Colm Craig

Equinox Staff


Amid the recent rash of discriminatory violence and graffiti the need for a voice supporting inclusion and acceptance of difference was met on Thursday, March 29.

The voice was that of Brujo Guillermo Gómez-Peña, a performance artist based in San Francisco and director of the performance troupe La Pocha Nostra.

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According to Gómez-Peña they produce many different types of art, varying from performance to literary and everything in between. The subject matter of Gómez-Peña’s performance this past week, titled “Strange Democracy,” was also varied but focused mostly upon critiquing the exclusiveness and contradictory nature of American society and government.

According to Gómez-Peña, the college approached him to ask him to perform in his first trip to Keene and New England. Gómez-Peña said that he found the audience to be “shy, timid, open, silent, but endearing” unlike his usual audiences which usually participate more and are more engaged. The audience itself consisted of a mix of students, faculty, and other interested people who all sat close together at the front of the room at Gómez-Peña’s request to form a greater sense of community.

Johanna DeBari, a sophomore Sociology and Holocaust Studies major, said that she found the presentation to be a “more broad and emotional presentation than she expected.”

DeBari also said that although the presentation was quite radical, she expected it to be more radical in its critique of democracy from the implications of the title. Debari said one of the most interesting parts of the performance for DeBari was Gómez-Peña’s outfit, which included a leather kilt, shamanistic headdress, cowboy boots, an open chested jacket, and rubber elephant trunk protruding from a patch over his crotch. “The elephant trunk, I’m sorry, I couldn’t handle it. I was like what is going on? I had no idea what that played into it,” DeBari said.

When asked what he hopes his audience will gain from his performance, Gómez-Peña said, “I want to believe that it plants a seed in the subconscious of the audience member that grows throughout the days and weeks following the performance, and that it adds to the reflection process.”

Getting people to reflect is a goal that it seems Gómez-Peña accomplished with at least a few students. Tyler Furtado, a film major, said,“ It was definitely thought provoking, interesting, unique and enthusiastic.”

DeBari said, “It makes you take a step back and think about the people of the system rather than the system itself so it was more personalizing it in a very down to earth way.” Furtado also said, “I didn’t really have any expectations coming in to it,“ and “I was caught a little off guard by the whole piece.”

The uniqueness of Gómez-Peña’s performances comes from the way he personalizes his performances to the community in which he performs.

Gómez-Peña said, “70 percent of the material is scripted and 30 percent is ad libbed. I try to incorporate issues that are important to the local community that I visit, but at the same time I need to talk about issues that may not be pertinent to Keene like immigration. The immigration hysteria is part of the national psyche but it may not be a very present issue here since Keene doesn’t seem to have agricultural farm workers or a huge latino community, but nevertheless I feel it was important to discuss.” Gómez-Peña puts just as much customization into his costume, which he said is different for each performance.

Another topic of the performance was the important and precarious position of art and artists in a community and democracy. Gómez-Peña said, “Art is an integral part of citizenship. An integral part of democracy, and I would like them to think that attending art events, and engaging in art practice is part of being a full citizen and part of being part of an active democracy.” Gómez-Peña said that the artist plays the important role of being an unofficial ombudsman for the outsiders of a democracy.

One part of the performance that stood out for several students was the conclusion in which Gómez-Peña critiqued the common evocation of God in politics.

DeBari said, “I liked the God Bless America part at the end when he relates the religion and politics and the hypocrisy behind it.”

Furtado said, “His final piece addressing us and pulling us in more, everything else was him in his own little world pretty much, the last part really pulled us in.”

With events and presentations promoting diversity, tolerance, and critical thought on campus thanks to the efforts of students and faculty, racial discrimination will be faced with a stark challenge. While students will be challenged to think about difficult topics from diverse perspectives.


Colm Craig can be contacted at


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