August 06, 2021 • Mónica Mayer talks about her collected writings
A pioneer of feminist art in Mexico, Mónica Mayer uses humor and satire to address gender-related topics largely absent from public discourse. Intimidades . . . o no. Arte, vida y feminismo (Intimate Matters . . . or Not. Art, Life, and Feminism, Editorial Diecisiete) surveys her prolific writing practice, a vital extension of her artistic output for more than four decades. At a time when gender-based violence is surging throughout Mexico, Mayer’s writing reminds us that the feminist struggle—in the art world and beyond—is always waged on the battleground of language.
I AM AN ARTIST WHO WRITES . . . a lot. I started writing journals when I was eight years old and have continued and diversified this practice through letters, articles, blogs, texts for performances, drawings that include words and other types of text-based artworks. In 2016, I invited my colleagues Katnira Bello and Julia Antivilo––artists who share my passion for art, feminism, and performance––to dive into my archive; they read more than 1,500 of my writings and selected the ones featured in this book.
Some of the contributions for my column in El Universal, which was published between 1988 and 2008, are included in Intimate Matters . . . or Not. Art, Life and Feminism. Because I was publishing in a newspaper, people immediately assumed I was an art critic, even though my practice as an artist has never stopped and I always wrote as myself, Mónica Mayer, a Mexican feminist artist. My writing has always been situated—it never pretended to be objective. Curiously, because I wrote about my profession and the works of other artists, some people took me less seriously as an artist.
That newspaper column, like my artworks, reflected my interest in the audience. Most of El Universal’s revenue came from the classified ads, so I imagined my reader as someone between job interviews. I wrote with the idea of seducing them into being interested in feminist art, which was what I was passionate about. Since the internet was not so common in those days, I did this through humor, an accessible language, and constant references to pop culture. At the time, it was all about television and telenovelas––you’ll find plenty of references to them in my texts. I tried to build bridges between the reader’s daily life and contemporary art. I was fortunate to have Paco Ignacio Taibo as my editor; he allowed me to write as I pleased. I could publish artworks as articles. I could invent imaginary art competitions as a way to talk about women’s roles in the art world, bestowing ironic awards and so on. I wanted to bring up questions and let the audience reach their own conclusions.
This anthology offers a history of Mexican art that is different than the canonical one, with its insistence on “neutrality” and glorious narratives rather than processes (bumps and bruises all). Finding out about circumstances, the webs of personal relationships, and everything we consider gossip allows us to understand a wider picture. Although I sometimes enjoy the foundational narratives of art history, I usually prefer to interrogate them and tackle what was left unsaid, who influenced the things that happened, and their ripple effects. In my writing, I have never cared about classifying my colleagues’ work––I want to address a larger picture from my own perspective and say, “This is where I come from, and this is what I see.”
— As told to Fabiola Iza