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Trust, pleasure and rage in HAU’s ¡Protagonistas! Festival.

  • Review
  • Jul 28 2023
  • Elisa Fuenzalida
    is a researcher and cultural worker. She has directed research projects such as El futuro era tu cuerpo, Ensamblajes del Cuidado and Afectos en Re-existencia. She is coordinator and co-curator of the Cátedra Decolonial Anibal Quijano at the Museo Reina Sofía, co-editor of the journal Arts of the Working Class and mediator in the citizen laboratory platform Redes por el Clima.

In summer, the sky is on our side – on the side of dance, on the side of protest, and long encounters. Encounters, I say, not community, because community is built upon interaction; upon a shared path that, in Berlin, still holds the shape of a promise. South and Central American migration is not exactly new in the German capital, nor is exile, but in recent years, this condition has multiplied exponentially and particularly violently against feminized bodies – not so much due to the radicalization of patriarchal-extractivist violence and its implicit compacts with state terrorism, as is often said, but due to the calculated transformation of their pre-existing conditions into an organized political project. However, it is the first time in Berlin that this accumulation of traumas, political imagination, struggles, mourning, anger, resistance, pleasures, and bonds so closely tied to both territory and diaspora, known in Europe as Latin America, is presented integrated into the international feminist dialogue in an event of the magnitude and scope of Hebbel am Ufer (HAU)’s festival ¡Protagonistas!, held in Berlin earlier this summer. 

From June 21 to July 2, ¡Protagonistas! included “Beyond Equality: Feminisms Reclaiming Life” (curated by Firoozeh Farvardin, Barbara Marcel, Camila Nobrega, Bahar Oghalai, Bafta Sarbo, Elif Sarican, and Margarita Tsomou), a subset of events dedicated to the performing arts and discursive engagements, talks, and workshops. The “Beyond Equality” program brought together a program that encompassed artistic resistances and activism from Iran, Kurdistan, North Africa, and Latin America. All the movements and voices presented in those occasions have identified the ecocidal, colonial, neoliberal, and militaristic character of patriarchy as a political project, challenging purplewashing and the liberal co-optation of feminism. 

It is staggering to think about the curatorial and logistical effort behind the scenes during more than ten days of dance, theater, performance, conferences, workshops, and concerts that together have the effect of a long-lasting earthquake on the fragile foundations on which European feminist values and agenda barely stand. It is essential to emphasize the value of embracing the effort to create a feminist gathering that effectively acknowledges the political perspectives of the diverse guests and audience members. This includes those who have intentionally chosen to critically distance themselves from the term "feminism" and its historical context.


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The performance aspect of the ¡Protagonistas! program was opened by LASTESIS and Argentine dancer and choreographer Marina Otero, whose work warrants special attention. In her performance FUCK ME (2020), the third part of her autobiographical and self-performed series Recordar Para Vivir (2015 - 2020) and the outcome of a period of prostration due to multiple herniated discs, Otero starkly reflects on the fall of the female body, constantly objectified by the male gaze, into the realm of the discarded and the invisible. Unable to rely on her own body, the choreographer places five male dancers in her shoes and directs them on a visceral, noisy, and excessive journey into the darkest realms of resentment and anger. The festival also included the following episode of FUCK ME, LOVE ME (2022), the continuation and fourth part of this series of performances, a small, intimate, and unscripted solo piece, conceived at another pivotal moment in the artist's life: when she decided to migrate from Argentina to Spain. In a superimposition of hyper-realistic layers of self-analysis, the exceptional text of LOVE ME sweeps from the violence of the domestic space to the classic question of whether things can be better in a new place or if what we seek wherever we go is always the past, which in reality, is oneself.


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The performance Resistencia o La Reivindicación de un Derecho Colectivo (2021) by the collective LASTESIS took place at Dorothea-Schlegel-Platz. The work is part of an ongoing dialogue that brings what academia takes from the streets back to the public space, a collaborative staging created through interdisciplinary scenic strategies that seek to translate the ideas of Judith Butler, Paul B. Preciado, and María Lugones. The dancers, among whom I could identify the great Pedra Costa, were dressed in colorful raincoats and moved in a martial choreography to the rhythm of dense techno music. 

Then, a speech began in the rhythm of a litany, the words of former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, indicted in The Hague for crimes against humanity, when he fully came out and said, "We are facing a powerful enemy...", referring to the millions of peaceful protesters taking to the streets of Chile during the 2019 social uprising. Piñera’s words are followed by a statement from one of the biggest financial intermediation and advisory firms in Latin America, LarrainVial, issued the height of the Covid pandemic: "We cannot continue to stop the economy; we must take risks, and that means that people will die," in an electronic remix that turns them into a techno-pop capsule. LASTESIS’s performances have a lot to do with the collective validation of the individual experience of media cynicism and normalized ideological terror. In that space of trust, hate speech is transformed into a frenetic rhythm that explodes into a cry of struggle and celebration.


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Another notable mention is the concert by reggaeton and dembow icon Chocolate Remix, who, for years, has been refining an undeniable talent for bringing the combative energy of the streets to the stage in a desire-driven key, and for activating a collective memory of the euphoria of all the streets taken in the struggle within the body.

Pleasure as resistance, in the face of extreme violence, trauma, and immense present challenges, to process, support each other, and co-regulate, is the driving force behind ¡Protagonistas!. In fact, one of the greatest achievements of the festival is that it created necessary spaces for decompression. “Beyond Equality: Feminisms Reclaiming Life” consisted of two full days of talks, where perhaps the greatest accomplishment was its reconfiguration of our map of political imagination and the existing and potential paths between the participants’ experiences. Tables featured comrades such as Lorena Cabnal, Erica Malunguinho, Zethu Matebeni, Carmen Cariño, Ewa Majewska, Miriam Nobre, Louise Wagner, Verónica Gago, and Dilar Dirik, among many others, representing tables that covered anti-extractive demands, demilitarization, trans-territorial queer solidarities, and more. 

This audience was overwhelmingly composed of exiled and diaspora activists and territorial defenders, many of whom have been criminalized in their countries of origin. We speak of collectives such as Voces de Guatemala, Fujimori Nunca Más-Berlin, Minka-Ecuador, GLEFAS, and many more, all the result of local grassroots political trajectories in the so-called Global South that translated to migrant struggles in German territory and that were more closely articulated in the organization of the Zapatista tour of Europe. The participation of these agents was skeptical and critical of the assembly participatory format proposed by the curators, due to the time-space limitations of the institutional framework. At the improvised discussion tables in a kneipe near the HAU after one of the talks, there was conversation of implicit and structural hierarchies that can only be deconstructed and rethought  by opening up the programmatic and decision-making processes from the outset. The question here is: can an assembly be a priori its participants?


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In fact, the spaces reserved for questions from the public of what was presented as a plenary assembly were characterized by silences, questioning of the format, and emotionally charged interventions. In other words, rather than talking about the struggles and perspective carried by the women's movements, already well known to many of  those present, a healthy questioning prevailed about the institutional territory that housed ¡Protagonistas! and the lack of a deeper institutional deconstruction. 

This absence of deconstruction, that resulted in a template of assembly, was perceived immediately by  the audience, with the effect of creating institutional distrust. However, it would be a mistake to interpret this sentiment as a sign of rejection or, even worse, as passivity and lack of interest in participating. On the contrary, it could be understood as the first and necessary step of a horizontal alliance, in which the conditions for the continuity of the dialogue are discussed in an open conversation. Like any event that exceeds its original intention of bringing an impact, ¡Protagonistas! leaves crucial questions and desires in the air, among them some related to the porosity of the curatorial processes, the methodologies of participation, the possibilities of exploring in depth a greater articulation between guests and local collectives. 

The question that I kept with me is related to endurance, and how to encourage the continuity of spaces for dialogue so that the processes initiated won’t dissipate. 

As organizer myself, to summon a social fabric wounded by war, femicide, spoliation, exile, structural racism and the Law on Foreigners as the diasporic one from a European institution means to expose oneself to an intense mobilization of emotions that start from an imbalance of power that must be addressed before being able to speak as equals. It is an uncomfortable, unsettling terrain that cannot but be traversed to get to the questions that really matter. As Otero makes clear in her two explosive pieces, it is not about denying the voice of internalized violence or hiding the resentment and rage, but about finding yet another voice, one that connects us in the dance, in the tears, in the sweat, and tells us that although impatience is also political, and criticism comes sooner than hugs, we must stay, we must dance, we must perrear, we must kiss, because the hugs will come.




    Cover: Protagonistas gathering, credits Dorothea Tuch.

    fig. 1: Protagonistas gathering, credits Dorothea Tuch.

    fig. 2: Marina Otero, FUCK ME (2020)credits Diego Astarita. 

    fig. 3: Marina Otero, FUCK ME, LOVE ME (2022), credits Mariano Barrientos.

    fig. 4: LASTESIS, Resistencia o La Reivindicación de un Derecho Colectivo (2021), credits Dorothea Tuch.

    fig. 5: Protagonistas gathering, credits Dorothea Tuch.



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