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Polvo de Gallina Negra: Latin American feminist art pioneers

Founded in 1983 by four Mexican artists, the collective relied on parody and humor to criticize domestic violence and imposed gender roles

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On Oct. 7, 1983, four Mexican artists dressed as witches and carrying a pot appeared in a public square in Mexico City for a performance called "Recipe to give the evil eye to the rapists, or respect for the rights of others' bodies is peace."

The performance, carried out within the framework of a massive march against rape, consisted in handing out small envelopes containing a "potion" the artists had prepared in front of the audience with the help of a pot and a recipe created by themselves that served to give the evil eye to rapists. 

 The recipe, also distributed among the attendees, was as follows:

"Ingredients:
2 dozen eyes and hearts of a woman who is accepted as such.
20 kg. of lightning bolts and sparkles of a woman who gets angry when she is assaulted.
1 ton of steel muscles of a woman who demands respect for her body.
3 tongues of a woman who does not submit even when she has been raped.
1 sachet of spinach-flavored, spinach-flavored, spinach-flavored, spinach-flavored, spinach-flavored woman who understands and supports a woman
who was raped.
30 grams of powder of voices that demystify rape.
7 drops of men who support the fight against rape.
1 pinch of legislators interested in the social changes that we women demand.
women demand.
A few spoonfuls of families and schools that do not promote traditional roles.
traditional roles.
3 dozen messages from responsible communicators who stop producing images that promote rape.
images that promote rape.

3 hairs of superfeminist.
2 fangs of opposition party militant.
½ ear of spontaneous and curious.

By carefully following the instructions on how to prepare the mixture, we will be able to have as a final result our explosive mixture with which you will be able to surprise the rapists who live in your own home, the shy and the aggressive, the passive and the active, and those who stalk you at work or in the truck, and finally those who hide in the night that today we come to take."

With the performance, titled "Respect for the right to the body of others is peace," Polvo de Gallina Negra was born, considered the first feminist artistic group in Mexico.

Formed by artists Mónica Mayer, Maris Bustamante and Herminia Dosal, the collective's objective was to challenge the traditional image of women through irony and humor, denounce the traditional image of women, the violence against them and criticize the prevailing machismo in Mexico and Latin America.

polvo de gallina negra

Still valid today

"Polvo de Gallina Negra's work is absolutely current. It is so because the problems pointed out by Maris Bustamante and Mónica Mayer — and at the beginning by Herminia Dosal — continue to be valid: machismo, violence, the deep patriarchal system," historian Julia Antivilo told the Mexican newspaper La Jornada de Oriente.

Antivilo is the curator of a retrospective on the group that has recently opened at the Museo Amparo in Puebla, Mexico. The exhibition, entitled Polvo de Gallina Negra. Mal de Ojo and Other Feminist Recipes (open until Nov. 14), brings together a group of more than 300 works in which there are material traces of their performances, ideas, visuals and actions, as well as letters and personal photographs of artists from the archives of Mexican and Argentine institutions.

"All the works that they propose are based on playful ideas, humor, irony, the use of the body and the use of the body and the desacralization of the artistic discipline itself are key tools for this collective, and they are also forms and strategies that have been maintained throughout the entire production of feminist art and have been passed on to other artists," added Antivilo Peña, author of the book E'ntre lo sagrado y lo profano se tejen rebeldías: Latin American feminist art.

Joining a wave of artistic groups of political action that appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, Polvo de Gallina Negra began with a series of performances, mail art, street actions and media interventions with the idea of addressing the role of women in domestic life as well as the idea of motherhood. Its name refers to the popular esoteric remedy used in Mexico against the "evil eye," a remedy which helped them overcome obstacles in a society as patriarchal as Mexico's.

"When we decided to make this group we invited many artists. No one wanted to be part of it. At that time, all the galleries and museums were run by men and many said they were afraid that there would be reprisals against them... that because they belonged to the group there would be limitations on the exhibition of their work... Many of them were married or were living with their partners and did not want to have conflicts with them," explained Bustamante, quoted in the book Del Boom al Bang: Las performanceras mexicanas.

Big bellies

One of their most well-known performances was "Mujeres artistas o se solicita esposa" ("Women artists or wives wanted"), carried out throughout 1983, during which the artists toured several educational institutions in Mexico to denounce the amount of unpaid domestic work performed by women and the different types of violence they suffer. For the performance, the artists wore aprons and belly prostheses to emulate the belly of a pregnant woman. 

Motherhood was a recurring theme throughout their artistic production. Their purpose was to question the social imaginary built around the figure of the mother. One of the clearest examples in this field was the visual project "Mothers!", which consisted of a series of artistic actions, including the "Letter to my mother" contest. In it, the general public was invited to write a letter with everything they would have liked to say to their mother.

Another well-known project was the mail art event entitled "Egalité, Liberté, Maternité: Polvo de Gallina Negra strikes again," which consisted of sending a letter to the public. The action sent collages with texts and images to 300 critics, artists and journalists from all over the country.

In the same category of humor and parody is the "Mother for a Day" award, a performance carried out during the broadcast of the "Mother for a Day" program in which the artists adorned the famous anchorman Guillermo Ochoa with a fake pregnant belly, apron and a crown of "queen of the home."

"With its name and its action, Polvo de Gallina Negra is part of a performative ritual that serves to invoke magic and justice, because patriarchal justice to this day has no room for recognition," said Peña, convinced that 40 years later, the collective continues to be a reference for feminism and the empowerment of women in all spheres. 

"It is a space for magic as a space for justice; for example, the evil eye that they do in that first potion is to give the evil eye to rapists, it is like a counter potion, like a subversion of magic itself, giving this evil to rapists and art critics," she concludes.
 

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