Declaration of Poetic Disobedience

Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Gustavo Vazquez

2005, 15:15 minutes, colour, English/Spanish


Declaration of Poetic Disobedience is a performance poem that contends with ultra-nationalism, cultures of isolationism, and intolerance to cultural diversity. It was composed in response to the War on Terror and the Iraq War, which resulted from the complexities of post-9/11 conditions, politics of exclusion, and contempt towards the Other.

In the video, Gómez-Peña rests against a map of the North American continent, as if the body becomes an appendage of colonial memory where he localizes violence against the Latino Other. The performance disrupts what Gómez-Peña calls the “hegemonic map,” a binary cartography that proposes the “first” world as the center of global dominance. Providing critical commentary on the contradictions of anti-immigration rhetoric, Gómez-Peña says: "... a closed border not only impedes people from coming in, but it also stops people from leaving. Isolationism works both ways... And isolationism in the age of globalization is a worrisome symptom of cultural entropy and political desperation.” The border is a point of convergence, a site for Gómez-Peña and Vazquez’s imagined cartographies, where divisive lines give way to latent openings.

Gómez-Peña recalls his experience with performing this piece:

"In November of 2003 I began to write this text. It was my clumsy attempt at finding a post-9/11 voice and place in another map-an imaginary one drafted by me. As I drafted this poetic cartography my goal was to rescue the pronoun "we" (
our multiple communities) and in the process establish symbolic connections between my psyche, body, language, dreams and aspirations, and those of my contemporaries. My new map began to expand to include migrants, bohemians, activists and critical intellectuals from this and other countries. I was fully aware that it was an exercise in radical imagination that could only become a temporary reality in performance mode. At the end of my 4-month literary adventure, I titled the piece 'A Declaration of Poetic Disobedience from the New Border.' Part chant poetry and part political exorcism, this 'declaration' could be described as both performance and performative literature. It was meant to be declared publicly and ritually; to be activated and performed within a civic dimention. It required multiple surgical interventions into the human/political body.

I performed this piece in many contexts throughout 2004-2005: town meetings, street demonstrations, art museums, theater festivals and conferences. Sometimes I performed it as a solo chant, other times as a call and response community ritual. I asked my audiences: 'As I perform it, if you feel that the text addresses your anger and concerns, please stand up.' Once I even asked the audience to come on stage and join me when they felt their personal "concerns were implicated in the text." In april of 2005, I made a video version with my collaborator Gustavo Vazquez."

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