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  • Holy Terrors: Latin American Women Perform
  • Berta Jottar
Holy Terrors: Latin American Women Perform. Edited by Diana Taylor and Roselyn Costantino. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004; pp. 445. $23.95 paper.

Holy Terrors introduces readers to a range of important Latin American women artists and their groundbreaking role in contemporary pro-democracy movements. This interdisciplinary anthology includes critical texts, testimonials, screenplays, cartoons, lyrics, and manifestos. Writings by the [End Page 373] artists are accompanied by critical analysis by respected scholars contextualizing their work. Important contributions to the field are the excellent translations into English of original work, and a rich bibliography of published plays, performances, videos, CDs, critical writings, and criticism about each artist's work.

In their introduction, Taylor and Costantino elaborate on how these artists perform from an understanding of gender and sex as constructed conditions, with particular attention to ways the Latin American Left erased discussions of gender inequality and sex exploitation in its emphasis on class and anticapitalist discourse. Thus, most of these women had to fight for their right to participate in a theatre beyond the kitchen. They created their own audiences and opened their own physical, cultural, and institutional spaces beyond the establishment. Latin America here is constituted through artistic and activist practices that go beyond geopolitical lines and the inherited positivist discourses of nation-building based on race and essence. Latin America becomes a political matrix, a shared framework reconstructed and made visible according to the artists' colonial, postcolonial, migratory, or exilic condition, "conditions of (im)possibility and opposition" (3). In a critical expansion of Benedict Anderson's concept of "imagined community," these "un-imagined" artists, cultural workers, activists, and performers have constituted their presence through their use of the body as "message and vehicle" (22). As performance privileges cultural context and audience participation, the editors historicize these practitioners within popular theatrical structures such as teatro frivolo (cabaret, street theatre) and / or the influences of indigenous traditions. Their definition of performance goes beyond performance art or theatrical events to include "social dramas and embodied practices." Thus performance is what it signals to the artist, a series of "overlapping practices" (15) such as installation, actions, and interventions.

The first and most theoretically dense segment locates female performers and directors who grew up during the 1970s and 1980s Latin American dictatorships. Still, in spite of oppression, women laugh: that's the message we get from Diana Raznovich's opening manifesto of critical cartoons showing the emancipatory but socially and culturally sanctioned power of women's laughter. Taylor analyzes five of Raznovich's plays and contextualizes them in relation to Argentina's Dirty War, extending the insights of her 1997 book Disappearing Acts. Taylor unpacks how Argentina's military junta used a community-building discourse that collapsed maternal and feminine images with those of the nation. Thus, the junta's gendered loyalty to the nation became its "justification for and the physical site of violent politics" (76).

The following chapters on Griselda Gambaro (Strip screenplay) and Diamela Eltit (excerpts and critical essay) illustrate the female body under related contexts of censorship, disappearance, and torture. Strip shows how females are socially trained to agree to be physically and emotionally stripped. The painful excerpts of Eltit's poststructuralist novel Lumpérica (E. Luminata) transform her physical body into a site of political performance where a series of self-inflicted cuts signal her body as a laboratory of "gestural research." Robert Neustadt's essay unpacks the meaning of Eltit's self-scarification under both the contexts of Chile's neofascistic order and the orthodox Left.

The section on Denise Stoklos, an artist who experienced Brazil's authoritarian regime, includes an excerpt of her 1987 "Manifesto of Essential Theatre," her script for the one-person show House, and Leslie Damasceno's deep analysis of Stoklos's Utopian Force. Damasceno reads Stoklos's use of hysteria as a framework and mode of "theatrical communication, particularly the way she recovers historical memory by purposefully separating language from gestus. By historicizing the hysterical subject, Stoklos constructs an 'as if' space of utopia" (156).

Antonio Prieto Stambaugh writes about Katia Tirado and Ema Villanueva's public performances / actions as part of a...


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