Andrea Giunta

The Political Body: Stories on Art, Feminism, and Emancipation in Latin America

Translated by Jane Brodie

University of California Press, 2023

304 pages


Reviewed by Jenna Reynolds

In The Political Body: Stories on Art, Feminism, and Emancipation in Latin America, Andrea Giunta presents a history and archive of Latin American Feminist art in the timeframe of second wave feminism to the present. She organizes her book by “cases and issues” rather than countries or other categorizations. From the introduction on, Giunta commits to a collective and collaborative curation, an exploration of historical facts and statistics, and a decentering of her own positionality through the elevation of perspectives from diverse artists and backgrounds. She presents a deep and wide scope of data and works to support her analysis of the status of gender inequality in the art world and more specifically, the art world in Latin America.

Giunta writes the book in eight chapters, and in each chapter analyzes an element of art which enacts emancipation as it relates to women artists. In the first chapter, the author provides a definition and language for categorizing art made by women, contextualizing the variance of identity along the spectrum of femininity, feminism, and participation in a male-prioritized world of art. She presents four categories of art made by women: women who identify as feminists and attempt to make feminist art, women artists who investigate a feminine aesthetic, women who identify as “simply artists,” and artists who accept “the model of a predominantly patriarchal aesthetic.” She offers an identification of art as meaning-making, especially in the context of the Latin America of the sixties and seventies. It is in this chapter that Giunta presents the concept of invisibilization as a threatening tool to women’s artistic contributions and as a central problem of feminist art as it can lead to “a whole corpus left out of history.”

The second chapter presents political and feminist historical connections and contexts in order to enact a comparative study and close readings of Clemencia Lucena’s paintings and María Luisa Bemberg’s filmography. In this chapter Giunta concretizes leftist movements and feminism as counteracting forces for change. She establishes that feminism was often relegated in favor of other goals of the leftist movement: the leftist politics of Latin America in the sixties and seventies excluded, ignored, and rejected feminist notions of change, leaving women artists in an interim space for artistic production.

Chapter Three dives into the work of Narcisa Hirsch, an Argentine artist, and her feminism through the avant-garde and political nature of her art. Giunta presents a series of experimental films that contain traces of feminism through their exploration of the everyday nature of life and the elevation of women’s perspectives. This chapter contributes a novel evolution of Argentine feminism in the art world to the existing historical canon of experimental film. In the fourth chapter, Giunta introduces the exclusivity of the Mexican feminist context. This chapter develops the strongest connections with the overall theme of feminism and emancipation. One can attribute this to the abundance of source content from manifestos, lectures, TV performances, and exhibitions to analyze as well as the established network of feminist organizations and artists in Mexico, as reinforced by Giunta. Perhaps most valuably, she highlights the integral and inherent intersectionality of Mexican feminism This analysis argues that the notions of class and race are inextricable from the struggles of women generally, extrapolating Mexican feminism as a glimpse into future, more radicalized waves of feminism. She explains the unique formation of Mexican feminism by the lack of dual challenges parallel to those experienced in the other Latin American countries explored. Giunta posits that Mexican feminists did not have to deal with military coup crackdowns and the disinterest of leftist political organizations in advancing the rights of women. This exclusivizes Mexico’s political context in contrast with countries like Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, whose artists participating in leftist political organizations found that feminist issues were viewed as trivial politics when compared to overarching leftist political goals.

Chapter Five ties most concretely to the theme of emancipation as titled. In this chapter, Giunta analyzes the performance art of Nelbia Romero in Uruguay. Nelbia Romero’s piece, Sal-si-puedes, links to an indigenous massacre with foundational implications for the Uruguayan state. Romero’s piece was on display in the final years of Uruguayan dictatorship and went undetected by censors due to the artist’s subversive strategies of emancipation through metaphoric visual communication with objects and images such as mannequins, adhesive tape, and covered faces providing an unspoken meaning and the display and use of her own physical and political body through performance. The artist’s resistance created a “bridge between the violence organized by the official version of the nation’s founding and the violence reigning at the time.” Romero was able to openly and publicly criticize disappearances and the military’s repression through a socially constructed meaning: because this piece was never explicitly named as a critique or a resistance, meaning is inferred from the audience participation.

In the sixth chapter, dictatorship in Chile takes center stage through the photographic work of Paz Errázuriz. Giunta’s case for art as emancipation is strengthened in this chapter as she explores queer corporalities as well as the work of Errázuriz in the margins. She explores how Errázuriz’s work in the margins serves as a dismantling tool of dictatorship and a basis for meaning making. Again, we find the theme of artistic work that implies neutrality with the purpose of resistance, or rather, viewing the mundane and quotidian as resistance itself. This connects tangibly with the concept of the personal as political and vice versa in second wave feminism, but Giunta does not make this connection. Giunta explores the queer and disabled frays of the marginalized as presented by Errázuriz’s photographs, revealing “networks of solidarity and affect even in the midst of desperation.”

In the final art analysis chapter of the book, Giunta presents her most compelling chapter: “Black Art Is Brasil.” From the title of the chapter alone, Giunta indicates subversion. She chooses to use the Portuguese spelling of the country, Brazil, and declines the tones of imperialism indicated by the English spelling, enacting her own resistance within the book. In this chapter, Giunta explores the works of Rosana Paulino, a Black Brazilian feminine artist creating work from her personal archive and the historical and scientific archives. She employs traditionally domestic art forms like embroidery hoops and collage, blended with photographic archival materials. Paulino’s wide range of artistic work allows Giunta to explore the concept of race in Brazil in the context of the art world, “still predominantly white, Euro-North American, heterosexual, and male,” as well as analyze the role of race in art. This is an element that is mostly missing from previous chapters (although indigeneity is mentioned briefly in Chapters Five and Six) and is a welcome element of a narrative of emancipation. Paulino’s work is different from the other works analyzed in this book; it has a stronger tie to a history of slavery and coloniality and the natural world. Most significantly, Giunta contributes that, “The reigning history is a partial history” and encourages the historicization of nuance in creating a full understanding. The nuance in Paulino’s work exists in the symbolism that offers a deeper understanding of Brazil’s history of colonialism and slavery, bringing to light narratives and “bodies of work largely ignored.”

To conclude her book, Giunta analyzes the current state of feminism in Argentina. She highlights the deeply personal nature of a feminist art movement through the creation of “friendships, alliances, support networks” and presents feminism as a “pedagogy” with which to arrive at a “different understanding of the world.” Andrea Giunta’s The Political Body: Stories on Art, Feminism, and Emancipation in Latin America offers information, context, and analysis that fill in a historical and critical gap. She establishes a collection of Latin American feminist art and makes a case for its existence and significance. While Giunta’s bibliography is missing some second wave feminist theory, theory on motherhood, and queer theory, the book makes a meaningful contribution to the understanding of feminist art in Latin America. Giunta offers the book as a tool to gain a deeper understanding of the present and if applied as intended, this book has the power to usher change.