‘Looking Out for the Queer in Latin American Art’ Showcases Experiences of Marginalized Subjects Through Video and Film

April 30, 2018

Sylvia Molloy answers a question after her keynote address. Queer subjectivities took center stage in a 2017-2018 series at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) titled “Looking Out for the Queer in Latin American Video Art and Film.” The series concentrated on two activities which spanned the academic year: an exhibition of video art on display in the center titled Guiñadas Gráciles, curated by Joaquín S. Terrones, Lecturer in Literature and Women and Gender Studies at MIT; and a film program of five screenings, curated by Sergio Delgado Moya, Associate Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and Paola Ibarra, Assistant Director of Programs at DRCLAS. The capstone of the initiative was a stimulating half-day symposium, “Looking Out for the Queer in Latin American Art,” held on Saturday, April 7. The program featured a mix of curators, scholars, and artists for a morning of “conversation on representation of queer bodies in Latin American visual culture,” explained Terrones in his opening remarks. Terrones set the tone for the morning, reading an excerpt from Nestor Perlongher’s poem Por qué seremos tan hermosas, the text from which he culled the phrase guiñadas gráciles,—roughly translated in English as “graceful winks.” Reflecting on her five decade-long career of theorizing on language, writing, and translation, celebrated Argentine writer and critic Sylvia Molloy delivered the keynote address, “Translation as a Queering Practice: A Personal Story.” She framed her lecture as a “deriva, or drift, on translation as a deviant practice,” elaborating on her intention to “highlight the unsettling results of the exercise, and to approach queerness tangentially, as it should be.” Interspersed within meditations on translation from fellow countrymen and literary luminaries, including Jorge Luis Borges and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Molloy shared revelations gleaned from her current project: the English-language translation of her memoir, Vivir entre lenguas. Molloy eloquently synthesized the many points of contact between translating and queering, including, “the rejection of fixed identities, of binary constructions, and the resistance to closed categories, and fluctuating identities.” Ming Li Wu, a freshman at Harvard College, followed Molloy’s address with a poetry reading of original work. Wu shared the poems “Lengua” and “To Artist From Poet,” this latter piece composed in response to the video Feather Piece (2013) by Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, that Wu encountered in Guiñadas Gráciles. Other works of Wu’s poetry were recently featured in an exhibit of Latinx Boston-based artists titled Marca X and organized by the Boston LGBTQIA Artist’s Alliance, the Harvard Ed Portal, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, and DRCLAS. Finally, three visiting panelists presented from their areas of expertise: Carl Fischer, Assistant Professor of Spanish at Fordham University, focused on the dictatorship in Chile and the artist Carlos Leppe, whose performances were documented and included in Guiñadas Gráciles, in his talk “Looking Out for Leppe”; Gabriela Rangel, Director and Chief Curator of Visual Arts at the Americas Society, presented on the recent solo exhibition she curated with Cecilia Brunson on José Leonilson, a Brazilian artist who was the subject of the video work Com o oceano inteiro para nadar by Karen Harley included in Guiñadas Gráciles; and José Gatti, of the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, showed selections from the Brazilian films Tattoo (dir. Hilton Lacerda, 2013) and Doce Amianto (dir. Guto Parente and Uirá dos Reis, 2013) to illustrate trends in queer filmmaking in Brazil and the region. The following day, attendees gathered at the Harvard Film Archive for a special screening of Carmín Tropical (2014), a drama set in Juchitán, Mexico, where some inhabitants born as men wear women’s clothing and date heterosexual men. These “muxe,” or third-gender individuals, are generally accepted and supported by their community, where there is a longstanding tradition of muxes; however, as filmmaker Rigoberto Perezcano emphasized in a discussion with Romance Language and Literatures PhD candidates following the film, the dark narrative of the murder plot in the film reveals intolerance lurking beneath the surface. The final film of the series, El Lugar Sin Límites (dir. Arturo Ripstein, 1978), was shown on Thursday, April 19 at the Harvard Film Archive to an audience primarily comprised of graduate students. In his introduction, Professor Deglado Moya underscored the objectives of the series as reflected by the multiple meanings of the series title-phrase “Looking Out for the Queer,” implying not only a new visibility of historically overlooked queer subjects but also a dedication to sensitivity and a protective embrace of these often marginalized and threatened communities. In addition to Carmín Tropical and El Lugar Sin Límites, the short film Mami y Yo y mi Gallito was presented with director Arisleyda Dilone, and two additional screenings of Chavela and I Dream in Another Language were co-sponsored by the Boston Latino International Film Festival.