Regina José Galindo

“Tres Acciones” was the second exhibition in Milan by Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo, who won the Golden Lion award for artists under thirty-five at the 2005 Venice Biennale. Here she showed a three-channel video along with a related sculptural installation and thirty-one photographs. The video triptych XX, 2007, shows the burial, in unmarked graves, of unclaimed bodies of men, women, and children: corpses placed in large black plastic bags (children in little transparent sacks), indifferent gravediggers shoveling the earth. A mason places a small white marble gravestone to mark each spot, carved with the words GUATEMALA 2007 and a double x, indicating that the name of the deceased is unknown. The same sort of small gravestones were arrayed on the gallery floor, while the photographs were stills from the video.

An artist’s statement called our attention to the violence that pervades daily life in Guatemala, to how many people are killed amid total indifference—ten to fifteen murders are committed each day in Guatemala City alone, and two to four unidentified people are buried daily. In death, these people are without names; all that remains is the knowledge that the corpse was once a person, that it was someone, that he or she walked the earth and was received by it. The artist herself arranged to have these anonymous graves marked with marble stones, to make up for the loss of collective memory and empathy she feels in her home country. This action inspires not only sadness, obviously, but also a sense of compassion and that feeling the ancients prized most highly—respect for death and, therefore, true respect for life. Galindo reminds us that respect for the dead, through the placement of a gravestone on the site where a body—a someone—is buried, helps regenerate respect for the living. It is only through this ethics that a debased society can be reformed—that is, endowed with a new sense of form, one that is not aesthetic but ethical.

In the past, Galindo has pushed too hard to create politically engaged work, without finding the scale and form to move beyond simple denunciation of Guatemala and of a particular historical moment. But now her work has matured, and the artist succeeds in transforming politics into ethics and history into ontology; she has recovered the artist’s prophetic vocation, which in the West now survives only in the form of nostalgia or under conditions of particular existential tension. We almost automatically expect artists in hot zones to produce works, interventions, and concepts about protest, struggle, and shock, while other societies are allowed digressions into language, metalanguage, and irony. The globalization of culture demands that the art of the so-called third world wash clean the dirty conscience of the first.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.