- Diane Gamboa's Invasion of the Snatch:The Politics and Aesthetics of Representing Gendered Violence
The unprecedented barrage of violence against women marking our times, particularly the epidemic of extreme gendered violence with impunity known as feminicide, has been met with vigorous international activism geared to stopping the violence and mapping out a path to justice.1 Two important edited collections published in 2010 throw light on the multiple causal factors behind feminicide, its consequences, and possible solutions, bringing together the experience and expertise of dozens of feminist scholars and activists on an international scale.2 While Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade, and La Frontera, edited by Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Georgina Guzmán, focuses exclusively on Juárez, Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Américas, edited by Rosa-Linda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano, represents the "first sustained effort to connect the Juárez murders to gendered violence throughout the hemisphere" (Minich, 277).3 While the terms "femicide" and "feminicide" are both used, Mexican feminist and former diputada Marcela Lagarde makes a useful distinction: "In Spanish, femicidio is homologous to homicide and solely means the homicide of women. . . . Feminicidio is genocide against women, and it occurs when the historical conditions generate social practices that allow for violent attempts against the integrity, health, liberties, and lives of girls and women" (Fregoso and Bejarano, xv-xvi). For Alicia Schmidt Camacho, by "invoking and gendering the legal term genocide . . . [the term feminicide] seeks to reconstruct conventional understandings about where personal violence intersects with official terror" (2005, 275). My choice of "feminicide" responds to the genocidal connotations of the term, emphasizing the idea that women as a group are targeted because they are women. These crimes, often carried out with [End Page 61] rage and a high degree of sadism, transcend discrete acts of violence to constitute the systemic phenomenon that Lagarde calls "gender extermination" (2007).4 Feminicide's hemispheric scope as theorized by Fregoso and Bejarano also informs my choice of the term. They propose to define feminicide "with sufficient conceptual precision" (7) that it can be employed effectively in different contexts. Invasion of the Snatch (2007), a series of nine paintings by Diane Gamboa, provides such a context for the conceptual elaboration of the term; by calling attention to gendered violence in her particular location, Gamboa puts another pin on the map of feminicide in the Americas: Los Angeles.
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The politics of visual representation figures prominently in international feminist debates about gendered violence, including how to denounce the violation of women's bodies without graphic sensationalism that might overwhelm or alienate the viewer or reproduce the discursive violence encoded in cultural understandings of the female body. A related concern involves depicting murdered and abused women as only victims, or dwelling on their dead bodies in ways that [End Page 62] erase their presence in life.5 Fregoso has produced trenchant critiques of art that rely on the cadaver to represent the terror and the horror of feminicidal violence. The problem of visual representation is exacerbated by the extreme violence inflicted on the bodies of some of the victims, the degradation projected on them through official discourses, and the social and psychic trauma produced by the reality and the threat of such violence on the individual, familial, and communal levels (2006, 120). Fregoso also examines cultural production that finds other aesthetic means to bear witness to feminicide besides using the dead body as the primary signifier.6 In the spring of 2007, Gamboa exhibited Invasion of the Snatch at the Overtones Gallery in Los Angeles, launching a striking, site-specific critique of violence against women in that city, and, through her signature aesthetic, inventing ingenious solutions to the problems presented by visual representation of feminicidal violence.
Diane Gamboa, visual artist and art educator, has been exhibiting since the 1970s and is one of the most active cultural producers in the Chicana art movement in Los Angeles. She works in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, screenprinting, tattooing, installation, mixed...