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Cecilia Fajardo-Hill

M aría Evelia Marmolejo, (Cali,

María Evelia
1958) is one of the most radical and
political artists of the 1980s in Latin
America. Active primarily in the 1980s,
her work remains unknown not only

outside of Colombia but in her own
country. Performance art in Latin
America since the 1960s reflects the
history of great experimentation and
political action. A thorough historiog-
raphy of the medium in Latin America

Political Body still needs to be produced as many im-

portant artists continue to be obscured
due to lack of research or interest, and
sometimes prejudice.
The evolution and definition of
performance in Latin America var-
ies1; and in some countries such as
Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Venezu-
ela performance began in the 1960s
and flourished throughout the 1970s
and 1980s. In other countries such
as Mexico, performance started in
the 1970s and thrived in the 1980s;
in the case of Cuba, it started in 1979
throughout the 1980s, and in countries
such as Colombia, performance began
until the 1980s. There are of course im-
portant individual artists in countries
such as Cuba, Guatemala, Puerto Rico,
Uruguay and Peru who developed an
important practice in performance.2 It
goes without saying that performance
continues to be a central practice today
in Latin America.
Born in Cali, Colombia, Marmolejo
started working in the early 80s
making performances and installa-
tions. Much of her work intertwined
preoccupations that have pervaded
throughout her production: the politi-
cal oppression in Colombia in the 1970s
and 1980s3, social and economic condi-
tions in Colombia and Latin America,
environmental issues, and the situation
and role of women, including aspects
related to the representation, func-
tions and symbolic meanings of the
woman’s body.
Marmolejo’s intense period of
production was 1981 to 1985. The rea-

March 11th, 1981. Gallery San Diego, Bogotá, Colombia.

10 min. Documentary photograph. Photo: Camilo Gómez.

2 ArtNexus

Anonymous 1, 1981. Plazoleta of Centro Administrativo Municipal in Cali (CAM), Colombia. 20 min. Anonymous 1, 1981. Plazoleta of Centro Administrativo Municipal in Cali
Documentary photograph. Photo: Fabio Arango. (CAM), Colombia. 20 min. Documentary photograph. Photo: Fabio Arango.

sons for her virtually stopping to do piece in Colombia in 1981” but re-
Born in Cali, Colombia,
artwork, and for history to erase her marked that this work (and that of
memory, are multiple and complex, 1984 performance by Antioquia artist Marmolejo started
and some are of personal nature; the María Teresa Cano) “remain circum-
main being that Marmolejo self-exiled scribed within the limitations of a
working in the early 80s
herself to Madrid, Spain, while preg- feminine theme.” 4 making performances
nant in 1985 and after this year, she Marmolejo studied law between
only produced two performances, 1976 and 78 but could not fathom her- and installations. Much
in 1992 and 2004. Another explana- self as a lawyer and began studying of her work intertwined
tion is that not enough research has art at the Escuela de Bellas Artes de
been done in this field and in recent Cali. With relatively little knowledge preoccupations that have
historiography María Teresa Hincapié of art, and no support, Marmolejo was pervaded throughout her
(her importance is unquestioned) a strong and mature conceptual artist
is presented as the first important from the very beginning of her short production: the political
performance artist in Colombia with and intense art career. Marmolejo was
work from the late 1980s, even though never interested in the conventions
oppression in Colombia in
María Evelia Marmolejo—and other of art and was strongly engaged with the 1970s and 1980s, social
artists—was making performance finding a way of expressing her preoc-
years earlier. The second explana- cupations in regards to the political op-
and economic conditions
tion to this erasure is that the best pression in Colombia during the time in Colombia and Latin
known performance by the artist is of Turbay Ayala, Colombia’s President,
11 de marzo, 1981 which may have and also to her own condition as a America, environmental
been remembered and interpreted in woman in a male chauvinist society issues, and the situation and
a prejudiced and limited fashion to which was imposed on her since an
be circumscribed to the “essential- early age through her education at an role of women, including
ist feminine” and the controversial, all girls school, Catholic upbringing, aspects related to the
thus defining her in a limited fashion. and home life, where she was taught
For example, in the catalogue Arte ≠ to serve men. representation, functions
Vida from the Museo del Barrio, 2008, In 1979, for her final semester exam,
María Iovino describes 11 de marzo as she realized her first installation titled
and symbolic meanings of
the “(…) First feminist performance Tendidos, which consisted of a clothes the woman’s body.
ArtNexus 3
line made of sanitary pads—some finger. Marmolejo did not believe that history of modern art at the Escuela
used and some clean—which were the only materials for working were de Bellas Artes in Cali, and curator of
tied to one another. The end of the the conventional pencil and brush, Museo de Arte Moderno la Tertulia de
line was a cloth nappy and the whole and was attempting to conceptualize Cali. Marmolejo recalls that he trav-
line hung from a butcher’s hook. Mar- that this was a “drawing” no matter elled often and would discuss with her
molejo produced this work in protest the shape or the technique. She was what he saw in galleries and museums
for the brutal torture and rape—of- also reflecting on the violence of Co- and share books and magazines with
ten with metal objects—of peasant lombia through the use of her own the artist. Of lasting importance was
and university women, sometimes blood and by drawing a line which that González introduced Marmolejo
pregnant, by the Colombian Army. was continuous though not straight, to the Vienna Situationists.
From this early performance the artist and which inevitably broke between After Marmolejo left art school,
started using blood, both as a com- one cardboard and the next, she repre- she decided to focus on perfor-
mon, normal bodily fluid—though sented the discontinuity and violence mance. Aside from the Situationists,
rejected— and as a reflection on the and repression during the Turbay Marmolejo recalls Lygia Clark’s
violence of the country. The aggres- Ayala regime in Colombia, and other Clothing-Body-Clothing Series, 1967.
siveness manifested in the butcher’s military regimes in South America In contrast to the conservative nature
hook also refers to her refusal and during the 1970s.5 of art school in Cali, two years later,
difficulties she faced in her role as Neither work, despite the artist ex- in 1981, the 4ta Bienal de Arte de Me-
a woman in a macho society and at plaining their conceptual nature, was dellín took place in parallel with the
home, where she had to be subservi- accepted as sculpture or drawing, and 1er Coloquio Latinoamericano de Arte
ent to four male brothers. Marmolejo was failed and was forced No-Objetual y Arte Urbano. Here, she
For her final drawing test, she made to quit art school. The only professor recalls, she saw for the first time the
a triptych with poster boards where at art school who became a sort of performances of Venezuelan Yeni y
she drew a line with her own blood mentor to her at the time was Miguel Nan and Carlos Zerpa. At the begin-
by cutting an incision on her index González, who was the professor of ning of the 1980s in Colombia per-

Tendidos, 1979. Mixed media installation. Escuela de Bellas Artes, Cali, Colombia.

4 ArtNexus
formance was little known, though
some informed curators and artists
were trying to promote performance
such as: Miguel González, Eduardo
Serrano, curator at the Museo de
Arte Moderno in Bogota, Alberto
Sierra curator at the Museo de Arte
de Antioquia en Medellín and one
of the organizers of the 1981 Bienal
and Coloquio in Medellín, and the
conceptual artist Álvaro Barrios, who
was curator at the Museo de Arte
Moderno de Barranquilla.
When Marmolejo was a child, she
did children’s theatre in her neighbor-
hood, under the direction of Fernando
Silva. Also, while at art school she
took a theatre workshop with Ale-
jandro Buenaventura. Marmolejo has
March 11th, 1981. Project sketch on paper.
commented that theatre as a form of
expression was seminal to her since March 11th, 1981. Gallery San Diego, Bogotá, Colombia. 10 min. Documentary photograph. Photo: Camilo Gómez.
childhood6. Performance became thus
the ideal medium that allowed her to
free and channel the anger, repression
and impotence she felt for her condi-
tion as a woman in her social context
and for the political oppression in
her country. As Marmolejo was an
unconventional and challenging artist
and given the issues she addressed in
her works, in her performances she
exposed her body in ways that either
made her extremely vulnerable and/
or involved actions such as cutting
herself, or the contact with matter that
may be seen as repulsive.
Her first performance was Anónimo
1, 1981 at the Plazoleta del Centro Ad-
ministrativo Municipal in Cali. Mar-
molejo dressed in a white tunic and
cap and the face covered in bandages
to denote anonymity, walked silently
over a walkway marked by a line of
white paper. The area was guarded
by police who stopped the public
from getting too close. Shortly after
the beginning of the performance,
Marmolejo sat on the white line and
made cuts under her toes and then
continued walking leaving a blood
trail behind her. The second stage of
the performance consisted of curing
her wounds and continuing to walk
with bandaged toes. The artist had
set a loud clock which ticked during
the action and which went off after
20 minutes ending the performance,

ArtNexus 5
which the artist described as “waking situation. Marmolejo’s self-infliction a soundtrack of a toilet flushing.
up from a nightmare.”7 became a modus operandi for the art- She wore a white cap and large sec-
The artist has written that this ist, as her involvement with the issues tions of her body were covered with
performance was in homage to the she raised was not merely intellectual sanitary pads excluding the genitals
tortured and disappeared during the or artistic, but visceral, urgent and so that the blood when she walked
Turbay Ayala regime. Marmolejo’s self compassionate. would drip on the floor. She did
inflicted wounds and subsequent pro- 11 de marzo, 1982 took place at a dance where she would rub her
cess of healing was a way to bring to the Galería San Diego in Bogotá. pubis against the wall leaving an
the public’s attention the violence that Marmolejo decided on the date of imprint of her blood which dripped
was taking place (the public, mostly the performance after she had her along the wall to the floor. Mar-
male, during this performance was last period to be able to determine molejo had suffered all her life of
both disturbed and touched, though the date of the coming one. In very abundant periods and had ex-
according to the artist, were more preparation to the performance she perienced the trauma of constantly
impressed by the blood in the per- took some herbal medicines to help staining her clothes with blood and
formance than by the daily violence induce her period and guarantee being teased by people, especially
in Colombia), but also to manifest that it began on March 11th. The when she was a young student. This
the need to heal the pain resulting artist arranged paper on the floor in performance was partly a way to
from the brutality inflicted on inno- an L shape, lit the place with black come to terms with her own body
cent people, and to put an end to the light, and in the background played and its functions. This was a ritual
to the menstruation, something
Residues I, 1983. Installation at Museo de Arte Moderno de Cartagena, Colombia. considered shameful and repug-
nant, to celebrate it as something
natural. Also, the artist, having been
raised Catholic, repelled the Judeo-
Christian conception of the genesis
where the woman was born out of
the rib of Adam, thus establishing
the superiority and power of men
over the women. Through this ritual
she wanted to celebrate women’s
centrality in the origin of life. In
contrast to the Christian tradition,
in this performance she refers to
an ancestral indigenous mythology
that establishes the origin of life in
women, who created man by mix-
ing menstrual blood with mud in
the shape of a phallus and buried
it. Man thus became her companion
and together created new lives. 8
Reading Marmolejo’s work as
circumscribed to an essentialist idea
of the feminine is limited and mis-
leading. In 11 de Marzo, Marmolejo
transforms the period—a weakness,
something negative and traumatic—
into a strength. Her radicalism is
rooted in her frontal rebelliousness
against the fragmentation of the femi-
nine as a sanitized body from what is
perceived as dirty. She is performing
an anti-colonialist act by resorting to
Indigenous belief, thus deconstruct-
ing the power of the Judeo-Christian
religion which establishes woman’s
inferiority, dependency and essential
weakness. Also, her action is freeing

6 ArtNexus
Anonymous 3, 1982. Performed on the polluted banks of the Cauca River, Valley Cauca, Anonymous 4, 1982. Performed on the banks of Río Cauca, Colombia. Documentary
Colombia. Documentary photograph. Photo: Nelson Villegas. photograph. Photo: Nelson Villegas.

both of her anger and repression, to described that the pungent smell of placed a toilet bowl where she did a
the extent that the artist has com- the decaying placentas was over- vaginal wash, letting her fluids fall to
mented9 that she experienced a climax whelming and this, combined with the ground, thus fertilizing the earth
in the form of an orgasm at the conclu- her reflections, produced strong reac- that had been polluted and fragments
sion of the performance. tions of vomiting and crying. of the soaked tape and gauze where
Following both a ritualistic aspect The issue of the environment is arranged on the soil.
of her work and her political stance, of great importance to the artist13. Performances such as Residuos I,
Marmolejo produced Anónimo 4, Anónimo 3, 1982 14 is another private 1983 and Residuos II, 198416, combine
198210, a private performance at the performance Marmolejo did at the both her preoccupation for ecological
edges of the Río Cauca, Valle del edges of the Río Cauca, for which she destruction and violence resulting
Cauca, Colombia, 11 where she dug wrote: “A ritual to the Mother Earth from the exploitation of oil. For these
a triangle of 1.5 meters, the artist’s was produced as an act of forgiveness works she created installation of ob-
height, filled with layers of human for the pollution and destruction of jects, containers and bags filled with
placentas of births from that same the flora and fauna.”15 This contami- organic matter such as urine, animal
day in Cali, that the artist had col- nated river was emblematic of the pol- tripe, blood, and other matter. For Re-
lected from public hospitals. Three lution that industries are producing siduos II, the artist included a fetus in a
adjacent smaller triangles were filled all over the world by throwing their compressed bag together with a used
with sewage water. The artist tied chemicals in rivers, thus altering the sanitary pad installed with other bags
placentas to her body with plastic biodiversity of the flora and fauna. of organic matter. The fetus stood for
strips and stood on the placentas in The performance, which lasted 15 a “discarded baby” in response to an
the larger triangle while reflecting minutes, consisted of a healing ritual article the artist read on child mortal-
and experiencing “the fear of com- where she partially covered her body ity before the age of 5. The artist wrote
ing to this world in a society where with surgical tape and gauze covered biographical information on her back
survival is not guaranteed.” 12 The her face. Marmolejo drew a spiral and stood by the installation for 5 min-
artist in personal conversation has with quicklime, and in the center utes for people to read the information.

ArtNexus 7
In 1985 when the artist was two then broke a mirror her size and cannot be reduced to a form of es-
months pregnant she self-exiled to placed the pieces in a basket and dis- sentialism.
Madrid. That same year, Marmolejo tributed them amongst the public, as The ultimate performance the art-
heard of the preparations for the a symbol of the return of the mirrors ist did is Sesquilé, December 5, 198517
celebrations of the 500 years of the that were brought to America during where she proposed the birth of her
discovery of America. As a result, the Conquest. The police arrested child as a work of art. She invited sev-
the same year on October 12 th, she the artist for a few hours. eral spectators and a photographer18
did the performance América, at the As we have observed through- to witness the event, though she was
Plaza Colón in Madrid, in protest out the performances described, so engrossed in the pain of childbirth
to these coming celebrations. Mar- Marmolejo is a radical and political that she became oblivious of the
molejo proposed that instead of artist; we may call her ‘feminist’, public. Marmolejo was atheistic at
a celebration, this date should be involved in compelling issues relat- the time, nevertheless conceptualized
established as a day of mourning, ing to her role as a woman, political that as an artist she was a “creator,”
because it marked the beginning crisis, oppression, colonialism and in this case the creator of a new life
of colonialism in America and the ecology. It is not possible to dis- which was an extension of her being.
death of 67 million natives. For the sect the gender issues from broader She was, ironically and against the
action, Marmolejo distributed a political concerns involving society established patriarchal masculine
sheet with excerpts from Fray Bar- as a whole, or to establish some ‘God’, her own ‘god.’
tolomé de la Casas’, Breve Destruc- “essentialist” feminine and isolate María Evelia Marmolejo’s work
ción de las Indias, (written in 1542 it from, for example, the ideological will be on view in the fall of 2013 at
and published in 1552) describing oppression of religion that she so the Museum of Latin American Art,
the destruction and violence of the strongly opposes. Even the ritualis- Long Beach, in the context of the his-
Spaniards against the Indians. She tic aspects of the artist’s work have torical exhibition The Political Body:
wrote the word “América” on the a political underpinning, whereas an Radical Women in Latin American Art:
pedestal of the Colón statue, with anti-colonialist act, liberating from 1960-1985, which is curated by Cecilia
blood from cuts in her fingers, and repression, or a healing vehicle, it Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta.

América, 1985. Plaza Colón Madrid, Spain, 10 min. Documentary photograph. Photo: Gilberto Villamil.

8 ArtNexus
1. The definition of performance in this article is broad
and may be based on Juan Acha’s term “no-objetual-
ismo” (non-objectualism) and encompasses: perfor-
mances, happenings, actions, and photo (Anna Maria
Maiolino) and video performances (Sonia Andrade) and
private meetings (Mónica Mayer Dinner Party, 1979)
i.e., live art forms done in private. Marmolejo herself
described her actions as “arte corporal” (body art) and
it has been often the case in Latin América that artists,
particularly in the 70s and 80s preferred not to use the
term performance to define a practice that was not
necessarily circumscribed by this imported term. A case
in question is Mexican artist Maris Bustamante.
2. Some Latin American artists that produced actions,
happenings and/or did performance between the 1960s
and 1980s are listed below. In most cases the date only
denotes when the artist started producing performances,
as many continued active for decades: Argentina 1960s:
Gloria Carnevali, Eduardo Costa, Alberto Greco, Roberto
Jacoby, David Lamelas, Lea Lublin, Oscar Masotta, Marta
Minujin, Margarita Paksa; 1970s: Victor Grippo. Brazil
1960s: Lygia Clark, Nelson Leirner, Helio Oiticica, Lygia
Pape; 1970s: Sonia Andrade, Artur Barrio, Anna Bella
Geiger, Anna Maria Maiolino, Antonio Manuel, Cildo
Meireles, Teresina Soares, Celeida Tostes, Regina Vater.
Chile 1960s: Cecilia Vicuña; 1970s: Grupo CADA, Diamela
Eltit, Carlos Leppe, Lotte Rosenfeld, Raúl Zurita. Cuba:
José Bedia, Flavio Garcilandia, Manuel Mendive, Aldito
Menéndez, Glexis Novoa, Gustavo Pérez Monzón, Juan
Francisco Elso Padilla, Ricardo Rodríguez Brey, Leandro
Soto, Rubén Torres Llorca, and the collectives Arte Calle
and Grupo Provisional. México 1970s: Maris Bustamante,
Lourdes Grobet, Felipe Ehrenberg, Alejandro Jodorowsky
(Chile), Mónica Mayer, Grupo Pentágono, No Grupo;
1980s: Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Polvo de Gallina Negra,
Jesusa Rodríguez, Tlacuilas y Retrateras. Venezuela 1960s:
Alberto Brandt, Rolando Peña, Techo de la Ballena; 1970s:
Diego Barbosa, Antonieta Sosa, Pedro Terán, Yeni y Nan;
1980s: Teowald D’Arango, Marco Antonio Ettedgi, Héctor
Fuenmayor, Alfred Wenemoser, Carlos Zerpa. Colombia Sesquilé, 1985. Hospital Anglo-Americano, Madrid, Spain. Documentary photograph. Photo: Sara Rosemberg.
1980s: María Teresa Cano, María Teresa Hincapié, María
Evelia Marmolejo, Sara Modiano, Rosemberg Sandoval. 7. Artist written description of performance from 1981 Table in New York. For this, she wrote with blood from
Singular artists that may be mentioned are: Margarita and edited in 2010-2011. her fingers the word Amazonas on a wall that projected
Azurdia (Guatemala), Felipe Buendía, Teresa Burga and 8. She overheard the ancestral indigenous myth during the name of the toxic chemicals that were sent by the
Yvonne von Mollendorf (Peru), Ana Mendieta (Cuba), her conversations with people that had contact with USA to fumigate against coca plantations which are
Rafael Montañez Ortiz (Puerto Rico/USA), Nelbia Romero indigenous groups from Choco’s rainforest in Colombia. desctructive to the ecosystem.
(Uruguay) and many others. 9. Personal conversations with the artist in February 10th 14. Anónimo 3 was presented at VIII Salón Atenas,
3. The artist has explained that oppression, violence and and November 11th of 2011. Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, Colombia as photo
political persecution had existed in Colombia since the 10. Recorded on video and presented at the VIII Salón and video documentation.
1940s. Her biological father was killed for being con- Atenas Bogotá in 1982, and at the Contemporary Art 15. Artist written statement from 1982 and edited in
servative and also they tried to kill her adoptive father Museum and Art Gallery in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1984. 2010-2011
because he was liberal. Personal Correspondence with 11. The artists wrote on this work: “According to UNI- 16. Performance that took place in the IV Salon Regional
the artist, January 25, 2012. CEF’s statistics, every year 11 thousand children die of de Artes Visuales Culcultura, Pasto Colombia.
4. María Iovino “María Teresa Hincapié: Action, Corpo- starvation, thirst and cold in Latin America. I question 17. Though this is not her last performance as she did
reality, and the Realm of the Feminine in Colombia” in how pleasant it is to come to a world where there is two more actions in 1992 and 2004.
Arte Vida: Actions by Artists of the Americas 1960-2000. no aid nor comfort for a newborn?” This action was 18. The photographer got so nervous in observing the
Deborah Cullen Ed., (New York: El Museo del Barrio, exhibited at VIII Salón Atenas, Museo de Arte Moderno artist in labor pain that opened the camera and the
2008) p. 216. Though, in personal conversation with de Bogotá, Colombia and in 1984 at the Museo de film was destroyed. Only one photograph was saved.
the Colombian art critic Eduardo Serrano in Bogotá in Arte Contemporáneo y Pinacoteca de Guayaquil, Ec- Amongst the spectators was the Spanish critic Carlos
2010, he brought to my attention the importance and uador. Artist written statement from 1982 and edited Jiménez who never divulged the event.
radicalism of this performance. in 2010-2011.
5. The artist has commented that she was informed and 12. Artist written statement from 1982 and edited in Cecilia Fajardo-Hill
well aware of the political turmoil in other countries 2010-2011
British/Venezuelan art historian and curator.
in Latin America and her work not only addressed the 13. In 2004, twelve years after producing her last per-
political situation in Colombia but also other countries. formance, Marmolejo did the performance: Amazons, She is currently chief curator at the Museum
6. Personal correspondence with the artist, January Fusarium, Oxysporum, Glyphosate at the Wilmer Jenning of Latin American Art, MoLAA, in Long
19, 2012. Gallery, with the cooperation of Latino Artists Round Beach, California.

ArtNexus 9