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Productive Discomfort: ‘Bearing Witness’ Challenges Viewers

Galindo Davidson performance
Guatemalan Performance Artist Regina José Galindo performed an original piece commissioned for Davidson called "A Latino Near You."

"Regina Jose Galindo: Bearing Witness" is on view until Oct. 25 in the Belk Visual Arts Center Van Every/Smith Galleries. The exhibition includes 23 works spanning 15 years, and a live performance commissioned for Davidson College-the most comprehensive exhibition of Galindo's work in the United States to date.

"Her work is innovative and unique, but also firmly rooted in the history of performance art," said Director and Curator of the Van Every/Smith Galleries Lia Newman. "She's asking deeply important questions about social issues-the kinds of questions we need to be asking here at Davidson."

Galindo was born 14 years into a 36-year civil war and grew up in a culture of violence. In her hometown of Guatemala City, Guatemala, there are 95 murders per week. While her early work was specific to Guatemala, she has become an international artist highlighting global issues, including violence, sexual abuse and immigration.

"We realize the exhibition might be challenging in terms of content and method," Newman said. "We've had lots of programs to help support the exhibition; and the labels are clear about her predecessors, how her work fits into performance art, and how it relates to Guatemalan political history or social issues. We've also provided different ways of viewing the work with photos and performance objects."

Students in Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies Patricio Boyer's course on Latin American modernity studied Galindo in advance of her visit.

"Work like Galindo's will help our students get outside of their comfort zones," Boyer said. "It produces a discomfort that I know is productive for them, and that I've seen in the classroom as they answer questions about art, how we understand the past, and how art can help us understand the past."

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Professor of Art History Shaw Smith views the discomfort associated with Galindo's work as aligning with the artist's belief in truth over beauty as a way to bring social issues to the forefront.

"You aren't simply seeing an event going on," he said. "Through her production and through her own body, we're connected to the performance in an immediate way, and there's a call for action in that sense."Performance art requires a different point of entry than other art forms, because the viewer is present to follow a dynamic process rather than to observe the actual art object.

"It's hard to have context for this topic when all we have left to study is documentation," Boyer said. "Lia Newman has done a wonderful job helping students and the community understand the ways the Guatemalan culture, historical context and global community work together. Work like Galindo's will help our students get outside of their comfort zones."

In tandem with the exhibit, the college will host live performances by Charlotte-area artists John W. Love Jr., April Marten and Jon Prichard at 6 p.m., Oct. 21, in the Van Every/Smith Galleries. The exhibition will remain open until 8 p.m.