Conveners: Macarena Gómez-Barris, Tavia Nyong’o, and Jack Halberstam


As neoliberalism narrows the conditions of possibility for existence outside of its logics and capture, “el cuerpo político” finds new ontological gestures and ways of being that continuously work to change the vision of intellectual practice and political space. The working group explores the body as a locus of possibility that can be counter-hegemonic, a critique of power, a trace of violence, an imagination of difference, a repository, a shelter, a prison, and also, differently imagines. In the mid 1970s, the Escena Avanzada in Chile found new forms to express meaning and experimental artistic practices through the minimal use of materials that often included the body as a self-authorizing site of possibility. Experimental embodiment fought to break through a series of social, linguistic, and political crises brought on by authoritarian violence and neoliberal fundamentalism. The body performed and inhabited violent experience as a method to refuse the logics of the state of exception. Performances such as that of Raul Zurita, who famously threw acid on his face on a Santiago street corner, produced social, if spectacular excess, reimagining the boundaries of aesthetic intelligibility in hostile times. Where the effects of Zurita’s scars expanded the operations of politics that seemed to be solely about conformity to state violence, in a very different moment Regina José Galindo’s Piedra similarly called attention to and refuted a vortex of abject conditions. Performed in 2013 at the Hemi Encuentro, Galindo enacted spaces of femicide, racisms, and fatalism by inviting the audience’s intimate encounter with her still and charcoaled body. Tightly wadded up, unclothed and fused with the hard ground below her, Galindo’s figure resembled a black stone, while two male and a female audience member sequentially urinated on her barely flinching figure. Galindo performed a commentary of the indifference within contemporary Guatemala, and far beyond that worked differently than Zurita’s self-inflicted bravado. Rather than proposing self-punishment as the political alternative, Galindo presented the metaphorical black hole of the female body as receptive to external duress, and a physical manifestation that alchemized external aggression into something else.

In addition to the instances above, we theorize and analyze a host of hemispheric bodily aesthetics, such as the hunger strike, extreme performance art, passive refusals, political manifestations, black signification, autonomous feminisms, visual embodiments, racialized bodily imaginaries, and the potentialities of queer and decolonial performance art.


The collaborative learning seminar, Políticas corporales, takes place during the Hemi 2014 Encuentro: “Choreographing Social Movements in the Américas,” and produces an ongoing conversation between scholars, artivists, activists, performance artists, and visual artists. Based on some of the experiences in working groups during the 2013 Encuentro, we will convene a group of 8-10 participants to 1. Unpack a series of propositions that each of the conveners will write up and circulate ahead of time 2. Facilitate one or two relevant readings that will be integrated into our meetings 3. Discuss individual academic and artistic projects that are pre-circulated using the technology of Base Camp (one month prior to the Encuentro). 4. Produce an academic publication from the working group that incorporates theories about the body and politics as aesthetic, ethical, and performative events. Throughout, our working group will be in conversation with the Encuentro’s theme of manifestation.


Please submit a short description of interest in the work group (200 words) and a short bio. This working group will be limited to 8-10 participants. Materials should be uploaded via the online application form before October 9th, 2013.

Convener Biographies:

Tavia Nyong’o teaches the aesthetic and expressive cultures of the African diaspora at New York University, with particular attention to gender and sexuality. His first book was The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance and the Ruses of Memory (2009). He is at work on a longer project on fabulation and a shorter, collaborative project on wildness. He is also a co-editor of the journal Social Text.

Jack Halberstam is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Gender Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. Halberstam is the author of five books including: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (1995), Female Masculinity (1998), In A Queer Time and Place (2005), The Queer Art of Failure (2011) and Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (2012) Halberstam is currently working on several projects including a book titled THE WILD on queer anarchy, performance and protest culture, the visual representation of anarchy, and the intersections between animality, the human, and the environment.

Macarena Gómez-Barris is Associate Professor of American Studies & Ethnicity and Sociology at the University of Southern California. She teaches on cultural movements in the Américas Her first book was Where Memory Dwells: Culture and State Violence in Chile (2009). She is co-editor, with Herman Gray, of Towards the Sociology of a Trace (2010). She is working on a book on Andean freedom and cultural expressions.

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