De tu Puño y Letra

On November 25, 2015 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – the City of Quito, Ecuador presented the culminating performance of Suzanne Lacy’s most recent project—built on the aesthetics of relationship, activism, and social transformation—that contributed to a broad social movement in Ecuador.

This project in Quito, Ecuador, on Nov 25, 2015 marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a year long project that concluded with a performance of 350 men in Belmont Plaza Bullring reading letters that had been written by women in the midst of family violence situations.

Hundreds Involved in Planning

In Ecuador, an estimated 6 of every 10 women are victims of violence and only 10% of women escape violent partners. When Lacy arrived in Quito in 2014 she was introduced to the 2012 Cartas de Mujeres project, where 10,000 Ecuadorian women wrote letters on their experiences of violence. She saw the letters as an unanswered plea for action.

Mindful of the importance of supporting and building on the many public education initiatives in Ecuador, Lacy offered to centrally feature the letters in a new production. She brought together city government departments, non-governmental agencies, art organizations and educational institutions to work together in the design and production of the project.

Scores of men attended deeply impactful workshops on masculinities and violence--a curriculum designed by Timm Kroeger of GIZ, an NGO specializing in education on family violence. Each man “adopted” a letter from an unknown woman--an invitation to interrogate his understandings of family violence and through the vehicle of the performance, engage in the public conversation. After months of preparation, including the development of on-going curriculum on family violence in the Universidad de Las Américas (UDLA) Medical School, rehearsals began. 

Collaborating Within and Outside of the Artist Community

Lacy’s work is based in a unique highly collaborative design process that engages scores of participants--drawn from a careful analysis of the local environment--in “what if?” sessions. Over time, people offer different talents and concepts to the evolving performance design, ensuring a carefully vetted and deeply participatory event. Many took on roles as advisors, producers, recruiters, and stage managers, among them writer Gabriela Ponce who drafted a script from 1,000 original letters; composer Bruno Louchouarn who produced a stunning score with live and recorded sound; and filmmaker Oderay Game who produced the performance. (see below for more extensive credits?)

Performance as a Model for an Inclusive Public Conversation

De tu Puño y Letra  (By Your Own Hand) explored the difficulties of including men more centrally in this issue. Many men felt that it was not their “issue”; some women were offended by the focus on men; politicians were nervous; and even animal rights activists questioned the use of a bullring as a site for a symbolic public stand in a violence-promoting masculine culture.

Accompanied by the City Band, over 1500 people entered the Plaza Belmonte, greeted by Mediators who served key roles in bringing the audience into the conversational nature of the event. The first three “acts” within the bullring featured a relentless narrative drawn from the authentic voices of Ecuadorian women as read by men—on childhood, the body, and intimate partner violence. The ring slowly filled with hundreds of men of all ages and from all walks of life (including many police officers), who together read individual letters, creating a crescendo of sound, broken by an abrupt silence. The voice of elderly white-haired women amidst 300 men, asked “Why do you call this love?”

Surprise interventions from live musicians built throughout until the 4th act, Separating, when readers explored what it took for these real women to escape while performers left the bullring and reappeared among the audience. The last act took place in the audience, where 300 men huddled over candles to read “their” letters to intimate groups of two or three people at a time, the ensuing conversation becoming the final gesture in the performance involving Mediators, Letter Readers and audience members alike one collaborators hoped to encourage long after the project concluded.

This project constituted a form of Social,  Public, Practice Art that combines various expressive media and artistic explorations with concrete actions; that engages with broad partnerships inside and outside the arts; and one that addresses substantial matters of public importance as defined through a participatory methodology. Surely one of the most important, and visible global issues of our times is that of violence against women and children.

“Rarely does an art performance have a genuinely transformative effect. However, the planning and involvement of so many partners ensured maximum interest and participation, while the attendance of many city officials, including the mayor and his wife along with members of the press, ensured that the work instigated by Lacy and created in collaboration with a team of dozens of people, would continue to have resonance and impact long after the performance was finished.”  Elizabeth Grady

María Fernanda Cartagena, Curator
Oderay Game, Producer
Paulina Leon, Executive Cordinator of Centro de Arte Contemporáneo,
Gabriela Ponce, Scriptwriter
Bruno Louchouarn, Sound Design
Mónica Moreira, Chief Recruitment team
Chía Patiño, Stage Director
Timm Kroeger, Workshop Design
Alex Schlenker, Azucena Sono, Creative consultation
Sofía Coloma, Chief Production Team
Arturo Yépez and Raúl Teba, Director’s Assistants
Daniel Andrade, Light and DP
Felipe Aizaga, Grecia Albán, Milton Castañeda, Mariela Espinoza de los Monteros, Emile Plonsky, Mónica Moreira, Musicians
Javier Andrade, Director AV Documentation
Christoph Hirtz, Director Photographic Team
Francois “Coco” Laso, Director Video, A Blade of Grass
Alegría Mateljan, María José Salazar and Yauri Muenala Coordinators
Colectivo 3+1: Alejandra Pinto, Esteban Calderón, Karina Fernández ans Natalia Dueñas with Canela Samaniego and Andrés Miño
Gina Manrique and Freddy Cevallos, Logistics and Production Assitants
Juan Esteban Suárez, Logo Design
Mateo García Game, Mediators coordination

Mauricio Rodas Espinel, Mayor of Quito
Daniela Chacón, Deputy Mayor of Quito
María Fernanda Pacheco, Presidenta Patronato
Pablo Corral Vega, Seceatray of Culture
Viviana Maldonado, German Cooperation GIZ
Julio Echeverría, Instituto de la Cuidad
Jorge and Stephanie Gabela, UDLA School of Medicine and Global Health
Bettina Korek, ForYourArt

Unidad Patronato Municipal San José
Secretaría de Inclusión Social
Secretaría de Coordinación Territorial y Participación Ciudadana
Secretaría de Seguridad y Gobernabilidad
Secretaría de Salud
Instituto de la Ciudad
Policía Metropolitana de Quito
Quito Turismo
Empresa Metropolitana de Agua Potable y Saneamiento
Centro de Apoyo Integral ‘Las Tres Manuelas’
Fundación Teatro Nacional Sucre

Escuela de Medicina y Programa de Salud Global de la Universidad de Las Américas
COCOA de la Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Facultad de Artes Universidad Central del Ecuador
Facultad de Arquitectura y Diseño de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
Facultad de Comunicación de la Universidad Salesiana
Cruz Roja de Pichincha
Fundación Tierra NuevaFundación Hierbabuena
Policía Nacional del Ecuador

United States of America Embassy in Ecuador
The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center
German Cooperation in Ecuador (GIZ)
A Blade of Grass Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art
ONU Mujeres
Creative Time’s Global Residency Program by the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation
Diners Club

Photographs featured by Christoph Hirtz.