Arts & Culture
An Interview With Julia Barbosa Landois
Published: December 30, 2013
I think that with humor in that piece, and Star-Crossed II, these pieces with angry feminist content, humor is a way of checking myself, checking my own self-righteousness and laughing at that. I think if I had done the donkey show project when I was 18, it would have been like “every guy is a big asshole— any man who goes to Boystown has got to hate women.” Oh, but it's a lot more complicated than that.
There’s so much stigma and baggage associated with being a “feminist artist,” how do you deal with that?
I didn't set out to be a performance artist back when I was a teenager. I read books about them, and thought they were very cool, but I was also aware of the stigma. “Ooh look, a feminist performance artist, getting naked and smearing blood all over herself, screaming and talking about her vagina!” I'm always partly afraid that I will be construed as that.
I don't want to tone down the message because of that, but I don't want to be seen as that either, because it just flips the switch in peoples’ brains. It turns them off. It's not something they think they like.
Ever feel like you have to shy away from the f-word? Like the word is too constraining?
No. No, I think it would bother me more to be considered “a woman artist.” I feel that it's like being called “a lady doctor.”
The double-edged sword is that there's a stereotype of the feminist performance artist being naked all the time. But there's also a trend among younger women artists to get naked all the time. In grad school, I had male professors who would say “you've got to naked for this piece.” It wasn't even about their relationship with me, they’d just say “you've got to be naked, it would be so much more powerful.” And I think it was less about sexualizing me than… I think they came out of the ’80s. The art scene in the ’80s and ’90s, I think it was a big part of that. It’s going to sound weird, but I would like to see a lot more naked elderly men. (Laughs.) Naked elderly women, or people of different sizes.
You’ve talked about the concept of about “Latino art,” how it gets labeled, what the media appropriation of it is. How do you place your work within that? Do you think of yourself as a Latina artist?
It's a complicated question because I grew up in a really assimilationist household. I didn't grow up speaking Spanish, [although] my grandparents were from Mexico, and spoke Spanish. I heard Spanish all the time, but we weren’t taught Spanish, and we weren’t even brought up to identify as Mexican-American. My dad is white, so in San Antonio, I could be anything to anyone.
But I was in Georgia for two years. And there it was really thrown into relief, because people would ask me “what are you? What are you mixed with?”
In grad school, it was interesting because I would make references in my work, cultural references, and nobody would get them. I had one professor, he was Cuban- and Spanish-American, and I clung to him like barnacle.