“Soy una mujer en esta ciudad, donde todo es de arena… Ser mujer aquí es estar en peligro –I am a woman in this city, where everything is of sand… To be a woman here is to be in danger.” So begins Perla de la Rosa’s Antigona; las voces que incendian el desierto, which debuted in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico in September 2004. With these opening lines, de la Rosa draws a parallel between ancient Thebes and contemporary Juárez, shifting the emphasis of Sophocles’ Antigone to address el feminicido – the murders and kidnappings of hundreds of women in Juárez since 1993. De la Rosa’s Polynices is no longer a male soldier; his body has been transformed into the butchered corpse of a female factory worker. Antigona struck a chord with its audience, as it ran for 250 performances prior to touring Europe. Sophocles’ heroine has also provided inspiration (as well as her name) to a performative group of activist artists in Juárez who call themselves El Colectivo Antigona. In this paper, I examine the symbolic and political significance of Antigone in the border city of Juárez – the epicenter of an ongoing pattern of violence that is nothing short of epidemic.
For much of the twentieth century, adaptations of Greek drama in Mexican theater tended to look backwards, frequently adapting Classical myth and tragedy to reimagine Cortés’ conquest of the Aztec empire and the colonial experience (e.g. Sergio Magaña’s Moctezuma II). Plays such as Medea, The Trojan Women, and Hecuba provided obvious paradigms with which to represent martial subjugation at the hands of foreign powers. However, with the new millennium, a wave of violence against women along Mexico’s northern border has provided a contemporary and domestic context for socially conscious retellings of Greek drama, and a number of recent productions on both sides of the border adapt Classical theater to raise awareness for Mexico’s vanishing women. Several plays produced outside of Juárez have addressed el feminicido through the refashioning of Greek tragedies such as The Trojan Women and Iphigenia in Aulis. However, in Juárez itself, the figure of Antigone has been especially influential. Focusing on Perla de la Rosa’s play, as well as El Colectivo Antigona, I explain why Antigone has found such specific symbolic purchase at this particular place and time, and, while remaining mindful of previous feminist interpretations of Sophocles’ tragedy, I situate Antigone in the political and theatrical discourse of the troubled Mexican city.
In the activist theater of Juarez, the figure of Antigone provides a poignant model for political discourse. As opposed to the colonial context of Magaña’s Medea, the problems besetting the citizens of contemporary Juarez are domestic, and the conflict of Sophocles’ tragedy is further reflected in the city’s outrage against a Mexican government that is increasingly considered authoritarian yet ineffective, and insensitive towards the now hundreds of murdered and missing women. Whereas Iphigenia and The Trojan Women provide theatrical paradigms for exploring vulnerability and victimization, I show that the conflict between Antigone and Creon broadens critical focus beyond the violence itself to the state’s mishandling of its aftermath. Ultimately, de la Rosa and El Colectivo Antigona draw upon Sophoclean tragedy to indict those in power with complicity in the rapes and murders. Sophocles’ heroine is doubly symbolic – she is at once a female victim and a voice for the disenfranchised, refusing to remain silent before an unjust tyrant.