Performance by Verônica Macieira
Text by Raphael Andrade
Translation by Danielle Cascaes
Adjective, beast·li·er, beast·li·est.
- of or like a beast; bestial.
- Informal. nasty; unpleasant; disagreeable.
In contemporary performance art, we witness a multitude of performers creating their actions based on their own experiences, especially those marked by painful memories that besiege their subjectivities. In this narrative, performative actions are carried out in an attempt to respond to the oppressive system experienced firsthand. Nevertheless, these actions find a means to craft a powerful weapon to shatter the conditions of being on the social margins, without rights, in a maintenance of living bodies, docile as if enslaved. Consequently, the performer seeks in their own experiences a way to crack the afflictions imposed on historically silenced bodies, which were rendered invisible and now create dissidences to voice their epistemologies, with the aim of securing and safeguarding more rights.
For example, we have the performance art piece titled “BEASTLY”, created by Verônica Macieira, whose bodily scores aim to discuss, primarily, how patriarchal power was socially constructed and how it acts upon bodies taught to be docile. Regarding power, Michel Foucault (2004, p. 126) indicates that “in any society, the body is caught up in a complex network of power relations, which impose upon it coercions, prohibitions, and obligations.” The training of the body begins in childhood because it is seen as easier to control, train, and invade. The performer Raphael Andrade (2023) invites us to consider the “coercive guidance standardized by the State, society, religion, media, and the family nucleus, which exerts a power that decisively appropriates the child’s body” (2023, p. 23).
The artist, in her performative act, delves into memories from her childhood, revealing that she is still entrapped, cornered in early childhood by the ever-watchful power over her body. However, despite the suffering endured as a child, her skin has acquired a layer no longer defenseless. She reacts and confronts daily the trauma experienced physically by a 6-year-old, terrified by any approach to the point of being aggressive and harsh, a way to protect herself from the vigilant and tormenting fear in her thoughts.
When thinking about how to structure the actions of the performance, Verônica recalls seeking help from psychoanalytic books, online support websites, reading extensively about overcoming experienced traumas. Yet, she questions: what about when you can’t overcome it? What about when the body and mind can’t bear the nightmares, paranoias, and self-deprecating feelings? How can you tell the wounded beast that they won’t be forced to do things that make them feel dirty anymore? How can you tell that child, hidden within our adult bodies, that it wasn’t her fault? That she won’t be judged anymore for “dating and being
raped” by someone much older. That all those words of “ love, you can’t can’t tell anyone, because I love you and they will take you away from me!” were a psychological and physical prison. Who will be able to approach a traumatized beast? Who will be able to care for a ferocious one? Who will see in the ferocious one, just a wounded girl?
Based on these questions, experienced in her own body, the performer creates a symbolic bodily repertoire, denouncing the physical violence she endured, but also revealing the suffering of many other bodies burdened by these intrusive and tormenting memories. In this context, she incorporates elements into the performance that contextualize the abuse she suffered, such as ropes, a collar (referred to as an obedience collar, designed to choke the animal), adhesive tape, cardboard, scissors (an invitation for the audience to untie her or, if they wish, to harm her), a plastic container with water inside (common to quench the thirst of domestic animals), her body dressed in underwear and marked with carmine-colored paint (representing bruises on her skin), and her corporeal action, which semiotically conveys an animalistic body movement.
The constituent signs materialize a person sexually abused, hurt, ruined, domesticated, present in the objects and the artist’s own body. These value judgments are axiologies capable of causing interference around the action. Therefore, it didn’t take long for the audience to try to help her, considering the visuality of the Beastly performance to be distressing, especially for those who have already suffered some form of physical/psychological aggression. However, the performer’s impulse was to convey a poignant gesture in search of the reflection of pain, evoking a dramatic portrait with such psychophysical dimension. The interaction between the artist and the participants is established in denial when they offered help, as she did not want benevolence for her pain, as if she no longer believed in the humanization of individuals due to the aggressiveness of others that turned her into a wounded beast.
Regarding the visibility around the chosen location, in the courtyard of Escola de Teatro e Dança da UFPA (School of Theatre and Dance of UFPA)/ ETDUFPA, specifically in front of the women’s restroom, the space catches the eye of those who enter the suggestive ambiance transformed, albeit temporarily, by the action, into a captivity. Under the performer’s body, there was a piece of cardboard with the inscription “your happier world,” a phrase analogous to the delight of the abuser. On the wall behind her figure, there was a banner with the following title: “Art education and citizenship in public schools of rivers and forests” (see Figure 1). Whether intentional or not, the banner helps us reflect on the sad rate of sexual abuse in the riverside context, a place where bodies are more politically neglected.
In contextualizing a sexually abused person, Beastly sheds light on the theme of sexual abuse, which is highly underreported, either due to the victim’s fear or the social taboo. Therefore, this issue needs to be urgently discussed and addressed. In an overview of this problem, data from the Brazilian federal government indicates that in the first four months of 2023, the 100 hotline for human rights recorded more than 17,000 sexual violations against children and teens. From January to April, there were over 397,000 human rights violations reported, with 9,500 complaints and 17,500 violations involving physical sexual violence – abuse, rape, sexual exploitation – and psychological violence.
Beyond the audacity and courage to reveal her trauma, the artist’s body is unprotected, becoming an act of protest against sexual abuse and male domination. This symbolic act was also important for the artist to (re)interpret this past practice, with Art being an essential mean to continue living and purge this feeling when necessary. In summary, for Verônica, her work starts from the etymology of Beastly, as revealed at the beginning of this writing. Despite being a beast brought down by someone ferocious, inhuman, dangerous, and malevolent, her corporeal layer is no longer docile but fierce, revolted, urging against the crime of her abuser.
During the almost three hours of performance action, permeated by physical, sensory, and psychological induction, the performance gathers confessional excerpts from the author transferred in the loss of her right to exist with dignity, with the intention of giving her testimony as a warning legacy. Therefore, Beastly shows us that Performance Art is a powerful tool to contribute to social transformation. Furthermore, the information present in the performance signs and its strong aesthetic engagement, rooted in politics, successfully delivered a message of resistance, an important first step in protecting injured/abused bodies because the fight against abusers in a society permeated by patriarchal power begins with information and denunciation.
ANDRADE, R. DINAMITES DISSIDENTES: CONSTRUÇÃO (RE)PERFORMÁTICA DE UMA AUTOETNOGRAFIA.2023. xf. 205. Dissertação (Mestrado em Artes) – Programa de Pós-Graduação em Artes, UFPA, Belém, 2023.
NASCENTES, Antenor. Dicionário etimológico da língua portuguesa. 1. ed. Rio de Janeiro: 1955.
FOUCAULT, M. Vigiar e punir: nascimento da prisão. 36. ed.Tradução de Raquel Ramalhete. Petrópolis: Vozes, 2008.
Disque 100 registra mais de 17,5 mil violações sexuais contra crianças e adolescentes nos quatro primeiros meses de 2023. Disponível em: https://www.gov.br/mdh/pt-br/assuntos/noticias/2023/maio/disque-100-registra-mais-de-17-5-mil-violacoes-sexuais-contra-criancas-e-adolescentes-nos-quatro-primeiros-meses-de-2023. Acesso em 12/08/2023.