Amitis Motevalli

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  • February 28-March 26, 2013
  • Reception: Thursday February 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm
  • Artist Talk at 6:00 pm

The Semiotics of Defiance: The Performances of Amitis Motevalli (excerpt) 

By Staci Gem Scheiwiller, Ph.D. 

Much of Motevalli’s work recalls the artwork of second wave feminists who used the body and text to speak of the subjugation of women; Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975) is a good example of the vagina acting out, being porru, by talking back to patriarchy, in particular to a filmmaker who deemed her experimental films as that by an “Erotic Woman.” Another classic performance is Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen, also 1975, in which Rosler simply repeats the words of kitchen implements, while implying that they are instruments of torture and complicit in women’s oppression. The fatal flaw of second wave feminism, though, was that artists used the (white) female body as the locus that unites women in their struggles against patriarchy and had to be harshly reminded by third wave feminists that the white female body did not and could not speak for all women. Aside from interventions by artists, such as Suzanne Lacy (b. 1945) or Adrian Piper (b. 1948), the union of the female body, performance, text and its synergy’s potential to liberate the Other in society has almost become a lost art, revived by the refreshing interventions of Motevalli. In addition, it is apt that the body of the woman of color who immigrated to the United States would become a dialectical site of both Otherness and the potential for emancipation and anarchy, calling our attention to the racist, phallocentric, and Eurocentric paradigms that are continually feeding the colonial mentality pervasive in hypercapitalist global politics. Many of us have been duped to think that we live in a postcolonial world when Motevalli’s performance art clearly tells us that we still have not awoken from the nightmare that the forefathers have dreamt for us. Moreover, what was lost in third wave feminism was the promise of radical feminism, which is the vigilante struggle to liberate all peoples under all oppressive conditions, and that is because women make up more than half the world—more than half the impoverished, the imprisoned, the abused, and the neglected are women. Motevalli’s work so beautifully threads all those pieces of potential liberation together, through both her body and the physical, coopted environments she forcibly retakes.

David Levi Strauss, “Love Rides Aristotle Through the Audience: Body, Image, and Idea in the Work of Carolee Schneemann,” in Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects, ed. Carolee Schneemann (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002), 319.