Dinorah de Jesus Interview

By Monica Torres

FUNDarte opens the doors of the Black Box Theater at the Miami-Dade Auditorium for Miami On Stage 2013 for a three-day (Thursday, April 18th to Saturday, April 20th)musical performance by unique, eclectic Latin artists including female vocalist, Leslie Cartaya,  jazz master, Alfredo Chacon, and rapero, Mr. Haka, who mix their ethnic roots with mainstream pop to create new sound.

Simultaneously, a unique kind of audio/visual artistic magic will be popping up in public spaces around the city. The installations are a part of the new public intervention project mujer_cita_MIA by celebrated multi-media artist and feminist activist Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez.

Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez’s “mujer_cita_MIA,” is a project which addresses social issues of significance to women.  Videos will be screened outdoors on the façade of the building, as well as in the lobby of the theater and inside the Ladies’ Room during each concert. The work showcases some of Miami’s most beloved female choreographers and dancers: Niurca Marquez and Lucia Aratanha

Watch: Dinorah’s installation piece SONAMBULA featuring Betty Boop

mujer_cita_MIA addresses issues such as rape, gender discrimination, and domestic violence. Art has the power to create dialog and change the world. With the recent alarming headlines surrounding sexual assault, this project comes at a time when creating a dialog is important to promote healing, empowerment, and change.

In 2009, the Obama administration made April national sexual assault awareness month in response to this societal ill.  And, college campuses around the country, including the MMC campus at F.I.U., are addressing the problem through projects such as “Take Back the Night” and a flag display  on the campus’s main lawn.  These projects are conducted by the Women’s Center, which reports current astounding statistics: 1 in 4 college-aged women will be sexually assaulted.  But, statistics are not just numbers.

I feel a personal connection to Dinorah’s project  because I am one of the 1 in 4. I experienced sexual assault as an undergraduate at F.I.U, barely out of my teens.  In my case, as in many of the cases, including those of the recent teenagers, such as Rehtaeh Parsons (RIP), alcohol incapacitation was involved.

In my case, there was only one perpetrator, but a girl encouraged his behavior. But, most trauma occurs later in the form of victim blaming, lack of perpetrator repercussion, and in the tragic case of Rehtaeh Parsons, bullying, even by former girlfriends, was involved.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you are not alone.  Please reach out  because silence is our worst enemy.  Only through dialog can the society become the type of place where teenage girls full of promise don’t feel the need to commit suicide because some boys (and some of society) think it’s not such a big deal to sexually abuse them when they are incapacitated.  It’s also a lesson for women, girls and their parents: alcohol should only be consumed  in the company of trusted family and friends.  Yet, society also encourages the behavior.  It’s a difficult terrain to cross for many young innocent women just starting their lives, but crossing with knowledge leads to empowerment.  

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“Their grace and power – both physical and spiritual = bestows the piece with the empowering serenity and strength that I hope to bring to the hearts and minds of my audiences, to women everywhere, to the Ladies’ Room.”

The installations will be shown on the facade of the Black Box Theater of the Miami-Dade Auditorium, in the lobby, and in ladies restroom.  Yes, that is right, the ladies restroom, an unexpected place where in between make-up touch-ups, vulnerability often leads to shared intimacy.

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Dinorah de Jesus answered a few questions about this important work…

What inspired muter_cita_MIA?

I was raped in June of 2012 for the third time in my adult life, and as a result of that experience, I knew I needed to do a piece on this. shortly after that, those horrifying rapes happened in Dehli and then Steubenville, and I became consumed by the news on Twitter. The concept of the videos made to be screened in the ladies’ rooms and the idea of creating an account dedicated to feminist activism on Twitter came about kind of simultaneously, and mujer_cita_MIA was born.

It has always been a dual-purpose project: one aim is political activism, the other aim is fine art. I envision  mujer_cita_MIA as a conceptual gathering place for women in Ladies’ Rooms across the city of Miami, a place where our stories are shared privately among ourselves, where there is no shame or guilt surrounding what happened to us, a place of strength. i am trying to recreate that strength and serenity through the dance imagery in the film.

Why use dance and film as mediums? 

Video, film & moving image make up my artistic language, so it’s only natural that i should say whatever I need to say in this language. Dance, however, is a universal visual language and this piece really needs to transcend anything that could divide or separate women in any way. Dance is also about the body, about its capacity for strength, recovery, resilience and power.

I am celebrating the fact that even though our bodies have been abused, our spirits prevail & continue to carry those bodies. We are still sensual, beautiful, undefiled, powerful. That is what I’m celebrating, and i think dance is the perfect language to convey that.

What is it about public restrooms that make a good space for the presentation of this art?

I’m all about exhibiting my art in unexpected public spaces, taking it out of the elite infrastructure where fine art normally lives in confinement based on economic class and social access. The ladies’ room is for everyone. In the ladies’ room, we’re playing pretty much on level ground: all of us are biological equals.

It is a place of fleeting intimacy among random strangers, a place of personal, private sharing in the public realm.  It’s a women-only space, so it just feels like a safe space in which to share these very vulnerable stories.  I wrote a lot on my reasons for using the Ladies Room on my blog.

Why not place the art in men’s restrooms? Don’t you think this work is also significant for men as for women as rape and domestic violence is not just a women’s issue but a human issue?  

Your story mentions something that I think is at the heart of the whole matter, a very key point: the fact that another woman or girl was involved in encouraging the rapist and then blaming you for what happened. i had similar experiences.  I also noted how in the case of these high school rapes/suicides, the GIRLS are the ones doing most of the bullying & slut-shaming. MOTHERS are raising sons that think it’s the victim’s fault. When a mother tells her daughter “don’t dress like that,” she’s teaching the daughter to judge and blame herself and other women.  It’s a circle, and women are at the heart of perpetuating the rape culture. Pretty horrific.

Until WE wake up and see it for what it is, it cannot change.  That is why it’s so important to educate and reach young women, and that is why i’m focusing my message first on girls and younger women, and then on men. I do plan to make the work available for men online and in other venues (for example, men can see it in the lobby at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium Black Box this coming Thursday, Friday & Saturday as part of FUNDarte’s Miami On Stage).

However, the stories are private stories that women might not want to share in an open, mixed public space. The Ladies’ Room keeps our stories safe within our own space, it stresses the point that this is for US.  Eventually, I would like to create a similar work targeted specifically at men, but I’ll probably want to develop that in collaboration with a male artist and figure out the most effective public spaces to work in.  It might not necessarily be the men’s bathroom.


Why use social media such as Facebook and Twitter as part of the exhibit?

I think the online feminist movement, also known as the Third Wave of Feminism, is particularly strong, and its strength are not necessarily rooted in White Academia anymore. The movement is global, and there are a ton of great feminist bloggers from countries in Africa, India, and Latin America working in the online sphere to raise consciousness and incite social action on a number of topics.  

On social media, and Twitter in particular, I am in dialogue with these women daily, i feel that I am connected to a global movement that is propelling the change i want to see in the world.  i was inspired to use Twitter as part of my Artivist practice in this work after seeing the documentary about Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei and the way he’s using social media as an arm of his conceptual public art projects.

Why do you think mujer_cita_MIA is important in today’s world?

In my opinion, the Paradigm Shift that the Mayas predicted for this New Age is precisely this: Feminism, or the reclaiming of the female force on our planet. I think feminism is truly the path to revolutionary change on earth. Gender discrimination is the oldest and most pervasive oppression known to humanity. If we can uproot and change this, we can arrive at true equality among all humans, across all barriers.  

We cannot arrive at Humanism while more than half of all humans are still lacking basic human rights and dignity, while more than half of all humans live under the constant threat of gender violence. This is the first step to an egalitarian, humanist society.

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