In Conversation with Naomi Rincón Gallardo

“Telling Stories Animated by Desire”

Mexican artist Naomi Rincón Gallardo formulates a feminist, decolonial and anti-racist critique of Eurocentrism, extractivism and the creed of progress. C&AL spoke with Rincón Gallardo about her artistic work and her participation in the 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art.

C&AL: How do you reflect this in your artwork?

NRG: There is a critical perspective towards Eurocentrism, extractivism and the creed of development, as they are all based on the control of other people as well as on a supposed superiority rooted in violence. This is what I want to point out and what I am trying to dismantle by welcoming other forms of relationships within the working processes and summoning voices that have hitherto been silenced. Voices of women who have fought, who resist, and who defend their right to a voice, a territory and to self-determination.

C&AL: What kind of projects are you currently working on?

NRG: I consider my latest works to be a trilogy with a focus on female figures who resist or rebel against processes of extractive industries. In these processes, life is intimately linked to the possibility of premature death, since the places affected by extraction become battle grounds for territorial conflicts and dispossession. These forms of dispossession expose entire populations to a toxicity, to – often violent – disputes over territory control and to processes of militarization and paramilitarization that create vulnerability and where certain forms of life and bodies are converted into disposable objects. Premature death or increased vulnerability are present in necropolitical processes in which it is decided who will die and who can be expended and intoxicated.

C&AL: Tell us about your piece for the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art in 2020.

NRG: The work is called Resiliencia Tlacuache and is inspired by a series of interviews I conducted with a Zapotec activist in Oaxaca, Mexico, who was involved in defending a territory where a Canadian company built a mine. This woman was ambushed, and those who did it tried to murder her – but she survived. Resiliencia Tlacuache is a work of fiction in which four characters meet in a territory threatened by mining extraction. I chose the Tlacuache [the term for “opossum” in Mexico and Central America] because people who endure numerous attacks and beatings are called “tlacuachitos”: animals that have the capacity to play dead when they are beaten, for example when they try to steal chickens. Thus, after the ambush, the perpetrators thought they had managed to do away with the activist, but she was able to save herself. It is a piece inspired by Mesoamerican myths in which the creation of the world is superimposed with the mining conflict.

C&AL: What does it mean to you to be part of the program of the Berlin Biennale, which this year is marked by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting travel limitations?

NRG: I am happy. I am very excited, but at the same time, I am very sad that this year’s event will take place under those circumstances. I would like to go to Berlin. I am happy to work with a group of curators who position themselves as feminine.

C&AL: How is your work affected by the events our planet is going through, such as the pandemic and the various local and international crises caused by it?

NRG: Right now, Mexico is facing a deeply severe economic crisis made even worse by the pandemic. This has tremendously affected the artistic and cultural community, whose working conditions are very precarious. I am currently part of the National System of Art Creators 2019-2022, funded by the National Fund for Culture and the Arts of Mexico, and their support has allowed me to continue working. However, in the light of recent events, some of the ideas I had already been thinking about and working on have now become even more clear to me; the possibility of a simpler way of life, finding other forms of sustainability in everyday life and changing certain priorities and way of living.

Naomi Rincón Gallardo is a member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte (SNCA) 2019-2022, under the Fondo Nacional para La Cultura y las Artes de México (National Fund for Culture and Arts). She recently finished her PhD in Practice from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (Austria). Rincón Gallardo graduated from the ENPEG “La Esmeralda” Bachelor of Fine Arts and the Master of Education program: Culture, Language and Identity/Crossectoral-Community Arts at Goldsmiths University in London. In addition to her artistic work, Rincón Gallardo also participates in community projects and educational projects as a teacher and researcher. In 2019 she participated in the eighth edition of the international platform for living arts Experimenta/Sur 2019, organized by the Goethe-Institut within the framework of the thematic year “Humboldt and the Americas”, with the performance “El viaje de formol”. She lives in Mexico City.

Marie-Louise Stille conducted the interview. She is cultural manager and a contributor to C&AL. She lives in Berlin.

Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen