, Gómez-Peña departs from the bicultural Chicano experience and his “subjective perspective” of being ‘Mexican’ in Anglo-American society. He often exaggerates the ‘Mexicaness’ of his personal visual appearance by references to visual signs and symbols, thus staging his body as a political body in terms being  ‘foreign’, exotic, ‘Other’. Some of his performances are staged as one-time place-specific interventions in mainstream public spaces, whereas some are travelling projects going on for years, visiting prestigious art museums as well as public spaces in a number of countries and continents. Several of Gómez-Peña’s performances are brought about in interaction with the audience and/or are staged as projects where the audience plays an important part. The audience is thus activated as a political witness not only in terms of being spectators to political performance art, but as agents in political processes dealing with the invisibility of migrants, Mexicans as the other, international conflicts and in-group/out-group distinctions. In exploring art and audience as political witnesses in a case study of a selection of Gómez-Peña’s performances projects, I will focus on The Mexican homeless (1978), The Loneliness of the Immigrant (1979), The Cruci-Fiction Project (1994), Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West (1992–1994), Temple of Confessions (1995–1996), and Mapa/Corpo: Interactive Rituals for the New Millenium (2004–2005).