Magda Polo «We believe we can provide tools to reinforce gender identity therapies through art»

Dr. Magda Polo, from the Faculty of Geography and History, has always been in contact with knowledge transfer in relation to leisure and culture. Now, however, she has a project that connects the humanities with science to improve health in the transgender community.

What is the focus of your research?

I specialized in aesthetics, arts theory and, specifically, music philosophy, and focused on German Romanticism and contemporary music. I had the opportunity to participate in a Master’s Degree in Music Therapy, and there I came into contact with the healthcare sector and the effects that music has on the body, mood, and so on. Thinking about the applications of music in the field of healthcare, I met a number of people who were working on transgender issues, and we tried to find out whether the health professionals working on gender identity used any specific resource or not, and whether we, as a group, could create some kind of additional tool that would help them advance some of their therapies. I noticed a gap, and we discussed the creation of some kind of resource that was to be validated by healthcare professionals to help them develop therapies. The aim was also to help patients, so that they can receive a wealth of information from the arts and realize that theirs is not a pathology, but simply a matter of accepting some things that our society has not yet  fully understood.

I am the principal investigator of this group, and I work with Esther Gómez, a doctor in psychiatry specialized in gender and transgender issues who is affiliated to the Hospital Clínic, Dr. Silvia Rosés a member of the BAU —a design centre affiliated to the University of Vic— who has established a gender research line on the subject of fashion, Dr. Paloma González, who specializes in communication sciences and mainly works on cinema, and María Moreno, one of my postgraduates who works on contemporary art and, especially, on sexual dissidence.

What is the goal of your project?

We believe that from the field of the humanities, and specifically from the field of art, we can provide tools to reinforce the therapies conducted by doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists. Therefore, our goal is to offer additional support and tools. In fact, over the last couple of months all of this has surfaced, for example, thanks to the singer Sam Smith, who has declared that theirs is a non-binary gender. These issues are coming up a lot in our society, but people are very disoriented because they are difficult to understand. We believe that explaining them from an artistic point of view could make the whole thing easier.

How can the arts help people?

We work with the arts in the broadest sense: plastic arts, music, cinema, fashion, etc. We firmly believe in artistic interdisciplinarity and, moreover, the public is much more receptive to an interdisciplinary approach than to a single artistic language. We want to locate all the artistic agents that have stated the problem of not identifying themselves with one of the binary genders, or even with a specific sexual identity, so that patients do not feel alone when facing these issues. We also want healthcare professionals to have other tools at their disposal besides cognitive and psychoanalytic therapies. The idea is to persuade patients that this is not a problem but something that must be experienced as normal. We will also look for artistic references that are considered transgender and works that focus on the transgender experience, such as the works of Diana G. Torres, Itziar Ocariz, and Abel Azcona, among others.

Our theoretical standpoint is mainly based on Judith Butler, on everything she proposed from the post-structuralist perspective in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, first published in 1990, and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, published in 1993. In these works, Judith Butler laid the foundations for what would later become a new conception of gender, sex, and sexual orientation. We will also draw on the reflections of Paul B. Preciado and Olga Viñuelas.

How will you show the different kinds of art pieces?

If it is a performance, we will view it and explain to patients the artist’s actual purpose in that piece, so that they can understand how someone does not feel identified with a specific gender and how they express it. In the case of music, the idea is for them to see that there are creators who claim to have a non-binary gender, so that patients can discover some identifying element within this non-binariness. As for the plastic arts, we will refer to painters who have also defined themselves as transgender and we will analyse the works they have created, and also approach other tangential topics. Finally, in the case of cinema, it is much easier, because there are films that show these issues quite clearly. For example, very recently I watched a film that fascinated me and that I would recommend, “The Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, a film about a totally egalitarian and non-dominant relationship between two women (a painter and the woman who is to be portrayed) in the eighteenth century. Some scenes are very striking, but at the same time they can help people get rid of a burden, the prejudice that society has sometimes imposed on these matters.

What is the importance of knowledge transfer in the field of the humanities?

Researchers in the humanities must be very aware that much of our research is perfectly transferable. We must dispel the stigma that only researchers in the sciences are in contact with society. That is not true. From the standpoint of philosophy and art, which are my fields of study, I can improve certain aspects of society. Knowledge transfer is about conveying the expertise of a specialist that can benefit society. Therefore, I do not believe that there are areas of the social sciences and the humanities whose knowledge cannot be transferred. I have always considered myself a researcher who transferred knowledge; researchers need to show a great deal of generosity towards society. We cannot stay locked up in an archive, a museum, or a library. Surely there is a way to improve processes based on the discovery of a series of hypotheses that lead to theories. For me, transferring is sharing knowledge and personally, I would very much like people to trust that the humanities and sciences can build bridges to communicate with each other despite having very different methodologies. It should be possible to find a common ground, and not only in terms of knowledge transfer, but also by creating links between researchers without labelling them depending on their field. In a way, this is what we intend to show through this project.


More about Magda Polo

A reference

Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century.

What would you like to see in the future?

Humankind living in harmony with nature, respecting the environment.

An advancement that scares you

The invention of increasingly subtle and perfected weapons for humans to destroy each other.

The FBG is…

…the mediator between the University, the professionals who work within it, and companies and institutions. In other words, the University of Barcelona, as a public institution, needs to have a foundation that ensures the promotion of those projects that have potential but are sometimes unable to find their way. Therefore, for me, the FBG is currently a glimmer of hope that helps me spread my wings and fly to get where my team and I might not be able to go by ourselves.

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