Category Archives: Reading Responses

a question of access…

Last week I spoke a bit about class and color distinction when referencing the idea of mestizo. My fear and focus is all about access and the issue of definition as  we  often see things through a  white colonialist lens which obstructs this as a possibility. My fear is that the people  and its culture may be subject to the violence that is this act and that we are often complicit .  Our readings this week addressed this issue but certainly opened the doors to future examination in this regard.  I was particularly struck by the reference  to the school, La Ivan Illich and it’s  “Address to University of Puerto Rico students, graduating ceremony 1969”,  which was a call to abolish schooling and reimagine learning in an atmosphere of freedom.  La Iván Illich is an open school where anyone can propose a class, workshop, conference, reading group or other type of knowledge exchange.  They look to break the binaries between teacher-student, artist-spectator, expert-amateur, and instead propose flexible structures that allow for mutual learning and produce collective knowledge. This is, in theory, is the kind of open access situation in learning to strive for. But  in my opinion  I question if it’s manifesto is being realized. Free access to creative and educational space should not be a privilege but a right. But then theres the question of money/capitalism.

info.betalocal@gmail.com.

In the section Decolonial Aesthetic,  key to me was the mention of creative practitioners, activist and thinkers  who continue to nourish the global flow of decoloniality towards a transmodern and pluriversal world. I was unaware of Bandung’s uniting 29 Asian and African countries and that it was followed by the formation of the Non-Alligned Movement in 1961 which included former Eastern Europe and Latin America. Its goal and legacy was imagining a world beyond capitalism and communism and  imagining a third way which was de-colonial .  It’s  big when it is recognized that there is a need for self reflection. This  self reflection seemed to be interwoven in its goal by rein-scribing , and dignifying  the ways of thinking  once demonized and devalued by colonial , imperial interventionist agendas as well as by postmodern and alter modern internal critique. Im anxious to investigate the ways modern curators of the region actually apply this imperative.
Delinking, yeah.

 

Beat Nation: When contemporary and traditional are no longer a binary opposition


 BN_install_29.tif BN_install_28.tif

Images from the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montreal

It is widely known that over the centuries the image of the indigenous people has been constructed from a Eurocentric point of view. Whether in Latin America, in Europe, or in the U.S., the aborigines are typically associated with ideas of tradition and subjugation, often perceived as naïve or even weak, as an ancient group whose existence in present times seems anachronistic.

Aborigine artistic practices are equally affected by these ideas. The category of indigenous art is a very impermeable one, at least from the hegemonic discourses. For many, the phrase “contemporary indigenous art” is just a contradiction. Surprisingly –for them- aborigine art can be contemporary in more than one way.

First, there is the time frame: Every artistic practice that exists in this time is somehow contemporary. That is kind of obvious, and while there are many indigenous individuals producing any kind of artistic pieces at the moment –and that is something that worth highlighting-, this is not the sense of contemporaneity I want to focus on.

Then, there are two other possible ways of understanding the label “contemporary indigenous art”: One that perceives it as aborigine artists using the contemporary, new forms of art (street art, performance art, video art, conceptual art…); and other that considers how aborigine art has for long evidenced some conditions that now are attributed to contemporary times (fragmentation, multiplicity, its ludic and ephemeral character…). Both of them are very interesting approaches that deserve a closer look, and I want to use the Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop, and Aboriginal Culture exhibition, -showcased in Canada last year- to illustrate my point from now on.

Beat Nation was born in 2006 as a website based gallery, and in the summer of 2013 opened as an art exhibition “…featuring more than two dozen artists using beats, graffiti, humor and politics to challenge stereotypes, the exhibit coincides with the growth of Idle No More, an indigenous political movement in Canada.” (Sommerstein, ¶2)

At first glance, Beat Nation is indigenous art as it showcases aborigine artists practicing all kinds of contemporary art forms.

Now, I want to bring up a term that Oswald de Andrade coined in 1928, and that is mentioned in the article Against Latin American Art written by Gerardo Mosquera, to define a process of appropriation of a dominant culture, when referring to Latin American contemporary art: anthropophagy.

One might be tempted to identify this exhibition as an act of anthropophagy, as a way for indigenous culture to adapt to new times in order to survive. In fact, Beat Nation showed a phenomenon much more complex than that.

It happens that the principles of hip hop, of performance, of breakdance, and even of graffiti have somehow been long embedded in Canadian indigenous cultures -and in indigenous culture worldwide: The human body as center of some  rituals, the idea of taking over public spaces with painting, the circular perception of time (the beat); these are all aborigine ideas and practices. So, could we say that in Beat Nation indigenous artists where appropriating of a dominant culture? Who is appropriating whom? What is traditional and what is contemporary in this exhibition? What belongs to the dominant culture and what to the dominated?

Néstor García Canclini, an Argentinian communication theorist, coined another term that seems much more suitable for this case: Cultural hybridization. In the article Against Latin American Art, Mosquera quotes Canclini: “[Cultural hybridization is] not the synonymous of fusion without contradiction; it rather help[s] to show peculiar forms of conflict generated in recent intercultural dynamics that have taken place in Latin America [and the world], amid the decadence of national projects of modernization.” (p.15)

Even though this concept does not gives us all the answers to the previous questions, it certainly seems a much more appropriate lens with which to read Beat Nation‘s exhibition, and to comprehend the complexity of he tensions and interplay between contemporary art and indigenous art in Canada, Latin America, and across the globe.

Bonus Content: Here is a video of  the exhibition.

_._

Mosquera, Gerardo (w.d.). Against Latin American Art. Contemporary Art in Latin America. Artworld, Black Dog Publishing.

Sommerstein, David (2014). Hip hop’s Aboriginal Connection. Recovered in September 17, 2014, through the link: http://www.npr.org/2014/01/04/259428743/hip-hops-aboriginal-connection

Musée D’Art Contemporain De Montréal. Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop, and Aboriginal Culture. Recovered in September 17, 2014, through the link:

http://www.macm.org/en/expositions/beat-nation-art-hip-hop-and-aboriginal-culture/

Reading response 1 – Contemporary Art in Latin America

Contemporary Art in Latin America

 The idea of Mestizo,(mixed Spanish and Indigenous)and what that means to those Indigenous Mayans of Guatemala is a topic of interest to me. Not to implicate Pablo, but I was aware that he made a definite point of letting us know that Mestizo is his distinction. So I looked up some info on the relationships of the Mestizo and the Indigenous Mayans of the region, as I suspected racism and discrimination akin to what we experience here in the states. According to the online publication, Minority Rights Group International, the majority of the indigenous Mayan peoples and minority cultures, which includes those mixed African-Indigenous experience disrespect, violence, and negative treatment in the media. This brings to the forefront the question of access as it relates to what is considered curatable and marketable. This is a challenge most poor and disadvantaged people experience worldwide when it comes to it’s cultures artistic expression and general viability to the world at large. When it comes to the question of how one’s culture should be defined, with regard to poor folk, it often seems absent from the equation how those folk define themselves. With respect to the Guatemalan/Mayan culture there seems to be no exception to this dilemma, particularly with regard to it’s art and culture.

 In the reading Contemporary Art in Latin America I found  themes which support my assertions. In the current globalized art scene we find Eurocentric notions and stereotypes as it relates to identity and intercultural dynamics. Speaking to this are the writings of Gerardo Mosquera in Against Latin American Art, where he talks about the Latin American predicament, a dividing of the coin in a sense as he speaks of hegemonic western meta-culture and internationalisation versus personalities of singular contexts, local traditions and the embracing of the ‘non-west’. Further reading of this text can make the case of a society willing to be short sold, as Oswald de Andrade coined the the term anthropophagy in 1928, which dealt with the idea of cultural appropriation or the inverse. His words were ‘it only interested him what was not his’. What came from this sentiment was an apparent reversing of the fundamentalist politics of authenticity. Instead of being imposed on by colonialism, anthropophagy voluntarily swallows dominant culture to it’s on benefit. I found this concept problematic as it seemed, in my opinion, to play into the idea of accepting the annihilation of cultures indigenous to the region and a decimation of it’s inherent voice. In support of this Heloisa Buarque De Hollanda warned that anthropophagy can stereotype a problematic concept of a carnivalizing identity that processes beneficial everything that is not its own. I find this interesting as it relates to an exploration and comparison of the ways americans of African decent deal with the charges of inequities that often lend to the vulnerabilities associated with a lack of social,economic and political standing. This too as it relates to the “curatable” and more importantly how american/world media represents it’s so called minority populations.

 

a few loose citations

 

http://www.minorityrights.org/?lid=2559

Against Latin American Art; Gerardo Mosquera

Symbols of Memory and Resistance

Forced disappearance was a violent practice, which flourished in Latin America during the seventies with the arrival of military dictatorships and armed conflict. This practice was used for different purposes according to the country. For example, in some countries of Latin America, the military used it as a repressive approach, in other countries it was the right way to lower homicide rates and maintain an attenuated war.

For a while the forced disappearance seemed to be the perfect crime within its perverse logic, there are no victims and therefore no perpetrators, as well as exposes Weld “a desaparecido is neither quite dead nor alive, simultaneously present and absent” (p.8)

The constant pain that this violent practice produced on the families of the victims, and the constant wondering of “where are they?” “what happen to them?” “Did they suffer?” “For how long did they suffer?” and the special case in Argentina where the mothers of Plaza de Mayo not only wonder about their children but also about their grandchildren. Have generated a very important and interesting artistic production, I remember seeing an exhibition in Colombia on the disappeared in Latin America one of the symbols created to portrait the disappeared in Argentina and then used in some countries of Latin America as a flag, was a graffiti of a bicycle that has a number in red in one of the tires which represents one of the 350 students of Universidad de Rosario disappeared during the military dictatorship.

Pochobici

But there were other artistic initiatives – or at least that I consider artistic- that comes from the people, looking for not only a symbol, but also to maintain the memory of what happened and a voice of resistance. One example of this kind of art are the Arpilleras. During the dictatorship in 1974, the catholic church opened a workshop to help women victims of the violence to produce carpets so they can have some financial income. These women started to transform those usual carpets into an instrument of public denunciation of social injustice and the violation of human rights, the movement spread to other cities and other countries around the world.

Marchaporlaverdadylajusticia

These two kinds of representation and symbolism, one coming from the Artilleras and one coming from Fernando Traverso a known artist from Argentina, makes me wonder if we can consider both art? and if they are both art which of them has has a broader meaning in the collective consciousness and memory?

In favor of a shared memory

In the year 2005, Guatemala’s government records of the genocide in the country were accidentally discovered. It took extensive efforts from experts and the financial aid of foreign institutions to turn piles of filthy papers into a proper archive. In 2009, after decades of wandering in the dark, the archive opened its doors, with a policy of complete access to the public (unlike other similar archives in Latin America). Finally, Guatemalans affected –directly or not- by the violence between the decades of 1960 and 1990 would have the possibility of getting an answer to their questions.

Currently, the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN) “includes over 10 million scanned images of documents from the National Police Historical Archive. This digital archive mirrors and extends the physical archive that remains preserved in Guatemala as an important historical patrimony of the Guatemalan people.” (¶1)

LLILASConciliation_1

One of the pages of the AHPN, from the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive.

Now, for the purposes of this post, I want to refer to the material of this archive as “images”, and to focus particularly on the photographs that are part of this register, in order to revise their significance and to point out other considerations regarding their power.

Susan Sontag, in her book Regarding the Pain of Others, states that “…photographs help construct –and revise- our sense of a more distant past.” (p. 85). In the case of the AHPN this could not be more true: many of the images helped entire families to properly mourn and to give closure to a phase of horror in their lives. Just by being displayed, this photographic archive acknowledged an era of Guatemalan history that for many years was not addressed by the State.

Furthermore, this archive presents the opportunity to think more deeply about the limits between personal and collective memory. In regards to the latter, Sontag problematizes:

Photographs that everyone recognizes are now a constituent part of what society chooses to think about, or declares that it has chosen to think about. It calls these ideas ‘memories’, and that is, over the long run, a fiction. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as collective memory –part of the same family of spurious notions as collective guilt. But there is collective instruction. (p. 85)

But the images that conform the AHPN are not the images that everyone recognizes. These are the individual stories of thousands of victims, of many families. The archive already exists as a whole, but it also constructs itself as Guatemalans find their parents, siblings, and children in those records. This archive is within the limits of personal and collective memory. And that borderline is what most interests me.

There’s also a value in the combination of photographs and documents. Sontag alludes to the risks of reading a photograph as the (whole) Truth. She states that while we need photographs to remember, we need narratives to understand. This archive is a visual narrative of the Guatemalan genocide; therefore it is extremely invaluable for those who seek to comprehend this episode.

Now, it’s known that the metaphor is a very useful resource when talking about narratives. This is when art comes into play. In Luke Pizzato’s article The Language of Public Memory art is presented as an “alternative language that can generate more solidarity between the victimized communities and the general public” (p. 40). By saying that, they refer to the artistic work of Minga, a Colombian artistic institution that works hand in hand with communities affected by the violence. However, Pizzato’s reflection could also be applied to the work of many other artists that approach violence and memory in the Americas and the world.

Lets take for instance Ejercicio Volumen, from the Venezuelan artist Teresa Mulet: this piece is a testimony of the thousands of violent deaths that occur yearly in her country, which is my country as well. It is a book in which each page represents a victim. Its impossibility to stand up because of its weight also represents how the situation has become unbearable, and sometimes this kind of images can be more powerful that the very pictures of the victims.

 Ejercicio Volumen

Ejercicio Volumen, from Teresa Mulet. From Trafico Visual`s website.

This post is the very first exercise on discovering how images (photographs, scans, artistic installations) intertwined, can help to build our memory: a shared memory, which is not to say a collective memory (as a discourse of power, an imposed one), if that is ever possible.

Bonadies, Angela (2014). Teresa a través del espejo. Recovered in September 10, 2013, through the link: http://www.traficovisual.com/2014/04/06/teresa-a-traves-del-espejo-por-angela-bonadies/

Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive. Recovered in September 10, 2013, through the link: https://ahpn.lib.utexas.edu/home

Doyle, Kate (2010-2011). Guatemala`s Police Archives: Breaking the Stony Silence. Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America. Volume 1.

Pizzato, Luke (2013). The Language of Public Memory: La Asociación Minga and The Authentic Image of the Victim. Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America. Volume 1.

 Sontag, Susan (1993). Regarding the Pain of Others. United States. Picador.

Keeping the Memory Alive

As someone who grew up in a country with a dark history of violence that until now has not been acknowledged by the government, I know how important it is to keep the memory and the truth behind it alive. When reading some chapters in Revista: Memory, In Search of History and Democracy, I can imagine the pain and agony of the family of those who disappeared and never came back. It is a daunting task to keep searching the truth tirelessly that happened in the land they’re living when “so little even nothing to be found” is something that they would often get.

One particular thing I’m interested to find out more is the family of the disappeared, especially the mothers and their hopes to see their disappeared children alive or if it’s impossible: the hopes to find their bodies.

In Because They Were Taken Alive, a mother keeps the light in a single garage on for almost thirty years because she wants her son (who never returned home since the day of the abduction) to know that his family never gave up on him. Those aging women who comb the Atacama Desert in “Nostalgia for the Light” to find the bone fragments of their relatives only have hope to keep doing what they do. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo keep marching in front of Argentina’s presidential palace demanding the safe return of their disappeared children. It becomes their act of resistance. Their perseverance to find out what’s been taken from them is an act of refusing to forget, their way of keeping the memory alive.

Why focus on the mothers? Because all mothers in the world would feel the same if their children gone, especially when it’s caused by the killing, or forced disappearance. Mothers symbolize universality, while also being personal. When it comes to their children, they cannot be politicized but what they are able to do about it can often be political.

Art can be an effective tool to build the solidarity around the world toward the victimized community, toward the mothers. After all, what happened in Guatemala, or Chile, also happened in other countries like Indonesia.

I’m interested to dig more about the art in relation to the mothers of the disappeared. How art becomes – for a certain degree – an effective intermediary tool to help them get the sense of closure? How a solidarity is built through art? Using art effectively, we can help address and amplify the issue of injustice.

Here’s a link to the video showing an art performance from Indonesia that I think is successful to keep the memory alive and the conversation going. It was about the genocide that happened in Indonesia in 1965. Until now it is not an easy topic to talk to and people usually shy away from it. It was performed here in NYC two years ago:

http://asiasociety.org/new-york/events/papermoon-puppet-theatre-mwathirika

***SARI

Blog response to Readings: Revista Guatemala Legacies of Violence

I have to admit, when I first started reading, ‘Breaking the Silence’, where the writer details the effort put into documenting the genocide after uncovering government records, my first thought was, How futile this all seems. All this effort — in documenting and writing about an atrocity, and yet where was this expense of energy when the genocide was going on? I know there is an answer to this that’s obviously very rational, but it left me wondering, what’s the point? How does it erase what happened, or provide a feeling justice?

But reading further, I understood the important of war memories. In the case of Guatemala, the need to document and remember, is particularly urgent as the perpetuators have not been punished. Not only that — but it is used as an excuse, a reason to cite when describing Guatemala as having a ‘culture of violence’.

By attributing Guatemala’s experience to an ingrained culture of violence, “power continuity and structural inequality go undetected. Like all ‘post war crime’, socialized violence has been given room to fester because of conditions of impunity.”  (page 15) This for me was the most fascinating point.  By blaming the victim, you remove all responsibility from those in power and who continue to support a system that perpetuates violence and repression. (page 16)

This brought to my mind, the situation of African Americans in the U.S. To what extent can we related violence among African American communities today, to  a system that was borne of violence (slavery), and which today, continues to perpetuate violence? To what extent is the black population blamed for its ‘problems’? 

“Creating meaningful and sustainable peace requires critically confronting violent pasts” (page 16). To what extent has the US  TRULY confronted its slavery past? An incredible article worth reading: The Case for Reparations

In contrast, how much documentation and work has gone into remembering the Holocaust? Slogans of ‘Never again’, persecuting and blacklisting Holocaust-deniers, museum after museum, a perpetual victim mentality — but what have we as a human race learnt from this? Never again, and yet it happens again and again, and in the case of Israel, the victim has today become the bully. So what is the real value in remembering? What is the value of history, when we don’t learn from it?

Reading this also brings to mind the case of Rwanda. The way they have ‘dealt’ with the genocide has been through ‘forgiveness’ — today, genocide perpetrators live side by side with the people whose families they butchered. Have they truly confronted their past? And are people genuinely forgiving?  This series of photographs, entitled Portraits of Reconciliation, by Pieter Hugo is really interesting.  In my opinion, I do not see forgiveness. I see grudging acceptance. I’d love to look through these photos tomorrow with the class and discuss your thoughts on this.