A pink decor has been erected in a shop window. In the middle of the boudoir, a woman in a pink dress also looks ahead, her armpit hair falling in long strands from her arms. The performance by Senna Pauli and Eva Arends bears the title hairy, and is part of a project (including a photo exhibition) in which women show their armpit hair, in defiance of the prevailing ideal of beauty.
It is a recurring theme on the fourth edition of What You See, the Utrecht festival on gender and sexuality. The central question is: how do you fight for the freedom of your own body in a world in which everyone seems to have an opinion about it? As in previous years, the festival’s central theme is explored across multiple art disciplines, but the physicality of the performing arts provides the ideal canvas for the subject.
The emancipatory approach does entail the pitfall of pamphletism. For example, it is lurking in In First Person: The Playroom by Daniel Mariblanca. In the first part, the maker/performer plays an exciting game with the audience: completely naked, with the exception of a mask covering his face, he explores the boundaries between a male movement idiom and the explicit display of his vulva. His performance style is militant and makes it tangible how as a trans man he has to fight for acceptance and recognition. In the second part, however, the performance enters into a forced collectivity: like an accomplished faith healer, he addresses his audience one by one, while he sings: ‘This is about you and me / This is about loyalty‘ and the audience asks to chant ‘LGBQTI Pride’. The demand for solidarity is understandable, but the too direct form flattens the performance.
Bottle of Coke
Teresa Vittucci finds in Hate Me, Tender a more subtle form to denounce body normativity. The maker sits on the playing floor, dressed in a translucent red robe. She assumes various poses reminiscent of Saint Mary and sings about virginity – until she suddenly breaks the worn form by starting to stuff the red cloth into her vagina. When she mentions the discomfort of this more and more explicitly, she completely falls out of her role, and wittily emphasizes the contrast between the spiritual image of female ‘purity’ and the unglamorous practice.
Vittucci takes us on a journey through the ages in which virginity worship has led to oppression, while hilariously reflecting on the absurdity of the basic idea. For example, she compares sex with a non-virgin to drinking a bottle of Coke that has already been opened (‘I mean: you have no idea where that’s been‘) and pays tribute to the vulva through sex education using her shoe. The insidious humor makes the examples of horrific violence against ‘disgraced’ women all the harder.
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