Mariángeles Soto-Díaz: Everyday Grappling Operations

Mariángeles Soto-Díaz investigates politics and power structures as well as notions of belonging and empathy. She exposes the joys and frictions of complex social dynamics and relationships through installations that reveal her affinity for abstraction as a style and tactile everyday materials. Also key to her practice are performance and participatory elements that engage visitor collaboration. 


In Everyday Grappling Operations, Soto-Díaz looks to the principle of resistance central to the practice of Judo as a metaphor for political engagement, both individually and collectively. In Judo, one never uses direct force against an opponent, but instead learns to use the opponent’s strength against them by timely redirection of energy, which nullifies it. She considers some of the ways that these principles might serve as a basis for strategic actions that advance broader ideals, such as wider acceptance of gender identity or racial equality and justice. 


Having studied Judo throughout her childhood in Caracas Venezuela, Soto-Díaz abandoned the practice just before receiving her back belt as a young adult. Growing up in Caracas, she was well aware of the ways that martial arts practice was associated with masculinity and how fighting was seen as natural for men but undesirable for women. Given the entrenched culture of machismo in Venezuela, Judo presented her with many contradictory meanings associated with women’s empowerment. 


Soto-Díaz is now working with a local Judo club to resume her training, of both mind and body, with Sensei Nori Bunasawa. Over the course of the exhibition Everyday Grappling Operations, she will continue to study and train, both within the installation at OCMA and at Sensei Bunasawa’s dojo. As she is committing to this challenging physical and mental endeavor, she invites the public to join her in engaging with a difficult practice of their own for at least 21 days, and to document their challenge and share it on social media with the tag #everydaygrapplingoperations.


This installation at OCMA consists of floor mats and sculptural elements made of colored Judo belts arranged in a spiral according to level of Judo mastery. The large spiral, an enduring ancient symbol of renewal, here represents a steady, gradual unfolding.The spiral form is also inspired by 2,000-year-old petroglyphs recently found in Venezuela.  Extending from the coils of Judo belts are free-form line gestures also made of black Judo belts that connect the various components and spaces of her overall project. Soto-Díaz’s project reflects her research into historic archival Judo material, including the early writings on symmetry and practice by Judo founder Jigoro Kano. In addition to serving as a backdrop for her own Judo training, this space will be the site for performances and related events that offer audiences further engagement with the project.

Mariángeles Soto-Díaz was born in 1970 in Caracas, Venezuela. She currently lives and works in Irvine, CA. 

Mariángeles Soto-Díaz

Everyday Grappling Operations, 2018

Performance; site-responsive installation

Dimensions variable

Courtesy of the artist