LA EXTRAORDINARIA HISTORIA DE JULIA PASTRANA
LAURA ANDERSON BARBATA
Mexican indigenous mezzo soprano Julia Pastrana (b. 1834) was billed as ‘The Ugliest Woman in the World’ by her manager-husband Theodore Lent. Lent exhibited Pastrana, with their infant son, in the United States and Europe, during their lives and after their deaths, both in an embalmed state. The bodies continued to be exhibited in traveling fairs for over one-hundred and thirty years, and in 1994 Pastrana’s body was added to the Schreiner Collection in Oslo, Norway.
In 2005 I embarked on a project to have Pastrana removed from the Schreiner Collection to be repatriated to Mexico for burial. This ten year long negotiation culminated in the successful repatriation of Julia Pastrana to Mexico and on February 12, 2013 her remains were buried in her home state of Sinaloa, Mexico.
This performance introduces Julia and her story and invites audiences to see that the systems of exploitation she suffered during her life and death are still present today. In 2016 I began to work with burlesque artist Fem Appeal, developing the character of Theodore Lent. We began exploring their relationship by unpacking the significance of his and her emotional ties and the social norms that spanned over the one-hundred and fifty-three years that her body was on exhibition. The performance blends storytelling narrative, projected archive materials, critical humor, dance, music, burlesque, costuming and dynamic post-performance conversations with the audience, alongside the production and distribution of a zine only available for audiences attending the performance.
*Miembro del Sistema Nacional de Creadores, México