BOMB in the Building

Flash Points

An interview with Regina José Galindo by Francisco Goldman

bomb_logo1 Welcome back to BOMB in the Building, where each week we’re featuring a BOMB interview with a Season 5 artist—or one that corresponds to the theme of the artist’s work. Inspired by Doris Salcedo’s discussion of witnessing, victimization, and the brutality of power, we dove back into our Archive and unearthed an interview with another Third World artist, Regina José Galindo.

In this BOMB interview with novelist Francisco Goldman from Winter 2005, Galindo, winner of the 2005 Venice Biennale Golden Lion, discusses social action, inaction, karma, and her intensely personal performances that stem from her rage at the violence and corruption in Guatemala, then and now.

Suffering and Compassion: it’s not just within Buddhism that these ideas interpenetrate and inform each other. Salcedo and Galindo’s works share an inescapable truth: art is about experience.


¿Quien Peude Borrar Las Huellas? A walk from the Court Of Constitutionality to the National Palace of Guatemala, leaving a trail of footprints in memory of the victims of armed conflict in Guatemala, 2003. All images courtesy of the Artist.

Francisco Goldman: I imagine that we should begin with a few words about what is happening today in Guatemala. Hurricane Stan, the flooding, the terrible loss of lives, the general calamity that is going to sink people even deeper into lives of inescapable poverty. What did Guatemala do to deserve so much suffering?

Regina José Galindo: To me this question feels too deep, too heartrending. As you say, my country has suffered an eternity of calamities of all shapes and sizes: a mortal conquest, the maltreatment of indigenous villages and the negation of their rights throughout our entire history, the Gringo intervention, an infernal 36-year war, evil governments, spine-chilling levels of corruption, a murderous army, histories of violence that are a daily nightmare of inequality, hunger, misery—and now this, which unlike the aforementioned things is a natural disaster. How is such karma even possible?

But you ask what Guatemala did to deserve all this. Perhaps the proper questions would be: What haven’t we done? Why have we been so afraid, and tolerated so much fear? Why have we not woken up and taken action? When are we going to stop being so submissive?

I feel impotent, unable to change things, but this rage has sustained me, and I’ve watched it grow since I first became aware of what was happening. It’s like an engine—a conflict inside me that never yields, never stops turning, ever.

FG: If someone had asked me if I thought a performance about Guatemala’s violence, past or present, could be something as moving and surprising, as direct and effective and simply poetic, as your Quién puede olvidar las huellas? (Who can erase the traces?), I guess I would have said no. (And I say that despite the fact that I can only “see” it via the Internet—maybe that’s not such a bad definition of how conceptual art works, when it works: you see an image, a trace, a link or a “footprint” on a screen, read a bit of text, and then imagine the rest!) The other two works that you presented in Venice were of equal impact and eloquence. And they seem related to the spirit of your poetry, though your performance artworks are grand public gestures, and your poetry is intensely personal. Where did Who Can Erase the Traces come from? What were your hopes for it? Who thinks of doing something like that, and why?

RJG: It emerged from rage and fear. When it was announced that Efraín Ríos Montt had managed to win acceptance as a presidential candidate, I was in my room, and I suffered an attack of panic and depression. I cried out, I kicked and stomped my feet, I cursed the system that rules us. How was it possible that a character as dark as this would have such power with which to bend everything to his will? I decided then and there that I would take to the streets with my shout and amplify it. I had to do it.

FG: What was the experience of performing it like? When you were walking barefoot through the streets carrying that basin of blood, stopping, dipping your feet in it, leaving your prints, going on and doing it again, what were you thinking about? Were you aware of people watching you? Is that personal experience, the interior space—even the memory of having lived it—part of the work? Did you learn anything unexpected from the public’s reaction? And what did you do that night? After doing something like that, can you just sit down to dinner with your family, then go to sleep?

RJG: Every performance requires a different energy, and in each of them I have experienced distinct sensations and thoughts. The process of this performance was a bit cold, clinical. I went out to buy the human blood in the morning, and then I began the walk. It probably lasted about 45 minutes: that walk on pavement that did not burn.

I suppose my mind fell completely silent during that time. I was focused on the image of dipping my feet and leaving my footprints at every step along the way. But when I got to the Palacio Nacional and saw the line of police officers guarding it, I ignited. I walked more firmly, I reached the main doors, I saw the eyes looking back at me, and I left two final footprints side by side. I left the basin holding the blood there too. Nobody followed me, nobody said anything. I quickly walked across the street, washed my feet off in the park fountain, got something to eat, and then went back to my job that afternoon.

FG: In the Guatemalan context, it is a profoundly political work. Did it have a political impact? And how is it different to present it, even on video, in Venice?

RJG: To present it on video is simply to show a document. In this case, whoever sees this document can come to know the history behind it.

As for the performance itself, it was all over in a moment, and I felt as I always do, that it hadn’t done any good. But a group of artists began the necessary work: spreading word of the performance and the message. A curator friend of mine, Rosina Cazali, sent out images of the performance alongside a text declaring Ríos Montt’s candidacy unacceptable. I say that these efforts were necessary, because Guatemala is a country without memory. The people, with little access to education, are easy to mislead with promises and the little gifts that politicians hand out during election campaigns. The official party, to which Ríos Montt belonged and belongs, made a huge effort and had all the power to reach the Guatemalan minorities, who had difficulty connecting the actual Ríos Montt (the presidential candidate) to the past dictator-president who was guilty of the greatest crimes against their own people, their own blood. Every effort was necessary, any help at all, it was all needed to shout out the truth, by whatever means. After they were published online, the images of the performance were then published in newspapers that reached various groups.

Read the whole interview in BOMB Magazine here.

And don’t miss BOMB’s interview with fellow-Colombian artist Juan Manuel Echavarría in our Winter 2000 issue.