Irisdelia Marie Garcia is an electric artist. Bronx-born and raised, their work focuses on their Nuyorican upbringing, as well as memory and how it physically manifests itself. Currently, they are working on a new piece called This House Does Not Exist, in which Irisdelia will build a scale model of their great-grandmother’s living room, which was destroyed in Hurricane Maria in 2017, and invite guests to exist in that living room.
The Indypendent: What are some of your formative creative influences?
Irisdelia Marie Garcia: History is always a deep influence — how it’s permeable and non-linear. My path was shifted when Hurricane Maria happened. It shifted my focus on art as action.
I always gravitated towards Jose Rivera. He’s always been a huge influence on my writing and directing, in how outrageous his writing is, but also so rooted in reality.
Marisol is my favorite play. It’s phenomenal. Raw, brutal, asks some very existential questions on lands and history changing.
Ping Chong is another — not just because he’s my mentor. His approach to documentary, interview-based theater, and interpretation of histories; his using non-performers who are part of those histories — that’s pushed the boundaries of what we think of as performance. He deconstructs and, in a lot of ways, decolonizes what we think of as professional performance. The whole Ping Chong and Company pedagogy is huge for me.
And the community at La Mama and other downtown arts theater spaces. It’s the idea of horizontal networking — of community — which informs a lot of my creative practice.
What is the most beautiful thing the Bronx has given you as an activist and artist?
Oooh-hoo-hoo. Breath, life, blood!
I’m from Kingsbridge, which is a doorstep away from Riverdale and Spuyten Duyvil, some of the richest neighborhoods in all of New York City. In Kingsbridge, there are housing crises, pests, lack of care of buildings — but only five minutes away from $5.7 million houses. I mean, if anything that the Bronx has taught me, I am a doer, I have grit. No shade to any other borough. Sorry Brooklyn.
The Bronx is statistically the poorest borough in the city with the most health issues due to poor infrastructure, along with the highest rate of asthma among children because of surrounding factories and industrial land.
Worse, it’s been perceived as a dangerous wasteland.
But it’s these things — on top of the joys of living in a place that has been untouched — that have taught me what it means to do and honor all that makes it the Bronx, and makes me who I am. You hear it from people who grew up in the hood, ‘Oh, we gotta get out of the hood.’ No, the hood is what made you who you are!
Your work is so political, radical and confrontational. Were you always inclined to be that kind of artist?
I wouldn’t even perceive it as confrontational or radical. For me, my work just is.
I say ‘confrontational’ as a positive thing, a virtue.
Oh, I know! I’ve just been thinking a lot about how to invite an audience into uncomfortable spaces versus making an audience uncomfortable. I’m realizing my goal as an artist is to just say a story. If it lands, it lands. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
My activism sparked in high school, the first time I experienced racism, classism, in explicit ways. I was angry with no language around why I was angry. I went to a predominantly white high school. I went to boarding school after that — oof! My activism there, though very spirited and angry, had no sense of direction. When you’re that angry at 14 or 15 years old, you have no sense of how to direct your anger productively.
Or channeling it in non-dramatic ways.
Listen, I love dramatic anger. This myth around having to use our anger in productive ways — I wanna be so unproductive with my anger sometimes! I wanna stew. I want my anger to destroy me and everyone else around me. I want to know why I’m angry! And that was something missing in that time. Then I got to college and had access to these materials I didn’t have in high school. I started to develop a language, troubleshooting a language that I was experiencing.
In high school, I did a lot of slam poetry that helped me process a lot of these emotions, and a lot of theater.
Would you say that’s why most of your work centers around the body? Because you found yours to be such a tonic for all the anger?
I’m interested in the body as almost this Russian-doll nesting effect. My body is a vessel for happenings 100 years in the past or 100 years in the future. It belongs to legacies of people after and before me.
Much of my work lately has focused on the sterilization of Puerto Rican women between the 1940s and ’60s. My grandmother voluntarily sterilized herself. She didn’t want any more kids. But she was also of the generation of women who were not informed why this was happening. History tells us now that it was a way for the U.S. to control the population of the island and force women into the workplace. So, I’ve been thinking about that legacy in relationship to my relationship with my own body — which I’ve been having a difficult time with after a traumatic event two or three years ago.
And your work reclaims that body, memory and history from those who see it as disposable.
Reclamation. Honoring the series of violent events that allows me to exist in front of you right now. My last name, Garcia, is actually of the slave owner of a man who is Garcia.
There’s so much theater right now about wanting to heal. But what if that can never happen? We got to reckon first.
In times of great despair, what is the best way for an artist to use their work to fight back?
Don’t think about it as fighting back (laughs). My existence in this world is a radical act. To only think about your art as fighting is a disservice to the artist. It will only consume you. If you’re up for the fight? Go ahead.
Do you also think by art just existing, that in of itself is defiant?
To think of our art as utilitarian cheapens the word. When we make something, what am I saying to the world that I cannot say in any other way? I could just tell you a story. But if I put something up on the stage, the story becomes much more.
Art is an embodied experience. And if we just think of it as a sword? No — how are we using it as a house? As a home?
I hate the rhetoric of “we have to use our art for something.” No! The way that people walk is an art. The way that people speak is an art. And for some of those people, the way that we breathe and talk and walk are also radical acts.
So ultimately, it’s expression and speaking.