On Friday February 28, our conference opens with a keynote address from Diana Taylor. Is it enough for us to tell you that her work and her writing have been instrumental in helping us at Aluna understand our place and role in our culture(s)? Who is this amazing thinker? Brian Batchelor returns to offer us an introduction:
Diana Taylor is University Professor of Performance Studies and Spanish at NYU and the Founding Director of the Hemispheric Institute for Performance and Politics. She is the author of Theatre of Crisis: Drama and Politics in Latin America (1991), winner of the Best Book Award by the New England Council on Latin American Studies; Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina’s ‘Dirty War‘ (1997); and The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (2003), winner of the Outstanding Book Award from the Association of Theatre in Higher Education and the Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize from the Modern Language Association. She has co-edited Holy Terrors: Latin American Women Perform (2003); Defiant Acts: Four Plays by Diana Raznovich (2002); Negotiating Performance in Latin/o America: Gender, Sexuality and Theatricality (1994); and The Politics of Motherhood: Activists from Left to Right (1997).
Diana Taylor is also an impressive activist and academic, dedicated to better understanding how performance is used to reconfigure and rethink power relations and flows of representation across the Americas. She notes that she was taught deeply contradictory conceptualizations of the Americas throughout her scholastic pursuits: from a small town in Northern Mexico, to a boarding school in Toronto, Ontario, to graduate school in the United States (xiiv-xv). The Americas can be seen as one; as just the United States of America; as separated into North and South; and as divided into three entities: North, Central and South America (xii). Recent free-trade agreements such as NAFTA have further produced distinct and discrete identities and subjectivities, organizing the Americas into simple categorizations of “‘First World’ and ‘Third World,’ ‘white’ and ‘brown,’ ‘us,’ and ‘them’” (xv). How then, does a refiguring of the Americas also challenge our geographic and political perceptions of this hemisphere? Taylor writes that the Hemispheric Institute approaches the Americas as a “deeply entangled and contested space” in which borders, languages and nations struggle to obfuscate the interconnectedness of people and cultural practices (“Reconfiguring”). Within this framework, performance makes visible and manifest the “histories and trajectories” of these PanAmerican connections while simultaneously encoding knowledge of these histories in the body (“Reconfiguring”). How then, does performance – as expressive behavior, as embodied practice – produce, store and transmit cultural memory and identity? How does it transmit cultural expression across geographical and linguistic borders – from the local to the hemispheric – and across generations? How does rethinking performance, knowledge and identity also make us rethink the hemisphere? These are all questions that Diana Taylor takes up in her books and lectures and in the courses she teaches.
I have noticed that, often, when Diana gives a discussion or keynote during a conference, her introduction is often prefaced with the note that she does not, in fact, need an introduction. That we all know about her tremendous contribution to the field of performance studies, her support of artists, activists, students and peers, and her vested interest in thinking about how knowledge is produced and transmitted outside of structures of power. I certainly knew such traits before I met her this past summer, when I participated in the Hemispheric Institute’s Art and Resistance course in San Cristobal de las Casas, under her instruction and stewardship. I have had the pleasure of learning from her and getting to know her beyond her considerable reputation. It is my hope that, during the PanAmerican Routes festival, you will either be introduced to her phenomenal work or will get to know her as more than the speaker who needs no introduction.
Con Cariño, Brian Batchelor.