Guilermo Gómez-Peña
“Letter from Oaxaca: Performing the Flames”
The Live Art Almanac
Live Art UK, 2008 pp. 47-50
Originally published as an e-mail, August 20, 2006

“Opening day arrived, and while we we were setting up in the Museum, 50,000 citizens had gatherd outside to support the teachers. The sound of their loudspeakers intertwined with the sound of our rehearsal. It was extremely humbling and many times during the day I was stricken with doubts. Should we cancel the performance. Was it appropriate for the show to go on? But I quashed my doubts. At 7:30 pm, just as the demonstration ended, we opened the museum doors, and to our surprise, hundreds of people began to storm in. A perplexed museum employee sat to me, ‘Maestro, why would all these people (over a thousand citizens) come to experience weird performance art and experimental video n such a day?’ Precisely, I thought.

There couldn’t have been a better time for us to be there. It is precisely in times of acute crisis that cultural institutions become sanctuaries for freedom of the imagination, that the function of art becomes clarified. The wide-eyed audience, which included many of the victims of the conflict, couldn’t have been more playful or more interested in our bizarre imagery and actions. Art clearly brought them to another place, a parallel reality where symbols, metaphors and rituals attempted to make sense out of the political maelstrom we were all experiencing.” (p.49)

[Note: in 2006 the teachers of Oaxaca Mexico went on strike, their protest led to larger ones which called for the removal of the regional Governor. The Mexican police and armed paramilitaries responded violently, killing a number of citizens (along with my friend Brad Will). ]