by Leto Ybarra

Being a person next to someone feels precious, especially while so many forces in the world work with such violence to make sure I am not next to so many people, and although it is violence, also, that brought me here in the first place, that is why I am next to who I am next to.
—T. Fleischmann,
Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through

In her solo exhibition Cucú, which opened in November 2023 at the independent art space Córdova (Barcelona), the artist, poet, DJ and founder of the music collective Culpa (Barcelona), Perla Zúñiga (Madrid, 1996), addresses how desire, sexuality, humor and the cartoonish operate not only in the parties she organizes but also in the networks of care around them, in the context of illness and in self-preservation strategies. With small scenarios scattered throughout several rooms and built from cardboard boxes or mousetraps, the artist stages how she "travels", voluntarily and involuntarily, between different "worlds" of sense making. Without ceasing to refer to the social, political and medical frameworks that condition these experiential changes, Zuñiga focuses on the everyday scale, refusing the narrative arcs that are often attributed to a cancer diagnosis, discourses on trans exceptionality or spectacularized representations of necropolitical dimensions.

Cucú was the last exhibition that Cordova, the art project directed by Cory John Scozzari, held at foc.tot, an industrial warehouse on the outskirts of Barcelona managed together with different collectives such as Jokko or artists like Víctor Ruiz Colomer. Taking advantage of Cordova's move to another space, Perla Zuñiga drilled the walls of six different rooms, building most of the artworks in the exhibition around these holes. The holes gave visual access to the artist's sculptural pieces in a partial way, as the entire work could not be seen through them. That is, to see the rest of the same work, one had to go to the adjoining room because its two parts could not be unified from a single position. Thus, attention to the architecture of the space had to be constant, as one had to move again and again between the room one had just been in and the next one to try to mentally reconstruct and unify the works.

Perlita 2 , 2023. Hole, mousetrap, silicone. 24 x 18 x 9 cm. (right image) view from the adjoining room (left image) view from the hole

These artworks that Perla Zuñiga builds around holes can be understood as small scenarios or theatrical containers that the artist scatters throughout the rooms at different heights. In them, she stages pornographic drawings and objects that belong to the sphere of her everyday life such as fishnet stockings or needles; these are capable of dragging along with them spatio-temporal logics, of sociability and care such as those that operate in her trans community (mostly organized around her involvement in the consumption and organization of electronic music events) or those related to cancer treatment and the navigation of the medical system. To analyze how the artist inhabits and moves through these very different, co-temporary and permeable areas, I turn in this article to the concept of "world" and "world-traveling" of the Argentine philosopher and activist María Lugones.


The concept of "world" that María Lugones develops refers to "worlds" that are not imaginary but must exist. She herself explains 1 "For something to be a ‘world’ in my sense, it has to be inhabited at present by some flesh and blood people. That is why it cannot be a utopia. It may be inhabited by people who are dead or people that the inhabitants of this ‘world’ met in some other ‘world’ and now have in this ‘world’ in imagination." A "world" doesn't have to be the construct of an entire society, it may be the construct of a small portion of a particular society. The idea of "world-traveling," in Lugones, focuses on how, under the exigency of oppressive logics, some people are forced to inhabit different "worlds" simultaneously. The precarious sustenance of "worlds" that are affirmative for oppressed people often depends on alienating and painful journeys to other "worlds".

As María Lugones states “the idea of moving within ‘worlds’ allows us to take into account that there could be forms of experience in which people who are often subjected to dismissal, condemnation, and neglect are treated as active subjects”. In fact, it is through this attention to the different "worlds" that simultaneously coexist that we can understand Perla Zuñigas's work as a way of staging visually and spatially moments and logics of desire, frustration, weakness and various aesthetic codes without dislodging them from the specific contexts in which they arise and operate. By impeding these detachments from their specific contexts, the point is to prevent certain readings in which viewers, even with good intentions, flatten and totalize a certain mood and the same level of agency in all areas or “worlds” of the artist's life.

If Lugones refers specifically to the experiences of women of color, her concept of “world” can also illuminate how trans embodiment or illness travels across different ‘worlds’ of sense. Perla Zuñiga's work is not only subject to the limited agency imposed by dominant frameworks of legibility on trans people or the Western medical system with respect to the patient. In Cucú, the artist focuses on how levels of agency fluctuate in her life, also foregrounding experiences in which she actively and creatively acts and contributes, whether it is by being with her friends, exploring sexual and affective dynamics, organizing Culpa's parties, preparing her dj sets, making art, gossiping or generating distance through humor.

The focus of this article is particularly influenced by the panel “The Philosophy of María Lugones Meets Transgender Studies: A Complex Conversation” 2 which explored the relevance of María Lugones’s philosophy to a re-understanding of trans and nonbinary oppression and resistance within a decolonial feminist framework. In the discussion, scholars such as Hil Malatino and Andrea J. Pitts tried to apply Lugones’ framework to think about transness, disability and feelings such as rage, fatigue or burnout when dealing with structural transphobia.


Perla Zúñiga's relationship with illness and her experience as a trans woman are influenced by a genealogy of artists and writers that include Bruno Pelassy, Pepe Espaliú, Carolyn Lazard, Nan Goldin, Fernando Molano Vargas, Anne Boyer, Jon Greenberg and his letter "Dear Carmen", among others 3 . In Perla Zuñiga’s poem "Oh Oh Here we go again" (2021), 4 the artist describes a semi-fantastic scene that occurs in a hospital room while she is under anesthetic. In this scene, experiences from her adolescence in high school take center stage, a "world" marked by the dominant culture's construction of masculinity, sexual orientation and porn. Even though oppression is palpable in this fantasy, it also has a humorous tone: when the fantasy is being fantasized Perla Zúñiga is already part of "worlds" in which these same heteronormative constructions and codifications are questioned and parodied:

The first time I woke up in the ICU, it was New Year’s Eve and 3 elves dressed like Santa tried to sneak into my room through a hole in the ceiling.

A perfect circle drawn with a one-meter compass
saw marks on plasterboard
the edge of a razorblade.
It’s like I can still see their faces.

In that moment, there was no other reality than that one. Santa’s 3 helpers trying to come into the hospital room, on the last day of the year, to wake up sleeping beauty from her 5 day long induced sleep.

As they mocked me they started running a train. As if they were butt fucking each other, as if their cocks were attracting other cocks according to some unknown universal law, the way the heteros in my high school class used to.

They noticed my presence and started humping the first desk they saw and pretending to pleasure each other with violent penetration derived from the mediocre porn we were addicted to.

In those assaults, there was an intrinsic desire to be seen by two future transvestites dressed in baby blue skinny jeans, those really tight ones from H&M that make your ass look like a capital W Woman’s.
Their masculinity allowed them to do and undo because no one would doubt that those little bitches actually liked a hose in their ass.

Masculinity is the best disguise and the most difficult to perfor(m/ate)

They stick their tongues out and laugh at me.
they’re still in that circle making obscene gestures
like they’re sucking dick now

I press the alarm, the nurse comes and I tell her what’s going on.

The hole that the three elves dressed as Santa Claus open in the ceiling to enter Zuñiga's room functions in the poem as the place that allows the coupling of fantasy with the "world" of Western medicine's treatment of the body, flooding the hospital room in which the artist rests with mockery and eroticism. In Cucú, the fact that most of the works have to be accessed through a hole seems to underline the role of these elements as framing devices, as a dividing line between different sets of parameters. The hole serves as a threshold to tune into the "worlds” that the artist stages.

Perla Zuñiga drilled into the wall, using her body as a measure: two eye holes at the level of her eyes, a glory hole at the level of her genitals or a hole that the artist accessed on tiptoe. With this template of her body, the artist puts in crisis the point of control that is usually granted to the voyeur's gaze by forcing the viewer to perform different gestures to reach the image, which can include the physical effort and instability of being on tiptoe or to get on all fours.

The visual consumption of the exhibition requires from the viewer a series of movements that greatly condition their kinetic experience of the exhibition and of the physical space itself. Perla Zuñiga thus forces to de-automatize the voracious consumption of trans bodies and to subtly induce with these choreographies the exhaustion and frustration that implies having to be testing on a daily basis different ways of sustaining oneself, not only with respect to illness but also in a context in which the conditions that help to make trans lives livable are systemically placated.

The restrictions imposed by the artist can be viewed in light of Andrea J. Pitts' revisiting of Lugones' concept of “world traveling ”. Pitts 5 explains how Lugones critiqued certain conceptions of mobility and movement as “unbounded” as failing to “decenter masculinity” while also assuming privileges of class, race, nationality, capacity and health that allow this mobility without restriction. Allegories that fetishize transness as mutability and some approaches to gender nonconformity that want to break with binary constructions seem, in their effort, to minimize the material conditions in which bodies are enmeshed and co-constituted and that determine the ability to move physically into worlds that are at the same time less precarious and more affirming.

Hoy estás aquí, [You are here today], 2023 Medical bandage, white glue. 100 x 75 cm

By exposing its relationship with medical treatments for cancer through supplies such as bandages and needles, Cucú stubbornly connotes a form of knowledge and management of the body through skin contact and penetration. This sensory experience acquired in the coexistence with the disease is traversed by the strategies and knowledge that the artist has been developing in other areas of her life. In the piece Hoy estás aquí (2023), Perla Zuñiga extracts tactics of self-sustenance and affirmation from the field of activism by constructing with bandages a banner like the ones found in demonstrations, on which she writes "hoy estás aquí" [you are here today] a direct message to increase the intensity of the present in the face of the lack of certainty imposed by illness.

In the conclusion of her recent book Between Shadows and Noise: Sensation, Situatedness, and the Undisciplined (2024) 6 , academic Amber Jamilla Musser reflects on her recent experience with cancer and the many different ways she has had to learn and relearn her body. Musser says: “I’m in a constant learning curve with my body and its changing needs and that will continue. It’s necessary and I guess sort of what happens in all stages of life, but you notice it more when the changes feel more extreme.” In the case of a disease that irrupts, the changes that occur in one's own body incite the urgency of new worlds, returning to María Lugones' concept. Musser notes that in this process of relearning, what she keeps realizing is the impossibility of maintaining borders. For her survival, the artist surrenders herself to the pharmaceutical-medical complex. She has to reach other worlds with the urgent necessity that her illness brings. And although this is a deliberate decision on her part, we could also say that it is involuntary in that it is the only viable option for her to continue living.

Illness crosses all "worlds" (i.e., it cannot disappear by traveling from one world to another) and often prevents or hinders access to other "worlds" whose accessibility was guaranteed up to that point. In the chapter of Musser's book mentioned above, "Inflammation: Notes from the Front", the author explains how she was cared for by doctors, nurses, patient technicians and custodial staff, as well as by another network of care that included her parents and friends. Although often during the illness some "worlds" in which the sick person previously participated are not accessible or may no longer be relevant, the people who are part of this intimate type of care networks are the most able to continue transmitting aspects of these worlds (values, codes and/or, logics that involved the person before being ill, etc.) that remain important and nurturing for the sick person. Musser also reflects on the trans and queer care webs that Hil Malatino analyzes in Trans Care (2020) to insist on the negotiations of exhaustion and the constant work of self-reflection necessary to keep these networks alive that are the result of different forms of social exclusion.

Sin título (Agujas 1-5), 2023 Needles, paper, drawings, white glue. Variable dimensions

Against a wall painted in toxic yellow in allusion to the less friendly side of chemo is the piece Sin título (Agujas 1-5), a series of needles placed in a row and at the same height, each one holding different papers with messages. In these Perla Zuñiga includes concrete poems and drawings, most of them are cut in the shape of the sun, a recurring element in the artist's visual and performative work. In her performances she often repeats: "she feels in bloom, even though she can’t see the sun". This verse stresses the need to find strategies to make life livable under conditions that prevent it. The words resonate with the rhetorical question Audre Lorde asks herself in A Burst of Light, the journal she wrote a few years after The Cancer Journals (1980) and in which she recounts her coexistence between 1984 and 1987 with metastatic cancer: “How do I hold faith with sun in a sunless place?" 7 In the same paragraph, resonating with the reflections of Pitts, Musser and Malatino, Audre Lorde points out that “Survival isn't some theory operating in a vacuum” but needs an everyday network of material (intertwining the materiality of the individual body with the Marxist sense of access to and availability of resources) and affective conditions to continue to sustain itself.


Scholars such as Kadji Amin are revisiting contemporary conceptions that understand gender identity as an inner core that people themselves have to learn to decode. Amin links the origin of these notions to the bourgeoisie of the late 18th and 19th centuries; at the same time as a series of revolutions in the Western world were moving towards a kind of representative democracy and capitalism was becoming hegemonic. This understanding of the "self" is also, in Amin's words, “a way for the bourgeoisie to distinguish itself from the working classes by saying ‘we are the ones who are self reflective”8

Following this principle, during the 20th century psychiatrists and sexologists tried to get at this truth of sexuality, understood as something which is inside of somebody. In his dissertation thesis “Gender, Sexuality, and the Biopolitics of Architecture: From the Secret Museum to Playboy” (2013), Paul Preciado analyzes some of the physical spaces of the bourgeoisie and the high society where this kind of selfhood emerged, such as the cabinet privé or the boudoir. He explains that interior space was crafted in the 18th century as a self-fashioning technology to represent identity. On the other hand, the boudoir as an erotic/subjectivity box could usually also be observed from an outside through a peephole. Despite the spatial isolation inherent in modern subjectivity, erotization of surveillance and intentional performance of interiority construct the boudoir's space. Although these private spaces are long gone, the ideas about interiority and identity that they promoted are still present in the relationships that individuals have with their gender.

Interior (left) and exterior (right) of the work Mi juventud alterada [My altered youth], 2023. Hole, cardboard, prints, drawings, radiography.100 x 50 x 40 cm.

If the boudoir in Preciado's words is understood as a box for the development of the “self”, the holes that Perla Zuñiga opens in the walls lead to spaces that appeal to a self that is constructed beyond intimacy, reflection, and the high levels of agency and impermeability usually attributed to private spaces. In the piece Mi juventud alterada (2023), the artist constructs a stage with cardboard boxes. Inside those boxes, accessible only through a hole, the artist places a drawing on paper of the character Tinkerbell from Peter Pan, to whom she frequently turns to, among other things, to deal with her truncated desire to medically transition due to cancer treatments. The outside of these same boxes has to be viewed from another room of the exhibition space, and they have logos of medical and courier companies printed on them, emphasizing once more how the artist is subject, voluntarily and involuntarily, to larger systems whose grammars she cannot control. It is only on these boxes and their logos that the artist sticks images of the work Amour (1998) by artist Bruno Pelassy 9 (a penis made of pearls, a piece of jewelry that Perla Zuñiga herself incorporates recurrently in her work as a wink to her own name), the book of collected poems by her boyfriend, the Argentine poet Mariano Blatt, or clocks like the one from Beauty and the Beast or Dalí’s.

Deseo ilusionarme [I wish to get my hopes up], 2023. Hole, rat trap, paper, white clue, fishnet stockings 24 x 18 x 9 cm

With Deseo ilusionarme (2023) and Perlita 2 (2023) the artist resorts again to the idea of the peephole to peek into scenarios that instead of being hermetic are built with mousetraps, whose metal grids reveal the surrounding space. Taking the shape of a cage, the first work is partly covered by a fuchsia fishnet stocking, with which the artist goes out to party. If we look through the hole of Perlita 2, we get a close-up of a pearl that appears to be floating. A view from the other room shows that the trap is filled with many more pearls. Even with the playful and erotic attitude with which the artist intervenes the mousetraps (with messages, costume jewelry and accessories that she uses when she goes out partying), they are still traps, objects designed to catch living beings against their will. These imposed spaces clash with the bourgeois idea of a domestic interior designed for the production and eroticization of the self, where it would seem that systemic configurations and pressures enable rather than undermine.

The elements that Perla Zuñiga includes in these stages are inextricably linked to places like the club where the artist produces and affirms her own sense of self in the company of her community. From fragile objects such as bandages, cardboard boxes, sheets of paper and single-use medical material Perla Zuñiga constructs scenarios that appeal to the precarity of the “worlds” in which the artist nurtures her agency and ideas of herself.

Perla Zuñiga 's artistic language cannot be understood without the party Culpa she founded with DJ Vera Amores (Berenice) in 2019. The instagram bio of the project is often updated and as of April 2024 it is defined as “transsexual club - morphine dreams - furry studies”. It is the first party organized and run for trans people in the Madrid nightlife music circuit, and it is through this platform that a community is formed and where many trans and queer people from Spain come into contact. Musicians such as Slim Soledad, JASSS, MamaYha Yha, Nadia Marcus o Goth Jafar have performed and attended their events. Many of the posters that Perla Zuñiga designs for the parties are inspired by furry aesthetics, well-known cartoons, and by a referent such as Juliana Huxtable, whose aesthetic codes also mobilize some of these elements.

Left image: flyer designed by the artist to announce her solo exhibition Cucú at Cordova (November 2023, Barcelona). Right image: flyer designed by the artist for her dj session at Puticlú (December 2023, Buenos Aires, Argentina).

Curator and writer Adrienne Edwards relates Juliana Huxtable to what she calls "kewt aesthetic". 10 Kewt is a colloquial substitute for the word "cute" among queer people of color, and this aesthetic concept somewhat inflects Sianne Ngai's understanding of cute with historical and cultural formations of fetish and ornament. Edwards also notes that, “as it relates to the trans community, there now lurks a kind of cultural fascination we can approximate to the fetish." The cute is articulated through feminine tropes and problematic symbols of powerlessness, but it is also, as Ngai points out, reactive, an aesthetic response to a particular social position, which is presented as minor, subaltern and weak. Perla Zuñiga's cartoonish aesthetic draws from the cute by using the emotional responses that this aesthetic is capable of in order to renegotiate power relations. This ambivalence of the cute also resonates with the "worlds" of María Lugones, in which the same person can be understood, thought of and approached in dramatically different ways depending on the "world" in which they find themselves.

Dice Fernando Molano Vargas: El Deseo, La Vida, El Amor Digo yo: qué buena, 2023.
[Says Fernando Molano Vargas: Desire, Life, Love I say: what a good one],
Holes, urine sample bottles, graphics, steel and magnets. Variable dimensions

In her work Dice Fernando Molano Vargas: El Deseo, La Vida, El Amor Digo yo: qué buena, 2023, Perla Zuñiga opens two holes in the wall, one for each eye, and places a plastic tube in each one that look as some kind of kaleidoscopes. Through these holes you can access images that the artist has drawn in miniature on the inside of the lids of these tubes: the tattoo of a pigeon and a fellatio. However, if the same work is accessed from the bathroom, it looks as if two cartoonish eyes full of desire popped out of their sockets and stretched across the wall. These eyes are constructed with the urine collection containers that the artist routinely uses for medical monitoring. It makes one think of "Wild Takes" (extreme reactions) which are widely used in the field of character animation and which associate desire with the exaggeration of movements and facial expressiveness to the point of taking the body to anatomically impossible levels. As in this work in which the artist emphasizes the shimmering of a present that unfolds before her eyes, whenever Perla Zuñiga introduces figurative representations of bodies in the small and fragile scenarios that she scatters throughout the different rooms, she does so by staging moments in which they are physiologically distorted in order to contain within their anatomical limits moments of great excitement and desire. It is precisely in this transfer of desire to its visual representation that the capacity of the "cartoonish" crystallizes.

Cucú highlights the ambivalence of an experience marked by two types of travel: on the one hand, a “world traveling” that is imposed, often alienating and painful and, on the other hand, a journey to those worlds that Perla Zuñiga shares with her community, and which are more affirming for her. The latter are dominated by ways of acting driven by wonder and excitement, the thrills of seeking, the social dimension implicit in tracking down gossip or the persistence of desire that is capable of redirection at the turn of circumstances. Even so, through the fragility of the works (made with cardboard, paper, glue or single-use medical material), the artist seems to keep insisting on how illness and trans existence cross all the worlds she inhabits, with all the precariousness and provisionality that this traverse implies.

Perla Zuñiga manages to set in motion a very frontal opposition between the visitor's frustration when trying to fully see, understand the space and access the works and the mocking attitude with which she is able to guide the visitors in the face of their eagerness for possession. The way in which the small theatrical containers that the artist excavates in Cordova articulate the space is capable of imposing a choreography. The spectators have to go back and forth to figure out the works mentally and place themselves in different bodily postures. Perla Zuñiga directs their movements, establishing agreements with regards to voyeuristic impulses. It is as if with each kinetic constraint the artist is saying "If you look, you do it my way.”

Perla Zúñiga is an artist, poet and DJ. Since 2016 she has lived with the disease and works with its traces, drifts and metaphors. Her work explores the dimensions and perspectives that language, time and emotions acquire in spaces of desire; To do this, she uses various media such as visual arts, writing, performance or sound. Additionally, she is co-founder of the music collective CULPA, a space created to celebrate and reclaim trans and nb existences at night.  Recent solo exhibitions include Cucú (Cordova, Barcelona, 2023/24) and Tranquila, no vas a poder describir en este momento este momento (Yaby, Madrid, 2019); she has participated in group shows at SYSTEMA (Juf, Marseille, 2023), Museo Patio Herreriano (Valladolid, 2024), La Casa Encendida (Madrid), or Haus Wien (Vienna, 2020), among others. Her poetry has been collected in the anthology Ritual de amor (Penguin Books) edited by Cecilia Pavón and  45 - 120 (Forthcoming 2024 with Caniche Editorial) edited by Juf project. As JOVENDELAPERLA she blends poetry and electronic music participating in the programmes of art institutions, clubs, radios and renowned festivals such as MACBA (Barcelona), Herrensauna (Berlin), Sónar (Barcelona), De School (Amsterdam), MARICAS (Barcelona), Primavera Sound (Barcelona), Boiler Room Festival, OHM (Berlin), Gasworks (London), Arena Spa (Porto), Rinse (Paris) or NTS (London) among others.

Leto Ybarra is a curator, writer and poet and co-founder of Juf.


  1. Lugones, María. “Playfulness, ‘world’-travelling, and loving perception.” Hypatia, vol. 2, no. 2, 1987, pp. 3–19, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1527-2001.1987.tb01062.x. ,
  2. An online conversation between Talia Bettcher (Cal State LA), Pedro (PJ) DiPietro (Syracuse University), Hil Malatino (Penn State), and Andrea Pitts (UNC Charlotte). Bettcher, Talia, et al. “The Philosophy of María Lugones Meets Transgender Studies: A Complex Conversation.” Ann Garry and Sharon L. Bishop Feminist Philosophy Endowed Lecture. 12 Feb. 2021, Online.
  3. Some of these references come from: Natalia Piñuel and Perla Zuñiga. “CUCÚ – A ENCOUNTER WITH PERLA ZUÑIGA.” A*Desk, Mar. 2024, https://a-desk.org/en/magazine/cucu-encuentro-con-perla-zuniga/. Accessed 28 Apr. 2024.
  4. This is an unpublished poem from 2021 that will be published in Spanish and English in the forthcoming poetry anthology 45 - 120 (edited by Juf and published by Caniche Editorial).
  5. Weiss, Gail, et al. “World Traveling by Andrea J. Pitts.” 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL, 2020.
  6. Musser, Amber Jamilla. “Conclusion. Inflammation: Notes from the Front .” Between Shadows and Noise: Sensation, Situatedness, and the Undisciplined, Duke University Press, 2024, pp. 112–130.
  7. Lorde, Audre. “A Burst of Life.” A Burst of Light and Other Essays, Ixia Press, 2017. p.40
  8. Amin, Kadji. “Trans Materialism” with Kadji Amin, Queer Lit, 17 Apr. 2023, podcasts.musixmatch.com/podcast/queer-lit-01h3xhv87rnz5wgz5bxqgzzp56/episode/trans-materialism-with-kadji-amin-01h3xhv87rnz5wgz5bxqgzzp5e.
  9. Elsa Estrella and Perla Zuñiga have a recent conversation in which they talk at greater length about Bruno Pelassy. Elsa Estrella / Perla Zuñiga. (n.d.). El “backstage” del Mundo. ctxt.es | Contexto y Acción.https://ctxt.es/es/20240601/Culturas/46752/elsa-estrella-perla-zuniga-cucu-exposicion-sala-cordoba.htm
  10. Edwards, A. (n.d.). Relishing the minor: Juliana Huxtable’s kewt aesthetics. MoMA. https://www.moma.org/d/pdfs/W1siZiIsIjIwMTYvMDEvMDUvOWF2bGY1dGlheF9NUDAxOTEyOF9KdWxpYW5hX0h1eHRhYmxlX0ZJTkFMLnBkZiJdXQ/MP019128_Juliana_Huxtable_FINAL.pdf?sha=c7926cb946ae0a60