- Evita, Inevitably: Performing Argentina’s Female Icons Before and After Eva Perón by Jean Graham-Jones
Jean Graham-Jones explores the many performative incarnations of Evita in a fascinating study that [End Page 486] invites broader consideration of how national icons manifest deeply rooted cultural anxieties. While most interpretations of Eva Perón as a transnational icon “alternate between sensationalized images of sanctified martyr and sensationalized images of demonized fraud” (3), the scholar complicates the pop and political appeal of this historical figure as she teases out the intersections of Evita the icon, the many celebrity performers who have impersonated or played her, factual and fictional narratives about the country’s First Lady, and Argentine politics. Graham-Jones defines femicon “as referencing both female and feminist iconicity as well as participating in the larger cultural collective imaginary suggested in the other popular usages of the term” (8). The volume is organized in four chapters that frame the rise of Evita in the longer lineage of Argentine femicons and analyze the many performances—in theatre, music, film, radio, the internet, and the visual arts—that have recreated the historical character. Maybe most importantly, the arc of this study allows the reader to follow the “logic of the iconographic process” (10). Graham-Jones draws from Michel Foucault throughout the volume, and credits “Marvin Carlson’s ghosting and Jacques Derrida’s hantise, as well as Roach’s embodied and replaced ‘surrogate’” as having paved “the way for a critical engagement with our contemporary concept of icons and/in performance” (5).
Graham-Jones’s first step toward contextualizing the rise of Evita into Argentina’s most powerful femicon includes the detailing of a large number of artistic works inspired by Camila O’Gorman, a nineteenth-century young woman executed by the government for running away with her priest-lover Uladislao Gutiérrez. The examination of this ensemble of works in the first chapter parallels O’Gorman’s biographical trajectory with later government-imposed violence in Argentina, and grants clarity to the intimate relationship between femicons and a given nation’s cultural history. The information in this chapter is especially helpful to readers less familiar with Latin American studies. To explain that “historical research is not the same as historical writing” (27), Graham-Jones introduces the relationship between fact and fiction in a number of plays performed in distinct time periods (Uruguayan Heraclio Fajardo in 1862; L. Mendoza Ortiz’s early twentieth-century historical drama; and the 1959 dramatic text by Miguel Alfredo Olivera; among others) and films (from Mario Gallo’s 1909 silent movie to Juan Batle Plana’s cinematic version in 1971). Her analysis moves to juxtapose Enrique Molina’s 1973 “surrealist historical” novel (34) and Griselda Gambaro’s 1982 La Malasangre in which the playwright makes use of metaphors to comment on the country’s political context of the 1980s. Graham-Jones deepens her theoretical discussion about the imprecision of historical accounts by offering an in-depth comparative reading of Maria Luisa Bemberg’s film Camila and Ricardo Monti’s plays Una passion sudamericana and Finlandia. The richness of this collection of works spanning genre and periods shows how the retelling of O’Gorman’s short life speaks of Argentina’s sociopolitical traumas. The variation in the accounts of her tragedy also primes readers to the many versions of Evita’s life.
“The (Many, Many) Lives of Eva Perón” exposes the fluctuations in narratives about Perón and their relationship to the construction of Argentina’s national identity in the twentieth century. Departing from a comparative analysis of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1978 musical Evita and the 1986 Argentine rock-opera Eva, coauthored by playwright-historian Pedro Orgambide and actress Nacha Guevarra, who starred in the production, Graham-Jones poses that “[w]hereas Evita follows the standard ‘foreign’ negative party line regarding both the Peróns and Peronismo to deliver a rather predictable story of a woman driven to extremes by her apparently insatiable need...