Performance by Isabella Valentina Conceição Barros
Text by Raphael Andrade
Nowadays, we can witness a hybrid, dialogical and intersectional process of the forms of artistic produces. When faced with the field of performance art, with regard to performance experiments, we see convergences and divergences of views and concepts, demonstrating that the desire to reframe and innovate are always present in contemporary performance artwork. I say this because, although we seek definitions about what is this action called performance (which, by the way, is already born hybridized), at all times it shows itself as an artistic category of elusive and elastic concepts, which changes according to conjuncture in which the performer tries to present art to an audience.
Bringing this introductory paragraph, I intend to externalize what I could witness in the performance Why did you forget me? (2016) and in the non-directive interview with the performer Isabella Barros. The performance in question is based on a becoming (TRANS)DESTINATION, which brings into visuality a set of symbols and actions that could easily lead to a confusion between Theater, Performance and Ritual; but, which, under a more in-depth look, reveals a rhizomatic, non-hierarchical link between all these fields. I believe that, rather than trying to explain which concept best fits the artistic act, the most important thing is to present them. Therefore, I proceed from the notion of ritual.
When referring to the ritual, I use the concept of the British anthropologist Victor Turner (1920-1983), developed in the field of performance anthropology, Turner proposes an analysis of drama as analogous to social life. In this perspective, he conceives the notion of liminality as the main phase of the passage ritual, since, in the liminal state, the individual is between social categories and personal identities Devoid of the previous identity, but the new identity that has not yet been conferred receive at the end of the ritual, the preliminary state is a moment of transformation, a change of condition / identity. In the case of the performance in question, this change reflects the transition process from cisgender to transgender of the performer herself.
To begin the description of the aforementioned performance, it is necessary to go back in time: 28.09.2016, just over 18h30. It took 22 years for Isabella to experience the liminal experience with herself, more specifically 8,153 days, so that, on that date, Rafael Barros (name registered at birth) performed his most potent rite of passage, experiencing a transitory process of social “death”, to then “be reborn” and reintegrate into the social structure, but this time, devoid of the masculine noun, thus granting the ticket to Isabella Valentina Conceição Barros, who at all times asked for clemency and asked to be released : “I’m here! Let me out! Why did you forget me?”
Therefore, Isabella, who already dominated Rafael’s thoughts from a young age, chooses performance action as a ritual of passage. This, as she herself makes a point of explaining, “is not a metamorphosis, but, rather, a becoming” founded since the first semester of the Theater Degree at UFPA, when faced with the discipline “performance”, taught by Prof. Dr. Karine Jansen, Isabella knew that she would perform the rite of passage in the performance.
In the interview on 06.06.2020, Valentina explains why it took so long to accept herself as a trans woman:
I ran away from homosexuality. I had the desire for people of the same sex, I had the question of androgyny, I liked to dress and make up like a woman, but I thought it was all wrong. Also because of religion, by being from a Catholic family, you know? The custom of these things … I repudiated. I went into the church, was an altar boy and almost entered the seminary. […] All of this was to escape homosexuality. (BARROS, 2020)
Let us see that, Isabella’s religiosity is linked to the guilt that the church imposes on people who escape the pattern of heteronormativity. However, when entering the gym, Isabella begins to research about transsexuality and to accept herself as a trans woman. In addition, there is the artistic practice that permeates its becoming and externalizes the perception of the body itself as a prison, as seen in the performative-ritual-action object of this text.
The place chosen for the performance was room 05, from ETDUFPA. Rafael Barros begins the action in the schoolyard, wearing a shirt, panama hat, tie and shorts in dark tones, as if he were already prepared for his own mourning. In his hand, he holds a suitcase with the following inviting sign: “- Do you want to know what’s in that suitcase? Follow me!”
And we did. Before entering the enclosure, we could see that there were pictures of Rafael on the door and two mannequins dressed in men’s clothing, and as we entered the room, we noticed a square-shaped arena and a cross-sectional boundary on the floor, made with ribbons and small candles deposited in colorful pointed pet bottles. In visuality, it was noticeable that the performer thought of everything millimetrically and excessively, as she says:
“My performance had many objects, because it was exaggerated! My exaggeration is to take many objects to the scene: light, sounds, balloons, suitcase, mirror, diary, make-up, costumes […] ”. (BARROS, 2020. Emphasis added).
It is interesting to observe the word scene referred to by the performer, as we can consider that, in Isabella’s work, a fine line separates the artistic and theatrical performance, especially when Isabella uses the representational action of a character at the beginning of the performance act, thus creating way, a fictional universe, which meets some concepts that specify what art performance would be, because:
In more specific sense, the performer is one who speaks and acts in his own name (as an artist and person) and as such addresses the audience, while the actor represents his character and pretends not to know that he is just a theater actor. The performer performs a staging of his own self, the actor plays the role of another. (PAVIS, 1999, p. 284)
Certainly, the performers have no need to act like a character on the stage and Valentina even breaks with the action of representing another in the course of the performance. However, such actions are not a rule, especially nowadays, when artistic specificities are hybridized and nourished at all times.
As for the term performance, seen both in the everyday and ritualized realms or in artistic performance, it can be analyzed by one:
behavior that requires the physical presence of specialized or trained human beings or animals that demonstrate a certain ability in front of an audience […] implies the performance of a role (artistic and social perspectives) in front of observers, who are also invited to integrate and participate in the performance. (CARLSON, 2010, p. 12).
If we consider, our routine is marked by varied repetitions and ruptures of daily rituals, or better, “performance rituals”, as Schechner (2012) would say; or as I like to exemplify with the prefix “re”, which has the condition of repetition, that is, REperformatize our daily life, our life. This is what performer Valentina does in the ritual-scene-performance, when transporting and playing the role of Rafael, until her transition to Isabella.
In the act, there is also a special value attributed to the objects, giving a symbolic and ritualistic value to the high heels removed from the suitcase, or to undress the clothes used until then by Rafael and to dress with organza wings that symbolize freedom, in addition to the mirror hanging in the center of the wall, in front of which the heart of the act was performed, because according to the artist: “The moment I stand in front of the mirror, I am relieved, because that was when I started feeling emotions ( cries), after I scream (looking in the mirror) I was reborn. From there, I start from scratch” (BARROS, 2020).
The performance is also related to the spectators, as the performer calls two people of opposite sexes to sit in the chair and interacts with them. In this action, for the performer, each of these people represents the gender assigned to them and their own reflection in front of them.
Finally, Isabella ends the performance with yet another subversion, as it breaks the ephemeral character of the performance, by transporting it to her life in one:
repeated performance. This repetition is both a reenactment and a new experience of a set of meanings already established socially; and it is also the mundane and ritualized form of its legitimation. Although there are individual bodies that enact these meanings and are styled in the form of gender, this “action” is a public action. These actions have temporal and collective dimensions, and their public character is not without consequences (…) (BUTLER, 2003, p. 200)
Knowing that the consequences of being an artist and trans teacher is an arduous becoming and that it implies repeating and re-signifying social meanings, Isabella carries in her body the transgressive and liberating power of repeating the ritual of legitimizing her gender identity present in the country that more kills transsexuals in the world.
After the performance on September 28, 2016, Rafael Barros was forgotten and Isabella started to have his social identity recognized by all. Why did you forget me ?, a rite of passage created by Isabella, was reformulated during the writing of this text, which ended 3 years, 8 months and 16 days after the premiere. Without a shadow of a doubt, this performance is one of the most powerful works carried out from a discipline and will continue to reverberate throughout the days of its (TRANS) DESTINATION, as well as, from those who will be lucky enough to witness the strength that holds the theater- performance-ritual of the Trans Woman who will no longer be forgotten – Isabella Valentina.
BARROS, Isabella. Entrevista concedida a Raphael Andrade em 08.06.2020.
BUTLER, Judith. Problemas de Gênero: Feminismo e Subversão da Identidade. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2003.
CARLSON, Marvin. Performance: uma introdução crítica. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG. 2010.
PAVIS. Patrice. Dicionário de teatro. Trad. J. Guinsburg e Maria Lúcia Pereira. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1999.