Natalia (Nika) Sorzano

Contesting Madness
Contesting Madness is composed and built around four filmic chapters: The Animal, The Water, The Jungle, and The Nightmare. The installation comprises a sculptural structure that resembles human body parts (half an eye and an appendix), video works, paintings and objects. How do we imagine madness? How much of our imagination and perception has been imposed by external agents, including the state, religion, or the family? How can we reimagine, decolonize, or respond to those impositions? These questions lied at the heart of this installation commissioned by TENT in Rotterdam, which drew on research developed over five years. 

Inside the bodily structure, a universe unfolds with video screens, props from the filmic material and intervened everyday life objects such as wigs, mannequins (limbs), sleeping bags turned into snakes, fences with viscous liquids dripping, spider webs, and clothing. Crucial to how this project materializes is the blending of different vocabularies, artistic mediums, and affective registers that are both challenging and playful. I bring into the physical space of the installation the multiple universes created for the films, thus inviting the viewer to touch, hear, see, and move with that which is imperceptible and yet so present, our imaginings entangling. 

In the films I stage performative responses to texts and enunciations with the participation of guests and myself. I layer sound, symbols and hybrid imagined characters that I extracted from conversations I staged around perceptions of madness and magic with the different invited guests. In four filmic chapters and their spellbinding soundtrack, the work underscores histories of subjugation at the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and class. In the chapter The Water I address the impact of coloniality and diasporic movement over perceptions of sanity. The Animal contrasts a colonial discourse that reduces pejoratively the ‘other’ as animal, by honoring a return to nature and animality that resists modernity’s dichotomies between human and nature, body and mind. In the chapter The Nightmare I address the systemic violence of institutional bio-politics inflicted on ethnic minorities, impoverished communities, women and sexual dissidents. And in the chapter The Jungle I touch upon the capacity of the body to speak beyond language and exist beyond legibility, while finding itself limited and/or invited to access secret knowledge. Contesting Madness explores how these histories continue to influence perceptions, representations, and interpretations of illness and healing while travelling through liminal spaces beyond dominant conceptions of sanity.

I made this project by conducting a situated inquiry specifically in the city of Rotterdam that brought together a series of conversations with different people and theoretical material, while I moved across the clashes between traditions of mysticism and rational thought. Starting from lingering questions around classifications of mental illness within specific cultural contexts and different genealogies of healing, my work addressed the coloniality of madness, a construction that Europeans carried across the ocean, projecting their fantasies, fears, and prejudices onto colonized peoples and territories.

In 2016, during a personal search about Santería in the city of Rotterdam, I met the social leader Fred Fitz-James, a cultural and spiritual leader who gifted me a book about the Surinamese spiritual practice, Winti. In a chapter of the book, the author Henri JM Stephen (western medicine doctor and Winti healer) describes the imposition of western medical thought on other cultures: "[...] We realize that, in general, diseases always have a cultural side, the way we see them, verbalize them and classify them, and the way in which we cure them is determined by our culture [...] "(H. Stephan). 

Thanks to this gift I began a relational research process that entailed facilitating conversations with a series of people and living in the city of Rotterdam who had different relations to magic and the mental health system in the Netherlands. Together we de-constructed and questioned our perceptions about ‘madness’, engaging in collective imagining. This exercise served to affect our sensibilities and see how the Other is within us and therefore, challenge the notions of absolute identities, fixed subjectivities and cultural purism (Gilroy).

Collaborators: RAM Supermarket operator (anonymous), Merel Hooijer, Virgil Zaalman, Floortje Meijer, Esdra Baris, Winti healer (anonymous), Lianne Rueb and Johanna and Vanita Monk. 

Collaborators: RAM Supermarket operator (anonymous), Merel Hooijer, Virgil Zaalman, Floortje Meijer, Esdra Baris, Winti healer (anonymous), Lianne Rueb and Johanna and Vanita Monk. 

This work has been shown in:

Rijswijk Museum, Rijswijk, 2024
Tent, Rotterdam, 2021
Tale of a Tub, Rotterdam, 2020
Paraíso Bajo, Bogotá, 2019
Tender Center, Rotterdam, 2018


Videos Featuring- Isabel Marcos, Natiti X, Kari Robertson, Alba Cecilia Londoño, Johanna and Vanita Monk, Virgil Zaalman, Céline Wouters.
Textile wizard - Janneke Raaphorst
Music - Natiti X, Johanna and Vanita Monk, Nika.
Eye ball spirals - Menno Verhoef
Boat Driver - Tracy Hanna
Painting - Mario Alario, Maria Alejandra Duque, Milán Piqué, Frida
Camera - Natalia (Nika) Sorzano, Erika Roux, Santiago Pinyol
Production - Céline Wouters
Direction, Editing and Mixing - Natalia (Nika) Sorzano.

This work was made with the support of the CBK Rotterdam (O&O Grant). 

Images by Aad Hoogendoorn

The eye installation was commissioned by curator Katayoun Arian for the exhibition Who Wants to Live in a World. Without Magic? At TENT Rotterdam 2021.

Special thanks to: 

Anke Bangma and TENT

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