project image
Gisselle Diaz

first performed on August 18, 2020
The artist's apartment, a Catholic school and Church parking lot, and the Joshua Tree desert.
performed once in 2020


Dino Dinco, Kirstyn Hom, Gisselle Diaz

San Diego, CA


“In Her Own Image” is a series of performances for camera that subverts the conventions of Catholic representation and symbolization of women to offer a more expansive female futurity. In this work, I explore my trauma as a queer woman who grew up in Catholic faith and education spaces.

To conceptualize these performances, I reviewed Roman Catholic literature, history, ritual practices, and art, which revealed that conventional portrayals of Eve, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene ascribe negative and harmful stereotypes to women. These unrealistic roles, i.e. the perpetual virgin, are conceived by the patriarchal institution to control women’s bodies and scrutinize any performance of womanhood.

I also considered how contemporary female artists engage with these conventions when appropriating Catholic symbols in their work to contribute to the ongoing conversation of female empowerment. Critical analysis of music videos, fine art performances, and live music performances showcased how female artists utilize established symbols and rituals to subvert stereotypes and reclaim power over and autonomy of their bodies, sexuality, and identity from the Catholic institution.

My performances deal with significant aspects of my relationship to Catholicism. “Baptism” addresses the indoctrination of stigmatized ideals of womanhood as I bathe my body and a mirror in red paint. A chant of terms associated with women in Catholicism, like “nun,” “prostitute,” “mother,” and “beata,” accompany the choreography. In “Penance” I purge these misguided understandings of femininity at the main site of my trauma: a Catholic school. I recite the Act of Contrition as I pound my chest, causing the rose on my shirt to bleed, thus twisting a symbol of the Virgin Mary. I then set fire to a Bible to initiate the transition from cleansing to freedom. “Prayer of Freedom” concludes the series with moments of surrender and self-acceptance. In this final act, I take inspiration from desert spirituality, and Mary Magdalene’s hermitage in particular, to create images of female divinity. I don a spiked halo crown and reconfigure the traditional sign of the cross to reflect my discoveries of Catholic femininity: I touched my head, pelvis, and breasts while repeating the phrase, “In the name of the mystic, the whore, the virgin, the mother.” The piece ends with a prayerful confession about the emotional turmoil and revelations I encountered in my journey to liberation.