The Transformative Power of Performance



The patriarchy is a judge,
who judges us for being born,
and our punishment
is the violence you don’t see.

The patriarchy is a judge
who judges us for being born,
and our punishment
is the violence you already see.

It’s femicide.
Impunity for my murderer.
It’s the disappearances.
It’s rape.

And the fault wasn’t mine,
not of where I was or how I was dressed.
And the fault wasn’t mine,
not of where I was or how I was dressed.
And the fault wasn’t mine,
not of where I was or how I was dressed.
And the fault wasn’t mine,
not of where I was or how I was dressed.

The rapist was you.
The rapist is you.
It’s the cops.
The judges.
The state.
The president.

The oppressor state is a sexist rapist.
The oppressor state is a sexist rapist.
The rapist was you.
The rapist is you.


Intervention song, “A Rapist in Your Path.”
October 2019, LASTESIS collective

For us, there’s a powerful and unbreakable bond between art and activism. Art is the language in which we have decided to work and express ourselves. What we do is not a hobby or entertainment, it’s our work, our calling, to which we dedicate much of the time we don’t spend working elsewhere in order to survive.

Nothing has been handed to us, no one finances us. People love to assume that, if a group of women artists is of any importance, it must be because someone helped them. Some organization must be behind it all, because it’s impossible that four women could have created something, anything, of importance without being part of a bigger, generally sinister, plan. Working out of conviction rather than for money is unintelligible to neoliberal and patriarchal logic.

Our art work is constant. We think about it much of the time, looking for sources of inspiration and provocation in our daily lives, seeking to expand our mental library of role models and references. Life without this search for the inspiring work of others is one of meager interiority, and we fight against mental and creative destitution. It’s the least we can do to honor so much past and present courage.

We are writing this book today thanks to everyone who fought so that we could enter other spaces. To inhabit, even for a short period of time, historically masculinized spaces, denied to other subjectivities. Spaces in which our voices, our demands, our complaints, our ideas can be heard. It is curious that even today so many people are horrified by the deployment of feminism in public spaces. But it’s an ancient discussion. We could see it already when women began to wear pants in the nineteenth century and slowly and timidly entered certain masculinized spaces: the fear was widespread.

Even the street, that place that seems so obviously public, is limited. Take “A Rapist in Your Path,” for example. A performance, a song, a choreography made for women and dissidents: Why does it cause such a stir? Why do government representatives and the press need to weigh in on it, to say something, anything, about it? Why is it commented on, attacked but also shared on social media networks? This reaction affirms that we are battling for public space, even today. Battling to exist, to appear, to raise our voice.

To speak is an everyday act, one we do all the time with friends, family, acquaintances, strangers. But when we do it as a collective, in the streets, in public spaces, it carries a certain weight, a distinct potential. Women and dissidents in the streets fighting for and from their bodies, through performance, still disturbs people.

Feminist struggle runs through us, and it has run through us all our lives. Perhaps there were times where we didn’t have the words for it, because we didn’t know what feminism was, but we know and recognize it today. As artists, it was a natural trajectory to end up articulating feminist demands and ideas through art; as artists, our work revolves around politics. And the personal is the political.

With this idea in mind, at the beginning of 2018, we had the precious and rare opportunity to debut this collective project. We first thought about it from the framework of the performing arts, but in a matter of weeks realized that we needed an interdisciplinary vision, one that could combine and integrate the performing arts with other artistic mediums in order to better spread our ideas.

Our objective was and is to disseminate feminist theory. This desire comes from our own lack of access to these ideas through formal education. We fervently believe that the translation of feminist ideas into other languages, approaching them not only theoretically and linguistically but also visually, audibly, and corporeally, contributes to their broader distribution.

We put ourselves to work and in a few months presented our first piece: an interdisciplinary, feminist performance collage. Demands and theories embodied by four different artists with an industrial and kitsch aesthetic. We used the structure of a collage because it organizes all the different elements in a nonhierarchical, nonlinear way. Collage combines elements and puts them in a similar plane of importance, and it is the task of the observer to decide what to look at and in what order, what to salvage and even what to cast aside. For us, every part of the scene conveys information, reiterates and builds on the main ideas, and even makes space for humor. We don’t have to be serious just because we’re feminists.

“Feminists are serious, killjoys, boring, misandrists, idiots, crazy, they have tattoos and short hair.” We are tired of constantly hearing and reading about this stereotype of the feminist, the “feminazi,” as if we wanted to commit genocide or exterminate men. That antisocial person that wants to destroy society, kill half of the population, and seize power. It must be hard to see your enemy and not assume that she would do exactly what you would. Oppression, violence, and the fight for power are weapons of the patriarchy and we’re not interested. You can shove it and stop trying to fit us into your stupid paradigms, because, to quote a wise woman, we are not fodder for hueones, idiots.

The Chilean feminist collective in a picture taken by Canela Laude-Arce for the fanzine co-created by Censored Magazine and LASTESIS. Laude-Arce is a French-Peruvian photographer and writer, working on stories related to feminism, gender and political activism. https://www.
LASTESIS with raised hands, symbol of their concrete praxis. Photograph by Canela Laude-Arce.

Art is the battle trench from which we will wage our war of resistance, and we do not tire of saying it. We believe in the transformative power of art and performance. Art by bodies for bodies, collective art reclaimed through communal experiences. It was an idea we had been thinking about and finally materialized when we created “A Rapist in Your Path.”

The massive adoption of our song-dance-performance, our intervention, is something that moves us enormously to this day. It was not something we went looking for or even imagined. It was a total and complete surprise that has been both very wonderful and very concerning. Wonderful because we are now part of an underground network of women and dissidents who don’t adhere to national, cultural, or linguistic borders. The power is beautiful; a true gift. Nevertheless, it also shows us how the problem cuts across these lines, that sexual violence, like all types of patriarchal violence, is international.

It has been beautiful to see that in performance exists the beginning of an answer to the problem, at least in the raising of demands and denunciations. The performances reaffirm that putting our bodies on the line together legitimizes the historical demands of intersectional feminism. What comes next? We don’t know yet. We have more questions than answers, more doubts than certainties.

The popular response to our intervention probably has to do with the fact that we all share in common the personal experience of violence toward feminized bodies. Women and dissidents live this patriarchal violence, violence inscribed in our bodies. This is the root of the need to denounce structural violence on every continent, in this case, through performance and performativity.

This violence is directly related to the creation of the modern state, the ideological foundation that institutionally reproduces systemic violence against bodies and territories. In that same vein, the denunciation of “A Rapist in Your Path” from the right reflects ideas posited by Rita Segato (2003) and Virginie Despentes (2018), who provide a theoretical basis for what the patriarchy has called “whining.” Thanks to them and all the inspiring feminists who have deeply and beautifully influenced our work, thanks to the material legacy of the disruptors of the past, today we are a fervently building a new common sense predicated on belonging together and the desire for change.

Given the few opportunities we have had to read feminist theory, our relationship to academia is bittersweet. On the one hand, we all have backgrounds in higher education—an education not exempt from challenges, as we were creating and working to finance our studies—and, today, some of us even work in universities. On the other hand, this also showed us that there is a distinct lack of feminist theory in courses of formal study. The hegemony of white, male, cis-hetero, Western thought is generalized. Epistemological, methodological, historical, and theoretical violence is imposed under the guise of freedom of academic departments. Rotten accounts are reiterated and narratives that do not represent us are shored up.

How do we combat this? With action, not just critique. That is what we try to do. To fill those gaps and hopefully reach more people with these ideas, outside the hegemony of the text, of the word. This process also constitutes study, but it doesn’t adhere to the regulatory and rigid standards of an “academic” investigation. We aren’t trying, nor are we looking, for academic approval. Academia, fundamentally patriarchal, also requires a profound reconfiguration from the roots, as all historical institutions do.

The egos of academics are so big that they truly believe they know much more than others do, when actually they’re the ones who lack a solid foundation. There are many different ways of knowing. What is it with throwing the names of authors and publications in people’s faces to validate your superiority? As if citations were representative of the highest wisdom on the planet, when in reality no one will ever be able to absorb all the information in the world before they die. What we need is to do something with the information available to us now, to stimulate other minds and unleash an unstoppable domino effect.

Academic feminism taken to the streets has had its effects on demands for justice in judicial cases of abuse and rape, which are generally stacked against women and survivors. More than once, pressure from feminists has been essential in winning some kind of resolution. Nevertheless, revictimization is constant, in hearings, in the media, and even in our own families. Incessant questioning of the abused is the first response after a complaint is filed—a reason many of us avoid channels of legal justice and appeal instead to social justice. Protest—criticized and devalued—is one of the only mechanisms we have left to protect ourselves as a community from potential future abuses and abusers.

We keep us safe—from abuse, yes, but also from guilt. It wasn’t our fault. It wasn’t my fault or your fault. Those responsible are the abusers, the accomplices, the silences. We also have to protect ourselves from stereotypes that determine whether we are good or bad victims. Because even after we die they sort us into good or bad victims.

A raped and/or murdered woman appears in the press if she is the daughter of a “good” family and behaves well in the eyes of society. But what happens when the victim is queer, trans, poor, an addict, or simply not so well “behaved”? She practically doesn’t exist according to the media and, if she does, it’s only to use her as an example of what you get when you ask for it, when you deserve what happens to you. In this sense, conservative and Christian morality continues to be very powerful, and feminists are its staunch enemies.

Those who feel that their power or privileges have been deeply questioned are the ones most fearful of feminism. And, in their privilege, they choose to ignore the oppressions that don’t affect them, even if they wield them against others. But they also attack to preserve their privileges.

“I hope they get killed,” “I hope they get raped,” “they want to divide the social struggle,” “this is an attack on the class struggle”: these are some of the things we often hear, plus many other epithets about our ideas, our intellects, our bodies, our sexualities. In general, it has become “common” to be attacked for what you do and what you don’t do. Having reached a high level of media exposure, we are expected to have something to say in response to any situation.

To defy normativity and question the privileges of some will always put you in an uncomfortable position, at the center of all kinds of attacks for trying to break out of your position of subordination. The response will be to attack, ridicule, minimize, infantilize you, treat you as ignorant, criticize your physical appearance, or whatever else they can use against you. We all have a long list of examples.

The traditional family table is a special gathering site for sexism, gender roles, stereotypes, and, of course, great secrets of sexual violence. To try to get others to see some of this, at the very least, earns you the label of drama queen.

Feminism is a long journey that can be traveled in different ways, depending on personal history. The path of some is steep and cobble-stoned—in no way easy to walk. That of others is paved and smooth. Others encounter forks in the road over the years. Most likely, violence is the starting point for us all. Most likely, a friend invited us along the way, pointing to and nudging us down the road. At first they’ll say you’re too much, that you’re seeing problems where there aren’t any. That you’re trying to distract people from the actually important issues with your second-class complaints.

If you report sexual, physical, or psychological violence, the response will almost always be more violence toward you. They’ll probably treat you like you’re crazy, attention-seeking, accuse you of wanting to screw up someone else’s life, of being jealous of another woman. They’ll blame you for all the world’s ills, as they have done throughout history.

They will rub your face in your economic dependence on your father or husband, even if it’s not true and you support yourself. And they will never grant you the privilege of being a thoughtful, creative, and independent being. They will wish you raped, locked in the kitchen, static, silent, and hopefully personable and diligent. They will wish you to be exploited for life. They will wish you dead.

They have wished us dead. They have wished us dead for creating and carrying out a performance. For singing and dancing with our friends to denounce historic violence. But there were others who thanked us, who saw themselves in the performance, made it their own and raised their own demands.

Strangely, many have used the word success to allude to our work. We hate it, because this supposed success came from a process that had no pretensions or intentions of being “successful.” Instead of success, we think it has had a social effect that allows us to have a space to speak, to act. A space that carries responsibility and requires arduous work. In it, we have tried and will try to keep putting forward feminist demands, translating feminist theory, presenting our methodology. For now, this is how we think we can best contribute to art and activism.

When they ask us, “What comes next?,” we always have the same answer: we plan to keep doing our art-activist work. To keep thinking about how to give shape to ideas, how to give artistic form to feminism’s questioning of that which is assumed to be normal. To keep creating out of our diverse languages and bodies, to keep circulating feminist theory and our demands, our indictments. If we serve as a platform for all these voices, we will use it to the fullest. If you think we’re “dumb,” we don’t care. We don’t mind repeating the same thing over and over again, because there are still those who don’t understand, whether because they can’t or don’t want to. The struggle is long and we are ready to keep going. We only hope that this feminist network, this transcontinental monster out of our control, grows immense and becomes impossible not to see; that it becomes impossible to avert your eyes or plug your ears, because our shouts will be so loud that they will echo around world.

Acknowledgements: LASTESIS,“The Transformative Power of Performance,” Chapter 6 of their forthcoming book Set Fear on Fire! Translated by Camila Valle, Verso, 2023. ¡Quemar el miedo! © by LASTESIS, Editorial Planeta Mexicana, S.A. de C.V., 2023. In collaboration with Alejandra Carmona L. By agreement with Pontas Literary and Film Agency. Preface to the English edition © LASTESIS 2023. English language translation © Camila Valle 2023. We thank Verso for allowing us to reproduce a preview of this book.