Orozco MEXotica: La Pocha Nostra at Dartmouth College

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Volume 2 Issue 1 (2004)

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Orozco MEXotica: La Pocha Nostra at Dartmouth College

Douglas Moody and Francine A'ness

Dartmouth College

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 college's history.

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 concept.

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.

Orozco MEXotica