Intimacy is political

Speech by Pablo Corral Vega, Secretary of Culture of Quito, on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition of the same name at the Quito Metropolitan Cultural Centre

There is one subject in which each of us is an expert, and which no other person in the world knows better: our own life.

No one knows our pains, our anxieties, our fears better. No one has delved so deeply into the insecurities, the emotional origins of our illnesses. No one understands the reason for our resentments and our desires, no one knows better the detail of our loves and dislikes, nor can they see the mark left on us by the great and small violence to which we are all subjected. No one knows the depth of the pain caused in each of us by our dead, or the pain of being abandoned.

When an artist starts from his own experience he has no chance of being wrong. The rest of us can say I don’t like this work, I don’t agree with it, even feel offended by it or don’t want to look at it. But we cannot say to the artist “what you lived is not valid, it doesn’t matter, you shouldn’t communicate it or interpret it in that way”. He or she is an expert in his or her own life. And his or her message, when it is authentic, is transformative.

This is a highly personal exhibition, communicating messages of pain, anger, frustration, but also of hope. We can hear grievances that have been veiled for generations. And of course there are claims that will hurt sensitivities, but which are infinitely less aggressive than the violence to which women have been exposed and are subjected daily.

Here we can see a wide range of approaches to gender issues. I must say that I do not agree with those works that are more crude or blasphemous, not because I am shocked by their content, but because their radicalness alienates the people who most need to adopt an agenda to fight against gender violence and inequality. I believe in the freedom that artists have to express themselves, and I am going to defend it, but the use of offensive symbols on a heritage wall in the city is a political act that is going to hurt many people who profess the Christian faith, and I want to express my annoyance and discomfort.

The Municipality of Quito is not and cannot agree to offend any person, in the name of art or a noble cause such as the one we are all committed to.

Despite my disagreement, I still think it is important that we should be shocked, that we should feel hurt, beaten, not because of the sometimes sweet, sometimes militant, sometimes torn message of the artists, but because of the mistreatment and injustice, because of the discrimination.

When we speak of intimacy, we are referring to that precious, very personal area that no one in the world knows better than we do. It is the territory of tenderness, of desire. Probably the greatest miracle of our existence occurs when we lower the barriers and allow someone else to come closer. Then intimacy is transmuted into a shared intimacy, it becomes a very human dialogue.

There are many forms of gender violence, one of the most frequent being sexual abuse and rape. If we reduce it to its physical, genital environment, we impoverish its meaning. Sexual abuse is above all a violation of consent, a brutal attack on the possibility of choice, the violent destruction of the delicate barrier that protects our tenderness. The uninvited intrusion into the most precious, the most intimate, leaves us marked. He who enters with contempt, with muddy feet, with laziness to the most sacred place that a human being keeps, strips him/her of his/her dignity.

The opposite of sexual violence is consent. And in that wonderful range of consent enters joy, pleasure, play, tenderness, madness, abandonment, recognition of the other, celebration of the other, and also the celebration of our own complexity. We should be more vocal, defending like panthers the right that each one has to live his intimacy with joy and abandonment, in the delicious and human space of consent. Pleasure should be a human right. There are too many women who do not know pleasure, too many people who are stripped of their dignity by their sexual preferences.

When we allow ourselves to observe the political dimension of intimacy, we are forced to be unabashed defenders of tenderness, of consent. We become militant against all forms of abuse, discrimination, machismo. You choose the term, we all become humanists… or feminists.

I believe that gender is one of the social issues that must be addressed in a cross-cutting manner, and it must always be present in what we do. The Ministry of Culture has instructed all the city’s cultural spaces on the need to reflect deeply and systematically on the subject. The Metropolitan Cultural Center in charge of Pilar Estrada, its director, and our guest curator Rosa Martínez, has made a courageous bet. As I said, I do not agree with all the decisions that were taken. But I think it is a necessary show that will force us to reflect on what we do not want to see.

This fight in defence of diversity, of respect is personal, it has to be fought in the first person, from my own, from the most precious intimacy. We are all, absolutely all, paying for this terrible crime of discrimination, male chauvinism and the violation of consent.

How many people do we know who have suffered gender violence? How many friends? There is not a single one of us who has not been a direct or indirect victim.

When I was visiting the exhibition a couple of days ago, my guardian women came to mind, those brave and feminist women who marked me. Each of us has female guardians, women of power. As a prayer, as a mantra, I want to thank some of them, who are no longer here, and ask that each of them greet their mentor women in this risky journey from the intimate to the political…

To those powerful women that each of us knew, thank you. Because they, like these contemporary artists, risk telling the truth, their truth, from tenderness, from indignation, from hope.