Body art is a type of performance art because the artist uses (and sometimes abuses) their body in order to promote change with regard to an aspect of the norm. Sometimes, artists resort to performances in which they depend on their body to speak out against the stigmatization that they face because they have been silenced by oppressive groups. Regina José Galindo, for example, uses her body to honor the voices of those who face marginalization, many times due to the fact that they choose to speak and commemorate their own language and culture. Galindo's performances commemorate and honor the lives of Guatemalans whose everyday lives are full of marginalization due to being part of the minority culture (the indigenous group). Some examples of her performances include: leaving a trail of bloody footprints to the National Palace in Guatemala, allowing herself to be discarded in a bag to the municipal dump, and getting gold fillings in her teeth and then allowing them to be forcibly removed.
At times, she writes poetry to express the thoughts and feelings she has to explain her performances, because she chooses not to speak during them (See Action Poetry for more examples of social action through poetry). For example, to explain her performance Piedra, in which she covers herself in charcoal and gets into an immobile fetal position, she wrote the following poem:
Soy una piedra no siento los golpes la humillación las miradas lascivas los cuerpos sobre el mío el odio. Soy una piedra en mí la historia del mundo.
As a form of social action, the artist can find an intersection between a representation of others through a presentation of self. To clarify, the artist uses his or her own body to exemplify the situation of another. When the performance is used as a way of promoting social justice, the artist is finding a way to give a voice to the voiceless and bringing awareness of an oppressive social situation to others. Galindos is one example of a person who is putting the "who" before the "how" with regard to protecting language rights. (See How to "Save" for more information). Furthermore, body art performances offer a new perspective on literacy, one that follows the idea that literacy is a repository of a community's or people's cultural knowledge and expression (See Literacy and Multiliteracies). The artist attempts to reclaim, re-story, or personify the atrocities that members of his or her culture faced on a consistent basis.
One might consider how body art could be considered a new form or alternative of language education policy. Within the context of culture, the history of a particular minority group is often omitted in order to promote the history of the dominant culture. Education in schools has become a formal place of learning, often in English, rather than a place to focus on the humanistic and cultural side of learning. (See Education for All). Body art offers a unique perspective into the mentality of such minority groups who face deculturization and linguicide. Because they often are left without a voice to speak against the process of assimilative schooling, body art is a way to reclaim their rights and physically demonstrate what it means to be voiceless or part of the minority culture. Body art acts as a way to offer learners deep education and to validate their cultural and linguistic diversity. Although unconventional, body art as a new form of language education policy reconceptualizes education to allow success in something other than a high stakes exam.
The picture above shows Mannequin Art by Kittikun Atsawintarangkul.
Chambers, Tod (2005) The Art of Bioethics. Hastings Center Report, 35(2), 3.
Goldman, Francisco (2006) Regina José Galindo. BOMB Magazine.
Heinrich, Falk (2012) Flesh as Communication -- Body Art and Body Theory. Contemporary Aesthetics. online journal.
Rae, Paul (2009) Theatre and Human Rights. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
The image is usable as long as I give credit to the artist: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul
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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies (http://www.languageeducationpolicy.org) as
Zuidema, M. (2013).Alternative pedagogies: Body Performance Art. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: http://www.languageeducationpolicy.org/ (access date).