Last month, a performance artist kissed and licked around 30 pre-Hispanic objects on display at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) — and did so without drawing the attention of staff. museum security.
The performance, by artist Pepx Romero, aimed to draw attention to the sale of ancient artifacts looted overseas, particularly at auction houses in France.
“The action of kissing and licking the objects shows that pre-Hispanic objects are objects of desire in the context of auctions in France”, the artist, who leads a queer arts collective called Traicionexplained to Hyperallergic.
“France, a country known as the luxury capital of the world, has private property laws in its legislation that allow the shameless selling of the historical past of cultures, mainly from less developed countries,” he continued. “The public auction of these valuables has enabled monetary speculation on these important items from different cultures since the 1940s, vandalizing and stripping these items of their historical and symbolic value, turning them into mere decorative items.”
On March 31, Romero strolled through INAH for an hour, sticking his tongue on the lips of stone sculptures in historically themed galleries dedicated to the Gulf, Mexica, Teotihuacán, Toltec and Oaxaca periods, while three partners watched the security guards. . Romero’s actions were filmed and compiled into a video which quickly went viral online.
The video was screened as part of a larger Traición performance at the Music Festival Ceremony held in Mexico City earlier this month.
“It’s a provocation to draw attention to this situation that is happening in auctions,” says the artist in voiceover accompanying one of the videos. “There were auctions this year and they couldn’t be stopped. French laws allow this disgrace…. They prostitute our heritage in front of our noses.
At a press conference, INAH director Diego Prieto said that none of the artifacts Romero interacted with were damaged during the performance. Calling the museum the “safest” in the country, he said there were “no failures in the security systems” of the institution.
“In no museum in the world does every visitor have a guard by their side,” Prieto said. “Approaching a piece from such a close distance is not correct, but in any museum in the world it is possible.”
The sale of pre-Hispanic artifacts abroad has attracted increased attention in recent years as Mexico seeks to bring its heritage home.
In January, ahead of a planned auction of cultural objects in Paris, members of the Mexican government launched a social media campaign titled “Mi Patrimonio No Se Vende (“My legacy is not for sale”).
In February of this year, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke out against sales of pre-Hispanic relics in Franceand ordered INAH to stop responding to auction houses’ requests for information about the objects.
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