Tomasa Del Real is a Chilean Reggaetonera who, through self-fashioned performances, investigates possibilities for Latin American women’s pleasure and desire. Her work appears at the intersections of digital-tech development, consumer culture, and the gendered “tropical” identity badge. Del Real deliberately positions her production under Reggaeton’s umbrella and the space the genre holds in U.S. mainstream culture, entangling itself in a trail of complex colonial histories. This essay presents Del Real’s 2016 video performance Arena Modernísima, focusing on the visual composition rather than lyricism and sonic aspects of the work. Del Real is the protagonist in this production characterized by a techno-visual language, which combines elements of futurity, hybridity, and sensuality. This video draws from Reggaeton’s sonic and socio-economic aspects in order to destabilize limiting notions of place, gender, and sexuality that have appeared with the genre’s mainstream form.
Musicologist Wayne Marshall better describes the genre as mobile, fluid, and working through a socio-cultural constellation. Reggaeton’s power performs as a mode of cultural-techno criticality, pointing toward the superstructures that continue to enable its very appearance. For nearly ten years, the genre’s particular hybrid composition has been gradually left behind by its absorption into the U.S. mainstream market. Through this incorporation into the mainstream, the genre has adopted a visual form exploitative of tropical landscapes, extreme consumerism in the form of expensive cars, resorts, clothes, and women. An early example of this is the 2006 music video Oye mi Canto by N.O.R.E., additionally featuring Daddy Yankee, Gemstar, Big Mayo, and Nina Sky. For the most part in this video, women from different nationalities across the Americas and Caribbean are showcased in a bikini-like fashion, with mini tops noting the name of their respective countries. These women sensually appear as they dance with hip movements in a line formation, each next to their corresponding large-scale national flag. The foreground mainly features artists Daddy Yankee and N.O.R.E. singing in direct visual engagement with the viewer, moving around these women. The arrangement of women mimics a sort of window display; a decorative (“pleasurable”) backdrop for the singers and viewers. The singers are styled with expensive branding and shiny chains and watches. The overall background of this video, where all these nationalities and women simultaneously stand, is a brightly colored sunny beach.
Del Real’s Reggaeton work responds to the cultural threats of the mainstream by working through a critical return to hybridization – of rhythms, lyrics, production methods, music and visual technologies, music cultures, and diasporic points-of-origin. Furthermore, Del Real invokes these elements to instigate the appearance of feminist knowledge production within the genre today.
The Arena Modernísima’s  immoderate use of high-tech visual and sonic effects—a common characteristic of the overall Reggaeton sub-genre Neo-Perreo or Reggaeton del Futuro—bring about relevance to the tools that the genre initially provided. These tools have taken on the form of a curious opening towards the possibilities for sound, editing, production, and dissemination derived from developing technologies. Rather than a corruption of certain Latin American and Caribbean music’s sense of poetry and melody, as the genre has been highly perceived, it has conveyed an experimentation unrestrained by such mandates of taste, contesting the frame of possibilities, not only for production and distribution of sound/rhythm, but also for intersectional discourses in regard to diasporas, sexuality, and consumerism in those territories.
A cyborg is a figure which has been generally defined as part technology and part human. In her article “New Sciences: Cyborg Feminism and the Methodologies of the Oppressed” (published as a part of The Cyborg Handbook in 1995), the scholar Chela Sandoval can be read as attributing the power of the “cyborg” to its hybridity, fueling the figure’s potential to create “effective forms of resistance under postmodern cultural conditions.” Sandoval’s particular cyborg, which is understood as a decolonial tool for U.S. third world feminism, is described as “mobile, flexible, diasporic, schizophrenic, and nomadic” (Sandoval 409). This figure provides a rich vocabulary that is useful in describing this video work’s visual language. Citing this motion-oriented terminology, this video expresses a frenzy of experimentation with visual technologies—an untidy use of image source and content layered and mixed with an extravagant amount of kitschy and synthetic-appearing editing effects derived from “the selfie,” and the internet-based aesthetics of the 90s and present. These varied effects can take the specific form of pink filters, extreme brightness, diplopian or double-vision effect, square formatting/frame of the internet window, and looping and overdone animations in the video.
Del Real invokes this flexible constitution as a tool to tease mainstream Reggaeton’s flattened readings of context. At the beginning of the video, we see Del Real strutting as if she was on a catwalk through a desolate plain or desert-like beach. This very first image, pumped with a candy pink translucent filter of brightness, shows Del Real in a landscape that is not quite a beach nor a desert. If familiarized with Del Real’s latitude, the viewer could decipher this place as a beach in Iquique, located in South Pacific, Chile. The introduction of this image which lingers between blurriness and specificity amplifies Reggaeton’s landscape. The image increasingly plays with its sharpness and brightness, appearing luscious. Before the end of the first minute of the video, the space becomes so blurred and saturated in light, that it begins to reads as a pool of pinkish gold. With these visual transformations, the “tropical” infused Latin American and Caribbean fantasy—sol, playa y arena, as Reggaetonero Tito el Bambino’s 2007 hit is entitled—is destabilized.
Arena Modernísima presents the natural landscapes and elements through the sources of the digital and vice versa, opening a path toward a liminal landscape—one that lies between defined spaces or acts as a transition. This liminal landscape is not a space in between the digital space and nature but an end in itself, a place which complicates and opens up the ways in which technology and nature can relate to one another. This move here, beyond deepening Reggaeton’s physical territorial scape, incorporates the space of the digital onto its mapping. This aspect is particularly important when pointing toward the relevance of the web in connecting the members of the greatly diasporic sub-genre Neo-Perreo—including locations such as the UK, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, and Sweden.
Throughout this playful set of transitions and unreadable landscape, Del Real is performing a dance of seduction. The artist fashions herself with short jeans, a bra, and military-style boots while moving her body in poses of tentative sexiness: a side-to-side soft movement of the hips, sitting with open legs and a circular movement of the torso emphasizing her breasts, a descent in profile while drawing her butt out toward the onlooker. Del Real’s conscious performance of a game of pleasure literally takes place in and through illegibility and uncertainty. This space of uncertainty serves as a site for Del Real to perform the provoking and sexualized poses, as observed in the mainstream form of the genre, under her own terms and for her own pleasure.
A new layer is added to the image of Del Real in the desert, a disorganized conflation of symbols appearing to have no commonalities: holograms of a pink Nike and Adidas logos, a text in Arabic, what appears as an indigenous symbol, and a black tennis shoe equal in height to the artist. The holographic quality of these symbols transports the viewer from a sense of image as “real” space to image as flat digital space. In this section, the image of Del Real becomes translucent, transposing her figure to the background, while the holograms, gaining density, come to the foreground. This shift mimics the format of a T.V. commercial designed to market those brands. These holograms (particularly the shoe) are also expressed with a sense of absurdity by the excess of their dimensions. This absurdity is also present in Del Real’s company in the desert—a couple of pink stuffed animals. Through the element of absurdity, these conflations of same-size symbols with Del Real’s figure in the pseudo-natural landscape, a kind of surrealist space, come to be an act of simultaneous flirting with and ridicule of the rapid immersion in consumer culture that the genre has undergone.
In analyzing the title of the work itself, Arena Modernísima, in relation to Del Real’s nomination of the genre as ‘El Reggaeton del Futuro’, we can position Del Real and the space she occupies as a future-now. This door into the future is not opened by the technological components of the image; instead, this pathway emerges through the hybrid compositions that are presented. By embedding herself in this hybrid world, Del Real seems to belong to this future.
Arena Modernísima specifically focuses on the capabilities of the genre to house and produce an alternative, decolonial, and feminist discourse, and one that is neither overly sanitized nor moralized. The artist creates “dirty” spaces, spaces para “que se coman, que se culeen” (spaces for people to fuck, as she has stated) through a simultaneous “working on, with and against” Reggaeton’s variating form and elements through time (Muñoz 207). In this way, Del Real’s Visual Reggaeton complicates the spatial and temporal connotations of mainstream Reggaeton through a critical return to the very hybrid space that gave origin to the genre—a move away from a hyper-local territorial imaginary to a fluid sense of location that moves through digital spaces, diasporic identities, glocal economies, and dirty feminine futurities.
See the article “Exotic Exports: The Myth of the Mulatta” by Raquel Mendieta Costa, included in part I of the compilation of essays “Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas” edited by Coco Fusco, 2005. ↩
Lyrics made in collaboration with Boris Castro and video made in collaboration with Enciclopedia Color. ↩
See http://www.radioformula.com.mx/notas.asp?Idn=672913&idFC=2017 ↩
Aranke, Sampada. Personal conversations. Fall, 2016.
Enciclopedia Color, and Tomasa Del Real. “Arena Modernísima.” Youtube. 8 May, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKGjeRch2no.
Guzmán, Javier Joshua, and Christina A. León. ‘Cuts and Impressions: The Aesthetic Work of Lingering in Latinidad.” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 25.3 (2016): 261-76. 19 Apr. 2016. Web.
Marshall, Wayne. “From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino: The Cultural Politics of Nation, Migration, and Commercialization.” Reggaeton. By Raquel Z. Rivera, Wayne Marshall, and Deborah Pacini Hernández. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2009. 302-1122. Kindle Books.
Muñoz, José Esteban. “Feeling Brown: Ethnicity and Affect in Ricardo Brancho’s The Sweetest Hangover (and Other STDs).” Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader. By Michael Roy, Hames-García and Ernesto Javier Martínez. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. 203-30. Kindle Books.
Sandoval, Chela. “New Sciences: Cyborg Feminism and the Methodologies of the Oppressed.” The Cyborg Handbook. By Chris Hables. Gray. New York: Routledge, 1995. 407-22. Print.