How lucky we were!!! Go to the @hammer_museum Afro-Peruvian poet Victoria Santa Cruz welcomes visitors to the UCLA Hammer Museum’s “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985” with a blast of energy so powerful that it will stop you in your tracks, then propel you through a mammoth exhibition that unfolds in seven sprawling chapters.
It’s a kick. “Me gritaron negra” is a spoken-word poem captured in a short black-and-white 1978 film, photographed by Eugenio Barba, transferred to video and projected larger than life-size on the wall just inside the show’s front door. Santa Cruz, backed by a chorus of three women and three men, one driving the song forward with the insistent rhythm of a cajón, a wooden box-drum, recites a fierce avowal of her identity through unwavering voice and the focused choreography of body language. “They shouted black woman at me,” the title says. “Black!” Santa Cruz and her chorus repeat. “Black, black, black, black, black, black!” The words are barked out in a clamorous call and response.
The performance was born of the festering childhood memory in which a little blond white girl refused to play with 7-year-old Victoria because her skin was black. Santa Cruz’s play group suddenly, inexplicably followed suit, shunning her.
After years of self-denial, the poem reveals, she tired of the angry victim role. Santa Cruz embraced the taunt of “black!” — absorbing the word into her skin and transforming it into a shout of liberation. Incorporating clapping elements from zamacueca, a mostly forgotten colonial dance with roots in African, Spanish and Andean rhythms that originated in the Viceroyalty of Peru, she moved from the periphery of her own life’s experience to land squarely in its center.