Performance artist Martinez builds a wall and tells blunt truths in a fine new show
Building a wall can be at once a tough and tender act. There’s the brute force of hulking around bricks, sand and cement. And there’s the delicate caress of a shovel as it strokes square edges, the gentleness of placing and aligning. It’s a neat visual summary of the contradictions of Ursula Martinez’s witty, introspective performance. As she literally walls herself in, the simple act of laying bricks is accompanied by unvarnished truths, both harsh and intimate.
Each admission, memory, or opinion is prefaced with ‘Sometimes’. They range from hilarious accounts of teenage humiliation in sex education lessons, to her divorce-in-progress, to mock professional jealousy (she performed alongside Catherine Tate once), to her innermost thoughts, to her dreams of how the world could be. ‘Sometimes,’ she states, ‘I think that one day gender will be outdated as witchcraft, or chivalry.’
But her flat, neutral tone means she’s not coming down on either side of her wall. She baldly states that she’s been accused of racism, but her monotonous delivery is criticism enough of the bigoted 1970s playground rhymes she recites, or of the Jamaican and Spanish accents that bubble up unbidden when she remembers her mother, and her wife.
It’s a world away from her notorious striptease number ‘Hanky Panky’, performed as part of popular cabaret show ‘La Clique’: there’s a real feminist bite to her recitals of Facebook comments from men about her body, treating them as mere playground ditties. When Martinez strips here, it’s not for these salivating fans. It’s a full-frontal statement and demonstration of honesty, vulnerability and power.
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