On April 20th of this year, during one of the dozens of demonstrations against Nicolás Maduro’s government in the last months, 27-year old Hans Wuerich undressed before a group of National Bolivarian Police officers. Bible in hand, he managed to climb one of the police tanks; he descended after exchanging a few words with the officers, his back covered in pellet shots. Then he walked home, still naked, and his family healed his wounds (or so Hans himself told Climax magazine). Professional and amateur photographs abound in protests –at least in Caracas–, so in a matter of minutes the images of Hans raising his arms and waving his Bible were on everyone’s screens.
Public reactions, both condemnatory and condescending as well as glorifying and even “messianic”, emerged immediately. For me, the scene initially provoked an immediate comparison with the performance work of Érika Ordosgoitti, whose discourse has interested me for several years and with whom I had the opportunity to speak in an exchange published by Atlas magazine a few months ago. What Érika does has many subtleties and encompasses different formats and strategies, but, generally speaking, it has become a reference for the questioning of public space through the naked body. However, with the passing of the days and after reading subsequent statements by Hans Wuerich himself, I understood that his was perhaps a more precarious proposal and that it came from a different place; however, it certainly holds important similarities with Érika’s performances. In both cases, Hans and Érika confront the public space, which is besieged by patriarchal-military forces, with their vulnerable bodies, thus sensitizing –through the photographic capture, and not only with their actions in real time– their audience to the issues of marginality and violence.
Much has been already said, and I don’t mean to over-analyze what Hans Wuerich did on the Francisco Fajardo highway that day, but I also think that not talking about it in these terms means conceding too much space to the malicious, sexist interpretations that I found when I Googled his name (keep in mind that, within hours of his appearance, the President of Venezuela made a joke about the size of Hans’s penis on public television). News portals sympathetic to the government refer to Hans as “the opositor (member of the opposition) who set up a show on the freeway,” claim that he was drugged during the event, and they have even found out what kind of pension his father (of immigrant descent, they are quick to note) receives, so as to bring “shame” to his family. All of this because of a naked, injured body.
In an interview with Clímax magazine a few days after his jump to “fame”, Wuerich stated that his actions had been premeditated (not, as I thought, a spontaneous reaction to the siege of tear gas and pellets). He mentioned that he felt the wave of protests thus far needed “something that really created attention,” and that he searched Google for references: “I read about people who stripped naked in Spain to protest bullfighting. I also saw some women undressing against Trump. And a woman in Brazil who did more or less what I did, but she could not stand it. She ran off with the pellets. Of course, I also saw the old lady who stood in front of the tanks here in Caracas.” Even if he did not express it or the published interview did not reflect it, he was clearly referring to ways of protesting individually with the body and through nudity.