Orozco MEXotica: La Pocha Nostra at Dartmouth
Douglas Moody and Francine A'ness
In the spring term of 2002, the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth
College invited Guillermo Gómez-Peña, along with two members of
his performance art collective, La Pocha Nostra, to produce a site-specific
performance piece that would take place in front of Mexican muralist José
Clemente Orozco's famous fresco, The
Epic of American Civilization, located in the basement of the college's
Baker/Berry Library. When Gómez-Peña and his collaborators first
arrived, no one, not even the artists, knew exactly what shape or direction
the project would take. The end result was a performance entitled, Orozco
MEXotica: Guillermo Gómez-Peña Underground at Dartmouth. In
this section of Encrucijada/Crossroads we present a concise video archive
of the experience in order to illustrate the kind of performance art Gómez-Peña
creates with La Pocha Nostra. For a more detailed description of this creative
initiative, please read "Cross-contaminations: The Performance Activism and
Oppositional Art of La Pocha Nostra," also included in this issue, and please
visit La Pocha Nostra's website at www.pochanostra.com.
From the earliest stages of Orozco MEXotica,
Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra resolved to involve student
performers and other members of the campus community in the realization of the
performance piece. Gómez-Peña and the two visiting members of La
Pocha Nostra, Juan Ybarra and Michelle Ceballos, wanted to bring the Orozco
murals to life, to enter into a "dialogue" with them, and to repoliticize them
for their audiences. For many people at Dartmouth, the murals, while still
spectacular, had become little more than a colorful backdrop to an otherwise
dreary reading room. And while still vibrant and intriguing, their highly
charged and provocative content had become normalized over time. The
controversy they once stirred had sunk to a mere footnote in the annals of the
The process of interrogating and revitalizing the murals with
a performance was very complex, demonstrating how integral the collaborative
experience is to La Pocha Nostra's philosophy. The first step in the development
of Orozco MEXotica was for the Hopkins Center (Dartmouth's performing
arts center) to raise most of the funding that would allow the college to bring
the professional performance artists to Hanover, New Hampshire. Other participating
organizations and individuals at Dartmouth included the Baker/Berry Library,
the Department of Theatre, and a number of professors, students, and staff.
Finally, on May 17-18, 2004, two audiences on two separate evenings completed
the circle of participants that brought this provocative ritual to life.
Several of the Dartmouth students who participated in the performance
of Orozco MEXotica were enrolled in a Latino Studies course, LATS 41:
Representations of/from Latinos/as in the Media and the Arts. Rather than write
a traditional research essay for their final assignments, the LATS 41 students
were asked to produce collaborative, multi-media projects. Several of the students
participated as performers or as members of the production team for Orozco
MEXotica, while other students participated as members of the audience.
One student, Pradine Saint-Fort, worked with Gómez-Peña, Ybarra,
and Ceballos to develop the character of a Haitian voodoo priestess, thus creating
a dialogue between her own Haitian heritage and some of the religious, cultural,
and racial themes depicted in the Orozco murals. Pradine, along with some of
the other students who participated in Orozco MEXotica, offers her perspectives
on these experiences in the New Voices/Nuevas Voces section of the first issue
of Latino Intersections. (Click
here for text and video.) Another student project, "Latinidad
with Russian Eyes," captures on video how members of the audience are invited
to participate directly in the performance, as Gomez-Peña describes in
his article/manifesto, "Cross-contamination."
In an interview conducted in July 2003, also included in this
issue, Gomez-Peña offers a description of how La Pocha Nostra works with
an institution and its community to create a performance piece. Gómez
Peña refers to Orozco MEXotica as a form of "radical pedagogy,"
a term that invokes the ideas of Brazilian educator Paolo Freire and Pedagogy
of the Oppressed, and Augusto Boal's theory of a Theatre of the Oppressed.
This type of "radical pedagogy" examines the merits of performance art as a
critical teaching tool for exploring the complex intersections of such social
categories as race, gender, ethnicity, class, and nationality. In this performance
experience the spectator becomes an actor and the theatre becomes a "rehearsal"
for everyday life. The body, which is the vehicle and text of much performance
art, is thus transformed into a laboratory through which students can explore
and generate multiple identities. In the case of Orozco MEXotica, such
physicality allows the student-performer (as well as the audience) to interrogate
the ways in which cultural stereotypes are inscribed and immobilized on the
body, which is a crucial step in learning how to identify and deconstruct these
social categories. Gómez-Peña's experience at Dartmouth with Orozco
MEXotica was a definitive moment in the artist's development of this pedagogical
What follows is a short video documentary of Orozco MEXotica
filmed by Douglas Moody and produced by Francine A'ness.
BEFORE YOU PROCEED: The following materials are intended
for mature audiences and contain profanity, brief nudity, and images of ethnic-looking
people committing acts of cultural dissonance.