The corporeal activism of Nahui Olin and Nidia Díaz: a feminist performance of social defiance
Calahorrano, Sandy Paola
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This dissertation analyzes the performance praxis of the Mexican poet Nahui Olin (1893-1978) and the Salvadoran guerrilla leader and author Nidia Díaz (1952-). Through their self-representation in images and texts, these two women subverted the discourse of power characteristic of their respective cultural and historical contexts. Whereas Olin carried out her “corporeal activism” through defiant eroticism; Díaz did so through her stoic stance in the face of incarceration and torture. The dissertation carries out visual analyses enriched by attention to literature, and literary analyses informed by visual culture. In their respective approaches to performance these two figures engage with their sociopolitical contexts as they relate to women’s condition and the quest for spiritual liberation. The first chapter presents the dissertation’s theoretical framework. Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and Elaine Scarry’s theories are crucial to understanding the concepts of body, discourse of power, performance, and pain; Gillian Rose’s approach is essential to analyzing images; Lucia Guerra-Cunningham and Rita Felski are fundamental for addressing women’s writing. The second chapter focuses on Olin’s activism, evident in her role as a “flapper,” her transgressive nude photographs and her poems written during the Mexican post-revolutionary period and which were influenced by avant-garde movements. My analysis links the key photograph I call “Nahui Olin Andrógina” with her poetry, centering on the trope of androgyny as a mystic state. The third chapter examines the naïf self-portraits and testimonio found in Díaz’s Nunca estuve sola (in 1988), which she narrates her imprisonment during El Salvador’s civil war of the 1980’s. My analysis centers on the trope of stoicism manifested in her drawing I call “Una ‘mesías’ que deviene en la madre del pueblo” as well as in the prose of her testimonio. Olin’s erotic activism and Díaz’s armed rebellion both represent attempts to achieve human liberation, including their own as oppressed women, and suggested emancipatory paths that may serve as models for others.