In the magazine: Desipientia (December 2014).
This article focuses on Regina José Galindo’s iconic performance ¿Quién Puede Borrar las Huellas? (Who Can Erase the Traces? 2003) and explores the use of the body to represent the victims of past and present violence in Guatemala.
Regina José Galindo’s work challenges forgetting and indifference by making visible the thousands of victims of the civil war that afflicted Guatemala from 1960 until 1996. Drawing from the writings of Peggy Phelan, in this article I define Galindo’s body as a marked body that functions within the field of representation and its inherent power relationships.
The symbolism of the performance seems clear: the footprints represent the thousands of civilians murdered, predominantly by the army, during the civil war. Galindo remarks that even if witnesses to the performance did not recognize the bloody footprints as part of an artistic event, it did speak to them of memory and death. Dr. Arij Oweneel, associate professor at the Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation in Amsterdam (CEDLA), was present in Guatemala City during the days in which Galindo’s performance took place. He recalls that the footprints remained there for days as nobody dared to wash them away, indicating their meaning was clear. As the artist explains: “[a]s Guatemalans we know how to decipher any image of pain, because we have all seen it up close.” Every passer-by could easily recognize in the footprints the ghosts of the thousands of murdered people, thereby reactivating the memories of a violent past. Moreover, by leaving her trail along the route between the two major governmental buildings in Guatemala City, Galindo effectively points to the complicit and still corrupt political system in the country, making its role within the bloody history somewhat visible. The need for visibility is all the more pressing since discussions about the civil war are often avoided and its memories suppressed. No prominent monuments were erected, and the very few memorials that official governmental authorities have placed are barely visible in the urban landscape and lack investment and upkeep. Galindo’s work becomes a powerful statement against the existing state of affairs. She reclaims the past for the public debate and calls attention to the responsibility of the authorities.