Featured in
Issue 235

Dora García Has Many Names 

At M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, the artist’s career retrospective takes influence from Gloria E. Anzaldúa and James Joyce

BY Laura Herman in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 20 MAR 23

Drawing from her three-decade career, Dora García’s retrospective ‘She Has Many Names’, curated by Joanna Zielińska at M HKA, shines a spotlight on the artist’s performance practice through a selection of installations, drawings, films and printed matter, as well as a series of live performances during the show’s run. Opening at a time when performance has only recently returned to exhibition programmes in the wake of COVID-19, this engaging presentation imbues M KHA’s rather enclosed and largely windowless spaces with renewed vitality.

Upon entering the show, my attention is immediately drawn to the durational performance in M HKA’s circular space, in which two performers lock gazes with one another in a cosmic dance (Two Planets Have Been Colliding for Thousands of Years, 2017). When one slowly changes position, the other moves to keep the same distance between them, all the while maintaining eye contact. The performance unfolds in a white arena on the floor of which are painted two non-concentric circles (the planets): the smaller light grey one sitting slightly off-centre inside the larger white one. This is a space of mediation, where bodies are in constant communication, fated to negotiate with each other.

Dora Garcia
Dora García, ‘She Has Many Names’, 2023. Courtesy: the artist and M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art; photograph: © Nathan Ishar 

The circle – a reference, the exhibition literature attests, to both Berthold Brecht’s play The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1948) and to conceptual artist Ian Wilson’s Circle on the Floor (1968) – reappears elsewhere in the museum to demarcate the space for a reading performance of the artist’s growing feminist library (The Labyrinth of Female Freedom, 2020). Since the performance wasn’t scheduled at the time of my visit, a pile of books occupied the space instead. White covers featuring the handwritten names of women poets – including Anna Akhmatova, Alejandra Pizarnik and Miriam Van Hee – effected a ghostly presence while leaving the viewer in suspense until the work is activated.

Dora Garcia
Dora García, ‘She Has Many Names’, 2023. Courtesy: the artist and M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art; photograph: © Nathan Ishar

Echoing the rhythm of the museum architecture, the artist has traced a script along the walls and floors – white chalk marks and circles that guide visitors through the different parts of the exhibition, providing helpful cues to her layered practice. Circularity is a recurring motif, from the cosmos to the continuous upending of linear relationships of cause and effect. This plays out in many of García’s works, such as The Bug Timeline (No. 2) (2021) – four drawing boards inquiring into cyclical theories of history – as well as in her films, which unite her interests in mythology, feminism and queer writing. Amor Rojo (Red Love, 2022), for instance, based on the life of Russian Marxist feminist Alexandra Kollontai, addresses the experience of endless struggle, with each revolution giving rise to new disappointments and hopes.

Dora Garcia
Dora García, ‘She Has Many Names’, 2023. Courtesy: the artist and M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art; photograph: © Nathan Ishar

García’s references are as varied and as ranging as her practice. The retrospective borrows its title from a poem in Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987) by queer Chicana feminist and scholar Gloria E. Anzaldúa, whose work celebrated marginal female figures from mestiza culture. But it also nods to James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake (1939), in which the author bestows the character of Anna Livia Plurabelle with numerous names and identities. A visit to ‘She Has Many Names’ is like reading more than one book at the same time. Shunning the notion of a central thesis and thwarting the constraints of genre often imposed by institutional presentations, García’s practice – which, as the exhibition's glossary indicates, emphasizes the concept of rehearsal – is a perennial work in progress. As its title suggests, this exhibition’s identities are myriad and forever elusive.

Dora García’s ‘She Has Many Names’ is at M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp, until 21 May

Main image: Dora García, ‘She Has Many Names’, 2023. Courtesy: the artist and M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art; photograph: © Nathan Ishar

Laura Herman is a curator and writer currently working at La Loge, a Brussels-based space dedicated to contemporary art, architecture and theory.