Anna Tsouhlarakis, an artist who grew up in New Mexico and is part Navajo, part Greek, reflected on her experience as the only Native-American student at the Yale School of Art in the early 2000s. She was surprised to notice that her work was routinely evaluated within the established narratives of indigenous arts and crafts—a jarring contrast with the way in which work of her non-native peers, who were assumed to be playful genre-benders, was received. Through performance, Tsouhlarakis “realized that I could create my own fictions and reverse the role of education,” she told me after her talk. “Performance came with less baggage.”
In addition to giving a platform to younger artists like Tsouhlarakis and Merritt Johnson, “ACTING OUT” drew some of the biggest names in indigenous art to Santa Fe. Artist and writer (and MacArthur Fellow) Guillermo Gomez-Peña, whose performances are characterized by the artist’s freakish charisma, linguistic exuberance, and gender-bending antics, was on hand to lead a radically compressed version of the two dozen workshops he conducts every year throughout the world with his troupe, La Pocha Nostra. Gomez-Peña, who was born to an indigenous father and a criolla mother in Mexico City, spent most of the two hours instructing us to work with partners on sensory engagement—staring into each other’s eyes for what felt like an eternity and manipulating one another’s bodies as though they were raw material. (“Recall, however, that this material has agency, interact with it tenderly,” Gomez-Peña said.)
The next day, over white wine and café pasado, and switching between English and Spanish, I spoke with Gomez-Peña. “Since the beginning, I realized that my complex identity could only be completed in dialogue with the Native American community, and with the larger Latino community of the U.S,” he explained. “It’s already been a 30-year project of collaboration.” For him, the best performance is collaboration, an act of “radical citizenship” that he has tried to push forward by focusing on pedagogy and fostering space for young activists within his San Francisco home.