Sunday, October 2, 2011


Filipina-Danish Artist Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen at the 54th Venice Biennale

1. Congratulations on the success of your work at the Venice Biennale. Can you share your experience being a part of it? Any particular moments (in making/and during the exhibition) that struck you - (so far)?

The Venice Bienale the best exposure I have experienced so far. My piece was very well received. It was intense in terms of direct feedback from the audience and the press - it was lots of fun.

2. Can you tell us about your piece in this year's Venice Biennale?

I was invited to produce a new performance for the group exhibition Speech Matters and the theme was Freedom of Speech.

At that time I was researching on Arabic and Middle Eastern culture specifically about their traditions on masculinity and femininity.

The overall concept was that I would like to serve as a mouth piece to those who doesn´t have a voice in their respective society - people who are repressed.

It was a new path for me to work with a culture I didn´t have knowledge about or a place I have never been before.

My piece Afghan Hound is about gender constructions enforced by social rules and society in the Afghan culture. I impersonate four carachters: Malalai Joya (a female politician, activist, who lives undercover), a Warlord, a Bacha Bazi (playing boy) and Bacha Posh (girl as boy). I have written their stories as four songs. The performance was staged using music, lyrics and costume(s).

The costume is made of black hair that covers me from top to toe like a burhka. Normally, hair is hidden behind the burkha, in my setting, the hair is worn on the out side. Symbolically the hair illustrates the hidden sexualities. The dramaturgy is met with the hair moving around my body during the performance as I impersonate 3 ½ genders - first as Malalai Joya behind the burhka hair where her identity is hidden and whose alias in real life is M.J., next as a warlord who wears a kaftan and through which the hair takes form as a huge beard. The third character I transform into is the Bacha Bazi - a boy who is forced to dress and dance as a girl. Bacha Bazis are entertainers in mens parties, where no women are allowed, and later on used for sex. The hair goes between the legs like a skirt while the kaftan transforms into a blouse. The last transformation is a Bacha Posh - a woman, who in her childhood was forced to dress as a boy because there were no boys born in the family. When she becomes a woman, she is required to change her social habitus, and consequently looses her freedom. At the end of the performance I cover myself up in the burkha hair.

I am revealing stories about complex gender constructions and how they are enforced by a social order, rather than as a personal choice of the individual. In regards to the title, Afghan Hound alludes to the dogs that are completely covered with hair. The costumes are inspired by this canine species. I decided to focus on Afghan stories when i was struck with the idea of using dogs in a metaphorical sense as visuals in the performance.

3. Would you say that it is political? Does politics play a role in your general body of work? Why so/ or not?

Regarding Afghanistan, we have heard more about the Western troupes than from the Afghan civilians. Where are their voices?

Afghan Hound is my commentary on how we, being situated in the West, seem incapable of understanding cultures other than our own. We are not really listening to those we are trying to help. To extend aid is often grounded on self-interest and requires getting something in return.

The Afghan war, and overall situation, is complex and difficult to understand from the outsider's point of view. It is deeply rooted in the power structure of their society which consists of traditions, ethnic diversions, and a dominating masculine culture that is repressive towards women.

My works concern political issues on a micro level. It describes human conditions in the contemporary perspective. I use art as a tool to make my audience think twice about contemporary issues. Afghan Hound it is a complex political piece.

4. Have you been back to the Philippines? What is your general recollection of the Philippines? Can you share your personal history and how that influences you in creating work?

I have been returning to the Philippines frequently since 1997. Those trips have resulted in a long body of documentary video works produced between 1997-2007.

I have a dual ethnic background. My mother is Filipina, and I was born in Manila where we lived until I was eight years old. My father is Danish and we moved to his province in Denmark in 1978. Apart from one year stays abroad - twice in the USA, then France and Spain - I have been based in Denmark.)

Denmark is still pre-dominantly a mono-cultural society and is not used to foreigners and diversity.

Even with my Danish background, I have always been confronted with my foreign appearance but mostly positive approaches based on curiosity. As a teenager, I felt very bothered about being exoticised. When I started to work with art I realized I could use my story as a fruitful source. Consequently this enriches others, particularly people who follow my work.

5. Denmark seems to have a good history in providing strong support for the arts. Can you describe what its like being supported by your cultural institution?

Denmark is a small country isolated in the North. It can never be the center of the world nor the art scene. Therefore it is important to promote and support Danish artists to be exposed and challenged abroad.

The Danish Arts Council focuses on this mission through inter cultural-collaborations and dialogue. This is a very privileged situation and it makes it possible for me to continue working with performance and experimental art full time.

6. Can you compare the cultural institution of Denmark to some of its European counterparts?

You´ll find similar support in all Nordic countries and Holland. In countries further south like Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Austria, the art tradition is stronger and is situated on a higher level. Though the support from the government is less, private funding, sponsorships and private galleries play a major role.

7. How did you find out that your path was to pursue a career in the arts?

I have tried several paths before I turned 25 and I never felt complete - whether it was studying in a university, dancing or being a globetrotter. In the arts I can make use of and combine these interests while having the freedom to experiment with genres in an unconventional way. This is the place where I feel most challenged.

8. Is your work mostly performance/ process based?

Performance has been my focus since 2006. It started with my piece Absolute Exotic (2005) - a video that I had the opportunity to do a live version of. And this was the kick start for me to work with performance.

With working immaterially, being the art object is a very powerful medium. But what is there after the performance? Being exposed and traveling a lot creates a lifestyle that makes you restless. Object based works provides me tranquility, economical stability and the satisfaction of having a piece that stands on its own and can travel without me. However the objects are still performative.

9. Can you share the progression of the mediums that you have worked with?

In retrospect, I realize my works change direction approximately every five years. It started with performative video and photography while my several return trips to the Philippines resulted in documentary based works. Eventually I started to work on performative documentary. My works also moved to become more politicised in a global perspective rather than on a local or personal level.

In performance I can elaborate my theatrical expression. For three to four years, I did reenactments or versions of works by other performance artists, which you can describe as “art about art” or referential art pieces. Lately I have started to work with photography again and objects - a path I would like to explore more.

My body of work is eclectic and seeks to represent every part of me. The narratives around my work carries themes of identity, gender and other socio-cultural topics. All in all I see myself as a story teller.

10. Who and what are your influences in creating work? Can you please share why so?

My main sources are stories from real life and real people. I am affected by injustice and discrimination. These make me angry and I want to speak out loud about these issues – which is the very thing I try to do and I use art as a tool.

In terms of expression, I am not inspired by other artists but rather by the filmmaker Lars von Trier, and
divas like Malene Dietrich and Liva Weel.

11. We are very excited with what's in store for you and how you have been inspiring us in this early stage of your career. What are you working on now, and what's next?

This fall I will be touring with the performance Afghan Hound and object-based works that supplement this story.

Besides preparing shows and new works for 2012, I am also working on a film that takes place in Syria with a Syrian filmmaker and I think this is going to be interesting.

I also hope to show my works in the Philippines in the future. For now, only my Filipino family knows about my works.


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