In a defiant response to Columbus Day, artist Emilio Rojas performed “The Lion’s Teeth” at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) on October 12. In the second floor event space of the Sharp Building, the eight-minute stop-motion performance film consisted of tropical fruit, naked bodies, a 16th Century European history book, and Rojas’ collection of approximately 15,000 dandelions (and 300,000 dandelion seeds). The dandelions presented in the performance were used as symbols of colonization.
“Dandelions,” Rojas told the small group of students seated on Sharp’s plushy furniture, “were a native plant to Europe.”
Rojas, a Mexico City native, is a multi-disciplinary artist who has performed in 12 different countries including Mexico, Canada, France, and Japan. He works primarily in performance, yet his art involves extensive use of sound and video elements. A recurring theme in his work poses this question: “Who came before?” When creating, he asks himself, “How do I decolonize the body?” Currently, Rojas is pursuing an MFA in performance at SAIC.
“SAIC is more receptive to cultural and social change on a theoretical level. I did not expect the awareness and interest of indigenous resistance to be so receptive here,” said Libia Bianibi, student leader for Indigenous @ SAIC and Graduate Curatorial Assistant at the Student Union Galleries. “The school has been very supportive which makes it easier to talk about a topic like indigenous resistance. SAIC’s platform and initiative to collaborate is very helpful to my practice.” Bianibi also said that she wants to create an audience for Rojas and other indigenous artists at SAIC.
After the talk, Rojas encouraged the audience to participate in a performative walk towards the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park. Rojas’ video performance can be seen on YouTube, and his other performative pieces can be seen on Vimeo, or his website.