Domitila Barrios

The news of the scandal at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona in regards to the sculpture of the Austrian artist Ines Doujak came with less resonance to Vienna. Not so much in our collective (of people marked by a Latin American migratory experience) where the uneasiness was immediate. Why in the commotion of a supposedly anti-colonial work nobody wonders what Domitila Barrios does there? Who has put her there? In an old interview, Ines Doujak is described as an Austrian artist who travels to Andean countries since 1978 and who collects textiles because "they talk and have stories to talk about." The textiles are brought to Austria from where Doujak invites "artists, poets, philosophers to write about them" ( In 2009 she gets a prize of about 350,000 euros from the Austrian State to produce an artistic research in Bolivia. ( The result of the work is collected in the Eccentric Archive that is aimed at an English-speaking public.


Photo description: White sculpture of a German shepherd who penetrates a naked Domitila Barrios wearing a mining helmet and 'penetrates' with a complacent smile the (ex) King Juan Carlos of Spain, who vomits flowers on a surface of SS helmets. Loomshuttles / Warpaths is the main title of the ongoing project on textiles. The piece 'Not Dressed for Conquering. Haute Couture 4. Transport'* is part of an exhibition held in collaboration with the English artist John Barker. The photo was taken in December 2014 at the São Paulo Art Biennial.

A work of art that is claimed as a criticism of colonial relations and Europe's domination of Latin America, says 'subvert power relations' by putting an indigenous woman to penetrate Juan Carlos de Borbón anally and to be penetrated anally by a German dog on Nazi helmets and packing cartons. Ines Doujak in "Haute Couture 4. Transport" makes a literal reproduction of a Derrida conference.


 Desde hace siglos, el arte caricaturiza los arquetipos del poder y eso es lo que hace Doujak, por lo que en una muestra sobre cómo se repiensa la soberanía en la actualidad no podíamos aceptar eliminarla. Probablemente muchos ni se hubieran dado cuenta de quién es el personaje, porque no es lo importante de la obra.” El director cancela la exposición y tras la resonancia mediática de la reacción de la comunidad de artistas en Barcelona, es despedido por el consejo administrativo -como también lo son los curadores por petición del director saliente. Después de días de reacciones, manifiestos, artículos, y protestas, la exposición colectiva finalmente se abre con un aumento del 48 por ciento reportado en el número de visitantes, según El País.

The sculpture scandalizes the MACBA director whose concern is not to offend the royal family. The curators are not willing to withdraw the work and write a manifesto against censorship: "the work is part of a long artistic tradition of caricature, carnivalesque sculptures and iconoclastic parody and, therefore, does not constitute a personal offense to an individual, but the critical reformulation of collective imaginaries. "Valentín Roma says" The rejected sculpture is part of a project initiated in 2010 that sheds light on the complex and asymmetric relations between Europe and Latin America. It is part of the great tradition of the relationship between art and power. For centuries, art has caricatured the archetypes of power and that is what Doujak does, so in a show about how sovereignty is re-imagined at present, we could not accept to remove it. Probably many would have not even realized who the character is, because it is not the important part of the work." The museum director cancels the exhibition and after the mediatic resonance of the reaction of the community of artists in Barcelona, ​​is dismissed by the administrative council - as are the curators at the request of the outgoing director. After days of reactions, manifestos, articles, and protests, the collective exhibition finally opens with an increase of 48 percent reported in the number of visitors, according to El País.


Dozens of pages are written about all the actors and subjects involved: about Not Dressed For Conquering / Haute Couture 4. Transport, about the Spanish curators Paul Preciado and Valentín Roma, and the German co-curators Hans D. Christ and Iris Dressler, about the artists, the director, the King, the Queen as president of the patronage of the museum, the Macba and his contract with the Wurttemberg Kunstverein. And of all these people, no one questions whether placing Domitila Barrios in a sexual act between a dog and the king of Spain is really a criticism of colonialism.

The only statement by Doujak that is cited is the one given last December at the Sao Paulo Biennial, about how the work "plays with power relations and subverts them."
At the center of all eyes, in the very center of a work that supposedly criticizes relations of domination, Domitilla and what she represents remains invisible to all. Here, at the most mediatic moment of an artist whose work seeks to problematize oppression, the artist says nothing. Nor do the four curators. No one seems to be concerned about the reproduction of objectification and its non-agency. The whole perspective that would make Barrios struggle as a political subject understood is absent.

The paradox of this is that Domitila Barrios became famous precisely because she managed to make her voice heard in the most adverse circumstances. Even when imprisoned, and pregnant, she survives a physical assault and an attempted rape by a soldier who seeks to traumatize her activism, as part of systematic measures in Latin America in which indigenous populations who demonstrate against neoliberal measures are silenced and killed. Returning kicks and spits, Domitila never renounces her ability to show her own agency.

Knowing this story makes the sculpture even more perplexing. How a work can be anticolonial when you place this person as a paper mache puppet? If the artist supposedly wants to comment on the exploitation of indigenous bodies by the Spanish crown: in whose imagination does sexual violence reverts when it is returned to the aggressor body? Why would anal sex be a moment of emancipation for a region whose pre-Columbian imaginary is populated with representations and sculptures of diverse sexual practices that include anal sex? Why weave it theoretically with Derrida when his references in this seminar (Homer, Aristotle, La Fontaine, etc.) focus on Europe? And finally, what do the Nazi helmets stand for? are they a comment on the invention of the concentration camp format by the Spanish crown in the territory of what is present-day Cuba? Is Domitila consequently represented here as a generic sign of the indigenous, without major distinction between Caribbean history and Andean history?
Violence against indigenous women, along with the racialization and animalization of their bodies, is a colonial heritage and is not a thing of the past. Doujak's work seems to ignore this abundant colonial imaginary and scientific racism whose purpose was to demonstrate the backwardness and primitivism of indigenous peoples.
Here we are exactly two months after the scandal and none of those involved have said anything about the strategy of the work and the limits of its conception and its reception.
Do not forget that at stake are also the relations between the north and the south of Europe. The production of a similar sculpture that would comment on Austrian colonial rule, putting a fighter for the rights of workers in Eastern Europe to penetrate anally the president of Austria, would undoubtedly produce a scandal that would have a different impact on Ines Doujak. This would probably be driven by a conservative reaction of certain political parties that are behind what budgets are allocated to what cultural production, while simultaneously driven, we hope, by the understanding of work as problematic.


It is important to reflect on who speaks for whom and for what ultimate purposes. This is precisely because there is a long colonial tradition of Western Europeans making trips to South America in order to collect materials and information that become a production of scientific and academic works. In this case, Bolivian textiles and other indigenous cultural goods are used as a starting point for an interpretation work that is carried out by experts outside the continent and that represents academic benefits over which the original producers never participate.
The violence exercised here is that of going to the place of the Otrx, of the subaltern and producing a sense of reality under a lens that is directed not to engage in dialogue with the Otrx, but to explain its reality to a hegemonic audience. It is a historical and one-way relationship. The Otrx has not had and does not have structures and institutions supporting a parallel reversal. According to Gloria Anzaldúa, "the difference between appropriation and proliferation is that the former steals and hurts, and the latter helps to heal the knowledge gaps."
Domitila Barrios herself addressed the problem of the appropriation of their struggle in his biography "If I can Speak ..." (whose reading we recommend: and says of those who come to talk about them:
"... of all those materials that are worn, there are very few who have returned to the very bosom of the class, to the people, right? So I would like to ask all those people who think that they want to collaborate with us, that all the material that they have brought them back to us (...) I think that the films, documents, studies that are done on the reality of the Bolivian people, they must also return to the bosom of the Bolivian people to be analyzed, criticized. (..) They are very few, the works that have served this are counted. "P.7
"For ('the poorest people') I accept that I write what I am going to relate. It does not matter with what kind of paper, but I do want it to work for the working class and not only for intellectuals or for people who just want to

escuchada en las circunstancias más adversas. Incluso cuando encarcelada, y embarazada sobrevive a un asalto físico y a un intento de violación por parte de un policía que busca traumatizar su activismo, como parte de medidas sistemáticas en Latinoamérica en las que se silencia y asesina a poblaciones indígenas que se manifiestan contra medidas neoliberales, Domitila, devolviendo patadas y escupitajos, se hace oír y nunca renuncia a su capacidad de mostrar su propia agencia. ( p.115-117) Si supuestamente quiere comentar sobre la explotación de los cuerpos indígenas por parte de la corona española: ¿en la imaginación de quién la violencia sexual se revierte cuando se la devuelve al cuerpo agresor? ¿Por qué el sexo anal sería un momento de emancipación para una región cuyo imaginario precolombino está poblado de representaciones y esculturas de prácticas sexuales diversas que incluyen el sexo anal? ¿Por qué tejerla teóricamente con Derrida cuando sus referencias (Homero, Aristóteles, La Fontaine, etc) se centran en Europa?