Tears and Politics
The telenovela is one of the most popular products of Latin America. It is a format that exploits the world market through the articulation and preservation of cultural difference, and at the same time serves as a powerful tool of self-representation and the re-signification of the continent’s colonial legacy. soy mi madre (2008) by Phil Collins and Crying for the March of Humanity(2012) by Christian Jankowski both employ the format of the telenovela for critical purposes that draw on the aesthetics of the melodrama to talk about issues of immigration, class and race, and the relationship between arts, media and politics.
In Crying for the March of Humanity(2012) Jankowski reproduced an entire episode of La que no podía amar (The One Who Could Not Love), a Mexican telenovela. Enlisting the help of Televisa – one of the largest Latin American broadcasting companies, Jankowski used the original script, location, cast and postproduction, but instructed the actors to replace all dialogue with dramatic expressions of grief and crying. The title of the work makes reference to the last mural by Mexican revolutionary artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, The March of Humanity (1965-1971). The largest mural in the world, it offers a vision of human progress that combines an international anti-capitalist rhetoric with Mexican heritage and tradition. Crying for the March of Humanity is both a tribute to and a requiem for the idea of human progress and the heroic artistic gesture. While Siqueiros’s epic mural still carries forth a belief in the modernist ideals of progress, revolution and change, Jankowski’s ironic gesture dismantles such ideals and instead insists on a continuity, universality, and stereotypicality of the “human condition.” In Crying for the March of Humanity Jankowski both employs and subverts the format of the telenovela to raise the question of “high” versus “low” art’s potential power and political agency.
Filmed with some of Mexico’s leading television stars, and including the contribution of the acclaimed production designer Salvador Parra, Phil Collin’s soy mi madre was shot in México City on 16mm film. Commissioned in 2008 by the Aspen Art Museum, this work focuses on the Latino and immigrant populations of Colorado, a sizable percentage of which hail from northwestern Mexico. The script, written by hired Hollywood screenwriters and supervised by the artist, is indirectly inspired by Jean Genet’s The Maids, a violent exploration of the intricate power dynamic that exists between unequals. Revolving around ideas of role-play and performance, masks and mirrors, symbols and rituals, The Maids posits social identities as volatile and unbalanced—a notion which soy mi madre also takes as its point of origin. At the same time alluding to and refuting the preconceived glamorous image of Aspen, Collins made a work in resonance with the cultural context of this specific population.