Haptic Visuality in Lourdes Portillo’s Señorita Extraviada: Towards an Affective Activism

Laura Gillman (Virginia Tech)


This essay investigates Lourdes Portillo’s 2001 documentary, Señorita Extraviada / Missing Young Woman, as a cinematic medium that functions through impressions, much like skin does, with an aim to create an affective, inter-embodied contact between the perceiver(s) and the object projected on the screen. I call this tactile form of cinematic expression, following film theorist Laura Marks “haptic visuality.” In my analysis, I suggest that, like other diasporan filmmakers, Portillo draws on the proximal sense of touch in order to directly and empathically involve the viewer’s body as a site for intercultural knowledge and political action. She thus aims to facilitate viewers’ bodily affective capacity in the double sense of undergoing new somatic experiences and registering those changes subjectively (the body’s capacity to be affected), which can lead to political feeling or action (its capacity to affect). Haptic visuality, I further suggest, counters a neo-colonial Euro-American hegemony of knowledge that is mediated through the visual, one that, within normative representation and discourses, is bent on mastery and possession of the object represented. It also offers the spectator a transformed, decolonial form of seeing, knowing and interacting, both intimate and embodied, that places the viewer nearby the object, yielding to it.

Download a .pdf of the complete article here.