by: May Santiago , February 6, 2024
by: May Santiago , February 6, 2024
The term ausencia connotes absence, abyss, void, and multiple synonyms that underscore lack. Yet, lack does not exclude existence nor presence. It is a concept that embodies a ‘without’—a framework that necessitates a record. This was the starting point for Ausencia—a lack of women in the genre cinema scene of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is often nicknamed the oldest colony in the world: a political, social, cultural, economic, and legal status that disavows record-keeping to the people who have inhabited the archipelago for generations amidst shifting colonial systems. The marginalised within the colonial system itself —women, dark-skinned Boricuas, the queers, the poor—are further subjugated and absent in the histories multiple oppressors have fashioned for la isla del encanto (the island of enchantment). As Puerto Rico remains in political limbo, a patriarchal, syncretic culture dominates the public and private spheres of the nation. The rate of violence against women is one of the highest in the world, a rate that increased so severely during the pandemic that the Puerto Rican government called a state of emergency in 2021 to assemble a committee to educate the nation’s populace on gender violence (Delgado 2023). Who dictates culture, how it is represented and disseminated, and who has access to a platform or any semblance of a record are directly tied to these issues of marginalisation across gender, identity, and sexuality.
I understand through lived experience these marginalisations. I also understand how films, film industries, and film cultures are created through my education and training—as essayist, archivist, historian, and puertorriqueña—but I am limited in what I can speak of about the record of any genre cinema industry in Puerto Rico, or consistent film industry overall. I can pull up statistics, laws, and court cases, but I cannot replace the archive with my own hopes and dreams. What I can do is: bear witness through narrativisation; challenge the archive with testimony; create in the presence of absence. Genre cinema is often conceived as the manifestation of cultural anxieties.
When there is an absence of these metaphorisations in the archive, does that mean that a culture does not embody anxiety? Or does this absence of genre cinema instead indicate the dominant mode of survival for marginalised Puerto Ricans as a specific necropolitics, one that requires resilience to be embodied in the death-world horrors of Puerto Rico’s cultural, political, legal, and social limbo (Mbembe 2003)? Are embodied horrors too frequent, daily, lived-in for metaphorisation? Does an absence of genre cinema make Puerto Rican subjectivities any less salient than the prolific genre outputs of other Latin American countries?
Horror is defined by lack and abjection. To cross the border of with, to live permanently without, is the reality for many Puerto Ricans of the past, present, and future. But their presence and existence in spite of these abject realities breathes life into these ausencias of the record. Combining speculative fiction, colonial footage obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, present-day footage of Puerto Rico’s century-old abandoned movie palaces, citations from Laura Briggs and José A. Hernández Mayoral, and embodied documentarian performance, Ausencia is an essay film that explores the concept of horror and gender within Puerto Rico’s film and colonial history. It speaks to the idea of absence through presence and a negation of lack meaning directly without. In Ausencia, the voice of Puerto Rican women and their metaphorical presence on the record is refracted through a metanarrative study of Puerto Rico’s film industry. Ausencia centers these multiple intersections by using the cinema itself as the embodiment of space, place, and time throughout Puerto Rico’s long, colonial history.
Delgado, Anjanette (2023), ‘What the Women of the World’s Oldest Colony Know About Violence,’ New York Times, 12 June 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/12/opinion/puerto-rico-gender-violence.html (last accessed 14 November 2023).
Mbembe, Achille (2003), ‘Necropolitics’, Public Culture, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 11-40.
WHO SUPPORTS US
The team of MAI supporters and contributors is always expanding. We’re honoured to have a specialist collective of editors, whose enthusiasm & talent gave birth to MAI.
However, to turn our MAI dream into reality, we also relied on assistance from high-quality experts in web design, development and photography. Here we’d like to acknowledge their hard work and commitment to the feminist cause. Our feminist ‘thank you’ goes to:
Dots+Circles – a digital agency determined to make a difference, who’ve designed and built our MAI website. Their continuous support became a digital catalyst to our idealistic project.
Guy Martin – an award-winning and widely published British photographer who’s kindly agreed to share his images with our readers
Chandler Jernigan – a talented young American photographer whose portraits hugely enriched the visuals of MAI website
Matt Gillespie – a gifted professional British photographer who with no hesitation gave us permission to use some of his work
Julia Carbonell – an emerging Spanish photographer whose sharp outlook at contemporary women grasped our feminist attention
Ana Pedreira – a self-taught Portuguese photographer whose imagery from women protests beams with feminist aura
And other photographers whose images have been reproduced here: Cezanne Ali, Les Anderson, Mike Wilson, Annie Spratt, Cristian Newman, Peter Hershey