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Artist Regina José Galindo's video Himenoplastia (Hymenoplasty) and the trafficking of virgin girls

Regina José Galindo, a Guatemalan artist, performer and poet has a show at Exit Art in New York through Nov. 21st. I wasn't that familiar with her work until I read an article about her in The Brooklyn Rail:

Regina José Galindo’s practice is the embodiment of Akira Kurosawa’s dictum, “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes,” and she challenges the viewer to do the same, even as she’s carving the word “perra” (“bitch”) into the flesh of her thigh.

I first encountered Galindo’s work in the Arsenale section of the 2005 Venice Biennale—three performance videos and a large gray cube where she hid during the first five days of the exhibition and whipped herself 256 times for the number of women systematically murdered in Guatemala so far that year. The three videos, “Skin,” “Who can erase the traces?” and the notorious “Himenoplastia,” are part of the current exhibition at Exit Art—Galindo’s first solo in New York.

Much of her work deals with political violence, especially against women–and it's not pretty. In one of her most graphic works, titled Himenoplastia (Hymenoplasty) she videotapes her own (botched) hymen reconstruction surgery. There's a still of her video here.

This is a common procedure sought out by women prior to their wedding nights. It's also performed on girls in sex trafficking rings to feed the demand for 'virgins,' real or otherwise. Galindo talks about it in an interview with BOMB Magazine. Here are some excerpts:

One day in April I was reading the newspaper, and I saw an article about reconstructing the hymen. Then I saw a classified ad purporting to restore virginity. I went to the advertised place, which was a bit seedy, and interviewed the doctor.

...I showed him my work, and we broached the idea of filming the process. He agreed to do it for a certain amount of money.

I went to the clinic several times to observe the women who were patients there. I spoke with the doctor several times too, and he told me the stories of many of his patients. The majority of the patients want to regain their intactness for their wedding. They do it to gain a certain social status. In other cases, children and adolescent victims of sex trafficking are operated on so that they will fetch a better price. It is preferable to buy a virgin girl not only because of her virginity but also because it is considered better protection against STDs.

The operation was quick. Half an hour. Painful. Chaotic.

We left, feeling happy that it was over. In Belia’s car, I began to feel a warm liquid between my legs, flowing more and more with every passing second. We drove back to her house and I put on a sort of diaper, but nothing could stop the flow. Then we went to my gynecologist’s clinic—my doctor there had been seeing me for years, and had asked to examine me after the operation—and from there to the hospital.

Everything happened so fast. They dressed me in a gown, laid me on a bed, stuck an anesthetic in my arm, and as I was fading into sleep I could hear the nurses talking among themselves, feeling sorry for me as they had for the many other girls who had been admitted to the hospital bleeding from a botched medical procedure, be it an abortion or a hymenoplasty.

I'm reluctantly going to see this show, although just contemplating it disturbs me. I'll let you know what I think once I've seen it.

Also in New York, but ending this weekend, is "Journey," a multi-artist installation that depicts the experience of being a sex trafficking victim. More info here.