Searching for Bruno, Still
Leaflet promoting the intervention Searching for Bruno by Lukas Avendaño in Oaxaca, 2019.
Antigone does not exist. Antigone is not a political entity.
She has no political existence. She is invisible because of her position as a woman.
In my case, I am invisible because of my socio-economic position,
because of my gender and ethnic adscription, because of my peasant position, and so on.
I am invisible. That is why “I am less than less than nobody,”
claims Lukas Avendaño, performance artist, activist, and anthropologist, speaking about the various social disappearances that precede, and sometimes lead to, the physical one: the multiple disappearances experienced by peasants, working class people, indigenous people, migrants, women and/or, as himself, muxes: muxeidad is often stereotypically defined as ‘third gender’ or, as Lukas explains, a complex cultural ecosystem of Zapotec Indians from the Tehuantepec Isthmus in the South of Mexico.
On May 10, 2018, his brother Bruno disappeared. Lukas has initiated since then a struggle on various levels (political, juridical, cultural) in order not to simply make visible the issue of more than 70.000 (officially registered) disappeared persons across Mexico in the last decade, but to clarify it. The intervention Searching for Bruno is born as a denunciation; initially performed at the Mexican Consulate in Barcelona and then in various cultural and academic contexts in Mexico. Avendaño holds in his arms his brother’s photo, with the inscription “Justice for all the disappeared persons in Mexico,” as well as a 36-page document arguing, in legal terms, that the constitutional and human rights of himself and his family have been violated by the Mexican authorities. As Lukas points out, people like him are considered subjects worthy of attention only to the extent that they can articulate a discourse based on positive law. Conversely, the invocation of customary law leaves them invisible.
At the same time, Lukas explains that his clothing, as a sort of armor, confirms his provenance and fight to be listened to, while impressing on his very body the archaeology of his racial and gender memory. The image he creates is related to Frida Kahlo’s painting The Two Fridas (1939) and, further, to The Two Fridas (1989) of the performance duo Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis (The Mares of the Apocalypse) by the Chilean poets Pedro Lemebel and Francisco Casas. Yet, in contrast to the wedding dress of the painting, the minuscule portrait of Diego Rivera, the blood or the veins of the open heart, Lukas’s black clothing clearly refers to mourning. The participants in his performance are dressed in the traditional female clothing of the Tehuanaa, the Zapotec woman of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec: a figure which has been pivotal to the construction of Mexican identity during the 1930s and has been symbolized by Frida Kahlo, among others. Through Lukas’ palimpsestic reappropriation, the image of the Tehuana returns to its initial context.
In the version presented at the Hemispheric Encounter of Performance and Politics in 2019, Lukas has his whole body covered, marking a before and after in relation to disappearance. The performance Searching for Bruno leads to the action Call to the Authorities, which clearly refers to the forensic surgeons, the ones responsible for finding the bodies.
On November 12, 2020, Bruno’s remains were discovered at a mass grave. They have been identified through DNA tests. “How can you mourn, with so many questions still without answer?” Lukas asks. For him, mourning is not completed with the funeral: “I have to discover why this happened to my brother,” together with thousands of people who, throughout Mexico, create communities of mourning and claim justice, they turn their agony to agonism, and they insist on searching for disappeared bodies which, as they well know, rarely come back alive.