The Brazilian artist continues to shock with her work – this time with a 33-meters vulva in a hill. Once more, Diva brings old wounds to debate but on a much larger scale. In a time when feminism, transsexuality, colonialism, and abortion are regularly open discussion (this last due to Argentina’s recent legalization), VOICES spoke to Notari about the wounds in Diva and her work.
How was Diva born?
A 33-meters vulva in a hill may be more than the world is ready for. Inaugurated on the last day of 2020, Diva is the latest work of the Brazilian artist, Juliana Notari. Eleven months of hard work and more than 20 men working on the project made the polemic sculpture possible – a sculpture that is more a wound than a vulva and it still shocks more because of the sexuality-related feature
“It’s the traumatic issue”, says Notari during a videocall with VOICES. “My work is not that feminist work that has a critique of culture, of politics in a more assertive way – it also deals with these traumas, these ruptures, these issues”, continues. “Diva has opened several wounds and inside them there is the issue of the feminine”.
However, Notari is not yet satisfied with it. “It needs to be more open, more wounded because now it’s very centered that strip, the dark, especially from far away when you see the images. I didn’t even have time to see the images from far away, it was very sudden”, explains the artist that’s already used to work with uncomfortable topics and taboos but did not expect all this attention.
Diva was already present in other Notari’s performances but it gained a new dimension due to Usina de Art – a private project in Recife to revitalize the area known for sugar cane and alcohol production (and therefore for slavery), back in the days. “The monoculture of sugar cane is a wound, is a rape of the land”, says Notari about this “violent” process that requires the burning of the land so the cane can be harvest. “It’s a place with a lot of history, many blacks have shed blood there – it’s the weight of patriarchy, of submissive women, the violence there is very high”, shares the artist.
This Notari’s characterictis image is also present in Spalta-me (both the performance and the intervention) and Amaumas. On this last one, the artist collected her own menstrual blood for nine months and performed in one of the biggest trees in Amazonia, a Samaúna, “considered by many people the mother of the forest” and the tree “that makes the connection between heaven and earth” – a sacred tree. The next day, Notari went back there and took it all out and passed an ointment of recovery. “I ritualized Dr. Diva’s performance”, explains the artist. “I put a little seed and an object from my family that passed from women through generations inside”.
Since the first performance named Dr. Diva that Notari dresses “all in white, as an ascetic doctor, a representative of biomedicine” for it.
“I did this performance on walls, in galleries, in museums and I made the same figure, this wound/vulva which is more wound than vulva because it is the wound that brings the whole question of violence, the question of patriarchy in our history, the domination of women’s bodies”, says Notari.
Doing this with the hammer “was an aggression, violence, as if it was raping that architecture, as if it was the woman’s body somehow”. Afterward and very graphically, the artist would bathe it with bull blood, shove the speculum in the wall, and left it like that.
With more than 20 years of “artistic road”, Juliana Notari, now 45 years old, has always dealt with uncomfortable issues, “desires, taboos”. Blood, hair, depilation often play a part in Notari’s performances. “At the beginning of my career I used a lot of hair, I spent months collecting it in several hairdressers here in my city, Recife”, shares the artist that made “hairballs, with white hair from older people, blond, black”. “Hair generated a lot of disgust in people – while it’s in the body it’s normal but when it comes out it turns into a disgust, it’s a taboo”, concludes.
Diva was the result of all this combined: both this personal “characteristic as an artist to deal with this material, with the desires that people try to bury” and the finding of more than 20 gynecologic speculums (an invention of J. Marion Sims which itself is also a wound),with the gynecologist name whom it belonged to, Dr. Diva, written on it.
The wounds opened by Diva
Notari admits she wasn’t expecting so much debate and attention because of Diva, but she believes it was a “good process and discussion”. In the beginning, the artist followed the comments and criticism, but when it went viral, Notari couldn’t keep up anymore. “It [the attention] was even more than I imagined – it reached the president who is the biggest pus of that wound, the dictatorship had no repair”, resents Notari.
“In Brazil, we are living a moment of much polarization”, confesses Norati. “They can’t see others, it’s just them, those white, empowered men who want more wealth and who don’t have humanity”, continues, referring to women as “that other way of life that those men don’t want”.
However, men are not the only ones criticizing Diva. “That was something that impressed me a lot – we women still have a lot of work ahead of us, even more than I imagined”, admits the artist. Seeing women with a “lot of hate”, feeling the “2000 years old patriarchy” made Notari realize it’s going to take a long time to make things better. “It’s inside women, it’s inside men, and it’s a deconstruction that has to be done all the time”, defends.
Colonialism may be viewed as similar. “There was no abolition, black people had no access to agrarian reform, no access to social goods, nothing – they were thrown at their own luck and created the favelas”, explains the artist. The consequences of this last until today, with black people doing the “less paid jobs, the subaltern, precarious jobs”. Some of the strongest critics were because of a picture Notari posted. The photo shows Notari in front of the sculpture while the dark-skinned constructors work in the background. “It’s structural – that photo shows a structural racism”, admits Notari, explaining she didn’t think about how the picture would be perceived or what it would show.
“It’s a structural racism that goes through everything. And art is not apart from society, art reflects society”, says the artist.
A“monumental issue of doing big things” that “doesn’t like cracks, holes, anus, vagina, and everything related to gays, trans, women” is how Notari views phallocentrism. “I was making the movement a big thing too”, says the Brazilian artist. However, Notari’s work“was also dialoguing with the landscape, with Gaia, with Mother Earth who was devastated”. Some critics pointed out that the sculpture was bad for the environment, for the forest but Notari assures nature was taken into consideration during the construction of Diva. The soil is very poor still, the materials chosen don’t hurt the land and there is also a draining system for the water coming inside the sculpture.
“When you expand your vision, you see that monumentality is necessary for the work to encompass other layers. And this is one of the accusations, that Diva‘s monumentality reinforces the binarism of the man/woman, of the question of sex”, explains the artist who, however, is not forgetting about other sexualities just because she’s magnifying the vulva.
“I don’t want to annul the trans woman because she doesn’t have a vagina, no, it’s about adding up”, defends the artist that sees “feminine as several feminines”.
Nevertheless, the transphobia related critics helped Notari to go deeper on the subject. “Diva also teaches me a lot of things, and it is very good when you start learning from your own work – then it makes sense”, reflects while also encouraging trans artists to enter the artistic world and to make themselves be heard.
“My work has a certain violence. There is the one with the buffalo, which I am dragged naked by it on the island of Marajó. I did a lot of work and continue to do there in the Amazon, in Pará. There is this issue of violence, there is this strong link between nature and culture. But there is this cruelty, this cruelty of nature, so I also like to deal with this cruelty. We die, we will be eaten by germs and I deal with these issues of death and life too. Death is a taboo in our society.
By coincidence, in this performance, I found out that this buffalo was going to be castrated. Then I decided to incorporate that castration into the performance, so I filmed the castration of the animal and decided to eat his testicle, raw, just like that. And it was horrible, we already had 2 days of filming, my ass was all red, I didn’t sit up straight for almost a month, but the worst was about to come. I told the team, they were kind of shocked. The buffalo was castrated without anesthesia. They don’t give anesthesia in several farms here – they think that the animal doesn’t feel pain. And I haven’t eaten meat for years. It was a trauma, it was death and I ritualized that death, I ate the testicle with eagerness. If that had to happen, that fatality, at least that energy came to me.”
“The performance is what happens there, at that moment, and it’s through the body that it is given – the support is the body. It’s seen in our society as something less important, it’s not taken seriously in what it should be taken seriously. To see the body’s potency as a transforming power, as a force is very important, it is essential. And reaching its limits is also very important. For example, pain. Pain by itself doesn’t interest me. For instance, the performance I do with the glass – my goal there is not to cut myself. I want to pass unharmed, to be able to cross the path away from the danger. If I cut myself it’s fine, I’m still trying to put the glasses away, but the goal is not to step directly on the glass – I am not interested in the pain because of the pain itself, but because of the other states of consciousness, other states of knowledge that it can bring through the body.”