Thursday, September 23, 2010

Puro Prado: Interview Con La Santa Perversa

Olga García Echeverría

Santa Perversa
dános hoy tus dones de mujer
libéranos de malos amores
pero déjanos noches
de insaciables
--Reina Prado, excerpt from Santa Perversa
*all photo credits are included at the end of this blog.
She’s an artist with many voices and many names. Reina. Prado. Alejandra. Ibarra. Santa. Perversa. And most recently she’s birthed Virginia Buenaventura, a humorous, 40-something-year-old “good girl” on the verge of sexual fruition. When I asked Reina about her multiple names, she laughed and said “I don’t want to be found.” But that’s a joke. A poet, art curator, profesora and performer, Reina Prado’s all about being found and bringing into public spaces that which many times has been deemed private or taboo.

For the past 15 years, Reina’s art has been about muchas cosas—cultura, gender, language, race--but mainly it’s been about digging into the personal, the sensual, unveiling and naming deseos en ambos Inglés and Español. She’s taken poetic entities off the page and onto the stage as well, like La Santa Perversa, a persona that originated in one of her poems as a prayer and then bloomed into a full-fledged creature, walking down the streets of Los Angeles, San Francisco and La Habana, asking strangers to write down their love prayers and pin them on her long, red flowing dress. Over the years, Santa Perversa has gotten hundreds of tiny love petitions. Sometimes the people she’s approached are thrown off-guard. “Huh? What kind of love? Santa Perverted who?” They’ve heard of saints, Santa Teresita, San Miguel, San Martin, but Santa Perversa is new and peculiar. She’s an oxymoron that mingles with the traditional/cultural/religious while simultaneously poking fun and challenging.

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with Reina at Metro Balderas in Highland Park. We munched on quesadillas and pambazos and guiri-guiriamos about life and art. Here are a few things Reina shared about the evolution of her work from poetry to street performance to her latest one-woman show, Whipped!

When did you first start doing your art?
It really started in Tuscon when I was in graduate school finishing up a degree in Art History. I was connected to a community of artists out there, most of them visual artists. We’d hang out, write, and just be creative. It was during that time that I finally paid attention to my writing voice. Graduate school can be very oppressive sometimes, so I needed an outlet.

When did you develop the character of Santa Perversa?

When I came to Los Angeles in 1997, the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) offered me a space to finish my graduate thesis. It was there that I met Alma Lόpez, who was part of a group that didn’t really have a name at that time, but that later became L.A. Coyotas, an inter-generational, multi-genre Chicana art collective. I started attending and supporting their events because I just loved all their work. At some point, they invited me to participate, so it was with L.A. Coyotas that I got a chance to develop my poetry. At that time, I was just reading from the text and I considered myself "just a poet." I didn’t do spoken word or performance poetry. There were so many amazing and supportive female artists in the L.A. Coyotas, like Gloria Alvarez, for example. The actual poem of Santa Perversa came into existence during that time. I had been writing erotic poetry already, but it was through this collective that I finally created this entity.

When did Santa Perversa go from the page to the stage and why?
In 2005, I participated in a late-night, erotica show at Highways that was organized by LeVan Hawkins for National Poetry month. At that time, it had been close to ten years since I had written my collection of poems Santa Perversa (Published by Calaca Press) and I was thinking of different ways to introduce my poetry to people. I still had something to say about those pieces, but I had to make it fresh for myself, so I decided to take Santa Perversa and make her 3D. I played with that idea and developed a piece entitled Take a Piece of My Heart. It was an interactive piece where people wrote their love petitions and pinned them on me like you pin milagros on saints in catholic churches.

What were people’s reactions when you approached them as Santa Perversa?
It varied. In Cuba, I had a very positive response. People were very open and no-one tripped when I asked them to pin their love petitions on me. In Los Angeles, people were a bit stumped.

How did you actually do the street performance? I got dressed up in my long, red dress and flowers and veil and I took Santa Perversa downtown. I basically just started to walk around, approaching people and asking them if they wanted to pin a love petition on me. I videotaped the whole thing and it took around 3 to 4 hours. I rode the metro and showed up at Union Station. There was a wedding there, so in the background Etta James is playing At Last. It was very fitting.

What was it like to take Santa Perversa into the streets?
When it became a street performance that’s when the magic came to life for me and that’s when most of the prayers were pinned on me. I still have all of the love petitions pinned on the dress. I don't remove them and I only read the ones that are open. The closed ones I respect and leave alone because they were placed on the dress a certain way intentionally. I've had wonderful experiences doing the street performance. I had a beautiful moment with a recent widow here in Los Angeles. “I can’t write a petition” she said sadly because her husband had passed. I said, “I understand, but you can be thankful for the love you two shared.” Her son was the one who ended up pinning a love wish on me that day. When they were about to leave, this woman just embraced me. I shared this moment with her, a stranger, where she felt the comfort to reach out and hold me. That’s what the performance is about –an opportunity to engage with people I may not have otherwise met or spoken to or shared a moment with.

Is Santa Perversa representative of you?
A good friend has asked me that several times. When Santa Perversa became three dimensional, she was unveiling herself, but really it was me unveiling myself. I wrote my first collection of poetry Santa Perversa under a pen name, Alejandra Ibarra. It was a collection of erotic poems and I was so shy at the time. I didn’t know how to embrace that energy. I was curious about eroticism and I wanted to be comfortable in my own sexuality, but I was still working through all of that. This is actually how the idea of Virginia Buenaventura, my latest character, evolved. Virginia’s a woman who’s trying to work through all of that, only she’s older and she’s never had sex.

Are Santa Perversa and Virginia Buenaventura destined to come together?
Even though they’re two separate entities they’re both reflective of my process. At some point I want them to meet in the performance. I want Virginia to either have an apparition or learn about Santa Perversa from her cousin, who’s a lot looser than she is and who takes the role of schooling Virginia in sexual stuff. I like the tension between the two characters, Santa Perversa and Virginia—one gives us permission to request and to desire and to claim that desire and the other one doesn’t know how to do that because…well, no one talks about it at the house. They’re two extremes and I want to use these two extremes to engage not just Latinas/Chicanas, but other women of color who’ve had that experience where we don’t talk about sexuality and desire.

I got to see the first excerpt of your piece on Virginia, but I hear you've developed other pieces. Where’s your piece on Virginia Buenaventura currently at and is it part of a larger production?
I’m still not done with the performance and yes it's part of a larger production. The whole piece is called Whipped! The title’s purposefully a bit ambiguous and not easily identifiable in regards to race and gender because I want to play with that. I’ve been creating it in segments. In 2009, I did two excerpts of it at Highways. The first performance was at the 4X4 Festival, where Virginia gets off on a vibrating vacuum cleaner.

I did another excerpt at the New Works Festival at Highways, which was an all-Latina performance night that I curated and produced. In that piece, Virginia’s finger-banging a papaya and there’s this whole discussion of fruta bomba and a hand blender. It’s really about the discovery of el clítoris. Viriginia's exploration of ¿Qué es el clítoris?And the tension of wanting to know her body, but struggling with the ay no, eso no se hace.

How is Virginia Buenaventura different from other pieces you’ve done?
It’s the first solo-show I’ve ever done. I’ve done performance in the past, but always in collaboration with other artists. It’s also been much more physical. I’ve really had to get into my body and figure out how she moves, how she walks, etc. It's good because it gets me out of my head. Since I'm also an academic, I spend a lot of time in my head. With Virginia, I’m forced to just play.

Where will you be performing the next part of Whipped! and when can we expect to see the piece as a whole?
Next year, I would like to tour the piece as a whole. In December, I’ll be performing another segment at La Peña Cultural Center at Berkeley( ). That same month, I’ll also be reading some of my work at Pinta tu Propio Mundo, an annual, all-female literary event organized by poet/singer Leticia Hernandez in San Francisco.
But if you’re local, we’re having an event this coming Saturday, September 25th. It's a great fundraiser for the Studio for Southern California History that I've spearheaded with my writing collective Words With a Purpose. We've taken turns choosing different organizations that we'd like to raise funds for. I chose The Studio for Southern California History because it activates the history and memories of people living in Los Angeles through the public programs, website, and exhibitions. After five years, it's still an invaluable resource to the various communities that make L.A. home.
Thank you Reina for sharing a bit about your art and your creative process with La Bloga. Below is the information for this weekend's event.
Words With a Purpose Event
Saturday, September 25, 2010
7:30 - 10:00 PM

At The Studio for Southern California History
977 N. Hill Street, 90012
Los Angeles, CA

So here's my chance to plug a great event for a great cause! Yes, I'm totally biased because I am part of Words with a Purpose, a writing collective that was founded by poet Liz Gonzalez in 2009. Liz shares that in 2009, she "invited women writers whose work I love and longed to hear more to create a collective with me that would give readings and performances as fundraisers for community organizations in need. We would invite artists, writers, and musicians whose work we love to join us. The fundraisers would bring awareness of the organization as well as much needed funds." In previous events, we've raised funds for the Arroyo Seco Public Library in Highland Park, Imix Bookstore, and KIWA's ESL classes. This is WWP's third fundraiser.

For the occasion writers will share their musings about livin’ and lovin’ L.A.

Words with a Purpose Writer’s Collective include liz gonzalez, reina alejandra prado, and Frankie Salinas and me, Olga Garcia. For the occasion, we have also invited guest artist Ruben Martinez to share his work and music.

Please show your support by donating to the Studio for Southern California History. Suggested Donation $7.00.

Artists' Bios:

Guest Artist: Rubén Martinez. Author and performer Rubén Martínez is Fletcher Jones Chair in Literature & Writing at Loyola Marymount University. He is the author of Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail, among other titles, and as a musician has performed with the likes of Concrete Blonde, Los Illegals and The Roches. Rubén's musical partner Joe "City" Garcia has long brought his unique blend of R&B/Folk Rock/Southwestern/sacred roots influences to his projects in the L.A. music scene.

liz gonzález’s work has appeared in numerous journals, periodicals, and anthologies and will be in the forthcoming anthology Blame the Ugly Mug: Ten Years of Two Idiots Peddling Poetry. She facilitates creative writing workshops at community centers and teaches writing at Long Beach City College and creative writing at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program.

reina alejandra prado just completed a Hothouse Residency through UCLA’s World Arts & Culture Program to continue work on her solo performance Whipped! Her performances and poetry challenge taboos imposed on Latinas by delving into the realm of the erotic.

Frankie Salinas has performed her poetry and memoirs and taught workshops all over the country. She is currently working on an anthology entitled Most Likely to Fail-Extraordinary Success of Ordinary People. Words with a Purpose Writer’s Collective is a L.A. County based group of writers dedicated to making a difference in communities.

For more information check out: or email us or visit our Facebook event page!/event.php?eid=157429200935852

Hope you can join us and hasta next time, Peace & Poetry!
*Reina Prado Photo Credits:
First two photos by Rigo Maldonado
Cuba photo by Leslie GtzySaiz
Virigina Buenaventura touching "El Botoncito" by Jean Dean

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So good to learn more about reina. Such a talented writer-performer!