Tag Archives: Latin America

Imaginar América Latina – conference on visual arts

Imaginar América Latina: pasado y presente de los Estudios Visuales.

IV Encuentro Internacional de Estudios Visuales Latinoamericanos

A celebrar en junio de 2015 (fechas exactas a confirmar) en Querétaro (México).

Organiza: Red de Estudios Visuales Latinoamericanos (ReVLaT).
Los estudios visuales tienen como objetivo principal el análisis crítico de las imágenes y las prácticas de la visualidad, al tiempo que abordan la producción de significado cultural por medio de ésta. En este sentido, los estudios visuales requieren de la interacción con otros campos del saber, como la antropología cultural, los estudios culturales, los abordajes decoloniales, la comunicación social, la literatura y el cine, los estudios curatoriales, la fotografía o los referentes patrimoniales, entre otros muchos.
Por su parte, los estudios visuales latinoamericanos requieren de un acercamiento al contexto de nuestras regiones y realidades nacionales teniendo en cuenta sus especificidades sociales, políticas y geo-estéticas. Así, los estudios visuales latinoamericanos se insertan en un escenario global, con el objetivo de impulsar los análisis críticos frente a una lectura unívoca y no diversa de nuestras realidades. Además, se alejan de los tópicos y mitos que han convertido la región en “exótica realidad”.
El IV Encuentro Internacional de Estudios Visuales Latinoamericanos: Imaginar América Latina, tiene la finalidad de reunir investigadores, especialistas y estudiantes internacionales que han hecho suyos los temas relativos al estudio de la imagen y la cultura visual latinoamericana. En esta ocasión, el Encuentro centrará su atención en la discusión de las diferentes líneas temáticas que, en conjunto, conforman el panorama actual de los estudios visuales latinoamericanos. El objetivo será debatir sobre el pasado y el presente de la actual cultura visual latinoamericana, destacando y caracterizando sus señas de identidad, los referentes históricos que han llevado a conformar un campo propio de investigación, los lazos que la unen a procesos sociales y culturales que se han dado a lo largo de su historia y las crisis de identidad que ha atravesado en su desarrollo. Esto puede ser abordado tanto a través de estudios de caso, como de propuestas teóricas o metodológicas más generales.
El IV Encuentro Internacional de Estudios Visuales Latinoamericanos, organizado por la Red de Estudios Visuales Latinoamericanos (ReVLaT) se desarrollará en varias sesiones organizadas en mesas, de acuerdo a las coincidencias temáticas y/o metodológicas de las ponencias seleccionadas. Tendrá lugar en Querétaro (México), en el mes de junio de 2015.
Las propuestas deberán incluir los siguientes elementos: título, breve biografía académica del autor (máx. 500 palabras), datos de contacto, resumen (máx. 600 palabras), cinco palabras clave y el texto completo de la ponencia (máx. 5.000 palabras, unas 8 páginas). Deberán ser enviadas hasta el 5 de febrero de 2015 a: [email protected]
Las ponencias tratarán de los diversos temas que son propios de los estudios visuales y la cultura visual, siempre dentro del marco cultural denominado América Latina, lo que incluye también aquellas expresiones que, no perteneciendo al área geográfica, comparten e impulsan un referente cultural latinoamericano. Se podrán abarcar todos los medios de expresión que conciernen a la imagen. El tiempo máximo de exposición será de veinte minutos.
http://www.revlat.com/noticias
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Kukuli Velarde–the empire looks back

Kukuli Velarde, Patron Santiago (Corpus Series), red clay low fire, underglazes, casein, gold leaf and wax, 84 h x 49 d x 26.5 w cm, 2013

Kukuli Velarde, Patron Santiago (Corpus Series), red clay low fire, underglazes, casein, gold leaf and wax, 84 h x 49 d x 26.5 w cm, 2013

Kukuli Velarde is a Peruvian-born artist whose work deconstructs the Spanish colonisation of Andean peoples. Here she writes about the southern agenda behind her work:

Like the majority of Peruvians, I am the product of the forced combination of the european and the indigenous worlds, which ultimately can be seen also as the forced combination of two aesthetics. CORPUS is an attempt to explore and develop a body of work that visually narrates Peruvian history through physical syncretism, combining pre-Columbian and Colonial sensibilities within the objects created, in order to document our paradoxical idiosyncrasies. CORPUS is also a search for a truer Peruvian aesthetic than just the one taught by the victor. Once we are able to artistically represent what historically we have experienced, then can we successfully join in the larger community of nations and contribute to the wealth of international aesthetics… The European aesthetics, which is the international aesthetics today, was formed in the image and likeness of their creators, maybe it’s time to reflect and reconsider whether we, Peruvians, shouldn’t place ourselves at the center of our likes and dislikes,  stopping being the dissonant ugly ones in the ‘movie’, the stone guests to a banquet to which we were not even invited.

Corpus rite in Cusco

Corpus rite in Cusco

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the city of Cusco had 350 Wakas, sacred places where representations of beneficial entities could be placed, linked to natural elements such as sun, water and corn. Colonisation involved the occupation of shrines, replacing many local gods with the one Jesus. The rite of Corpus has been held since 1572 when Viceroy Francisco Toledo received the order of the king of Spain to “fight” the Wakas of Cusco. This involves a procession of fifteen icons, representing religious figures such as Saint Sebastian and Santiago.

Velarde’s Corpus series reveals the indigenous figure harboured inside its official Christian mask. The pedestal is inspired in the actual platforms on which Santiago is carried in the Cusquenian Corpus. The form and designs of horse and man are drawn from Tiwanaku sculptures.

While exposing the hidden reality, the works also bring together the two worlds that house the mixed identity of someone like Velarde – ‘I am the product of the forced combination of the European and the indigenous worlds.’ Velarde’s work does not fit neatly into the essentialism of indigenismo, which seeks to de-colonise the Andean region, stripping away the traces of European colonisers. It is rather a carnivalesque play of cultures otherwise ordered hierarchically in order of whiteness. See her website for more examples of this prolific artist.

The proposal to legalise drugs in South America

Security is one of the most important topics in International Studies. This concept is not always related to the North, the South has had its own threats too: throughout 19th and 20th centuries there have been Western empires, ideological battles and US interventions. But today, in South America, the main threat is drug trafficking and its roots are in economic globalization.

Free trade around the world is one of the most important long term economic trends and the exploitation of the free trade by emerging powers is an important short term trend. In this way, regions around the world have been impacted by new world economic powers like China. The Chinese demand of commodities around the world has resulted in high international prices and lucrative imports from countries like Chile, Peru and Brazil.

Together with China, Brazil has been very important in South America (in spite of its low growth throughout 2012) especially for countries like Bolivia or Paraguay, two landlocked states, where the main export to the Brazilian market is energy.

Thus, most of South American economies are growing around 4%[1] and during last decade poverty has decreased, even in Bolivia, the poorest regional country;[2] this is mainly because government efforts in this period have been focused on keeping macroeconomic responsibility plus implementation of social programs. Nonetheless, there are two main economic menaces in the region: first, most of South American countries are relying on China’s economy success, which in turn will not be forever. Second, if Brazil keeps its economy dependent on a bumpy Europe, and if the called “Brazil Cost”[3] continues without solution, most of its neighbours will suffer some consequences in the future[4].

In this context, most important security challenge in the region is drug trafficking and the first goal of defence policies is in human security. In order to overcome these issues countries are developing their own military actions: Democratic Security Policy (Colombia), “Ágata” Military Operations (between Brazil, Bolivia and Peru), “BOLBRA” war games (Bolivia and Brazil), or the New National Security Strategy and Defence of Chile whose main theatre of operations is Arica, region located in the border with Peru and Bolivia.

To understand this regional security challenge, first we have to highlight two of its main causes. First, despite the regional economic growth and social programs there are a huge social inequality and a strong social feeling of injustice (let’s remember student’s riots in Chile during 2011), many disadvantaged people choose alternative ways to realise social progress through gang activities. This happens in Rio do Janeiro (Brazil), Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), VRAEM (Peru), La Legua (Chile), and so on. It is certainly true that South American social problems could be worst if emerging powers cannot maintain its economy growth in the future.

Second, the economic growth and social programs in countries like Chile or Brazil have resulted in a huge middle class with capacity to consumption and, therefore, drugs traffickers have new markets to sell cocaine, besides its traditional big markets such as the United States and Western Europe. Clear example of this is the power gained by gang Primero Comando da Capital in Sao Paulo, which traffics from Paulist jails to the Brazilian market. In this sense, it is very important for Brazilian authorities to keep the control over international borders, because these gangs make business with cocaine dealers from Bolivia or Peru.

Without doubt, the situation is more complex when gang activities are connected to terrorist groups or irregular armies like the FARC. In this case the Colombian government has made enormous military and political efforts in order to combat this organization; actually today there is hope on Colombian peace negotiations lead by President Santos, because the end of war in Colombia could be the end of the main “narco-guerrilla”.

The Colombian case is especially worrying due to the guerrilla’s war impacts on Venezuela and Ecuador[5], two countries known by their difficult borders. According to the UNODC (2012) Venezuela has become the main port for Colombian cocaine to transatlantic routes, and Ecuador has become an important transit place too.

There is not easy solution to this kind of regional challenge, because drug trafficking and social inequalities are the first link in an intricate chain connecting Central America and Mexico, where transnational criminal gangs have got a dangerous power. On the other hand, South American countries are not the primarily responsible or, at least they are not only responsible of drug trafficking, because the primarily cocaine consumers are in the West.

In other words, this problem seems to be a transnational issue, and in this sense, one alternative would be legalizing the cocaine trafficking in order to dismiss criminal gangs, to get secure cocaine markets and better statistics of cocaine consumers. But this kind of solution would require big cultural and institutional changes.

For instance, in Uruguay President José Mujica has recently proposed to legalize marijuana consumption and to educate people about this issue, but this proposal will not be able to become law while conservative groups have influence over popular opinion, especially the Catholic Church and right wing parties. In fact, Mujica recognized later that society is not yet ready to this kind of measures.

Another important step has been Bolivian experience during Evo Morales presidency, because his administration recognizes coca leaf farmer rights and coca cultural values. Bolivian policies on coca leaf represent a deep change of mentality since DEA interventions in the country two decades ago, when coca leaf activities were synonymous of crime. But at the same time, the new Bolivian institutional model has not meant the end or decrease of illegal coca leaf planting.

Both Uruguay and Bolivia cases show that, at least, the legalization debate has started. In this sense, maybe the most important signal of a new time has been the Global Commission on Drug Policy, where much respected intellectuals and politicians were able to participate, such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Fernando Enrique Cardoso, César Gaviria, Ernesto Zedillo, Kofi Annan, Paul Volcker and George P. Schultz. In its report (2011) the Commission proposed to create new institutional models around the world in order to legalize drugs. The main argument for this proposal is the failure of drug policies during last fifty years, especially the war against drugs launched by President Nixon; together with this, the commission stated the importance to pay more attention to health programs instead of military policies[6].

Notwithstanding this, all these signals are not enough to take seriously an international legalization model and certainly they are not enough to overcome current military policies as key actions to combat drugs trafficking.

Claudio Coloma is an academic at the University of Santiago of Chile

Notes


[1] IMF-Western Hemisphere Department. Regional Economic Outlook. Washington, D.C. October 2012.

[2] Weisbrot, Mark, Rebecca Ray and Jake Johnston. Bolivia: The Economy During the Morales Administration. Center for Economic and Policy Research. Washington, D.C. December 2009.

[3] Combination of bureaucratic hurdles, complex taxes and insufficient infrastructure. Glickhouse, Rachel. Rousseff Takes on the Infamous “Brazil Cost”. AS/COA. May 22, 2012.

[4] According to IMF “low growth and uncertainty in advanced economies are affecting emerging market and developing economies”. Emerging powers such as China and Brazil are reliant on developed countries, especially USA and UE. IMF. World Economic Outlook. Washington, D.C. October 2012.

[5] IISS. The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of ´Raúl Reyes`. London. 2011.

[6] Informe de la Comisión Global de Políticas de Drogas, junio de 2011, www.globalcommissiondrugs.org

What it takes to tango

Opening of 'Make the Common Precious' in Santiago, 2006, showing links between art from everyday materials in Australia and the poetry of Pablo Neruda

Opening of 'Make the Common Precious' in Santiago, 2006, showing links between art from everyday materials in Australia and the poetry of Pablo Neruda

On 29-30 August 2012, the University of Melbourne hosted a two day event Melbourne-Latin America Dialogue which was designed as a ‘space for high-level exchange of ideas and experiences that brings together Latin American and Australian experts from scientific, technological, artistic, business and educational fields.’ It was indeed an intense series of events, with up to two hundred people, including the full contingent of Latin American ambassadors and many caped volunteers.

After welcome and opening remarks, the dialogue began with a focus on resources, including professors of mining and representatives of business. This marked the main theme of the dialogue – economic opportunities provided by the growth of Latin American countries. Of particular interest was the $65 billion privatisation process recently announced by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, offering a significant opening for foreign investment.

By the final session, ‘Opportunities and challenges for the Australia-Latin America relationship’, participants were very upbeat about future partnerships. But there were issues to overcome. Ronaldo Veirano, Honorary Consul of Australia to Rio de Janeiro and Executive Director of the Macquarie Funds Group, pointed out the obstacles in the way of realising these opportunities. For many Australian businesses, they still see Latin America as a politically unstable continent, while for Latin Americans Australia is barely visible.

Given that cultural stereotypes were raised as a major issue in development partnerships, it was odd that there was no session devoted to culture, arts or ideas in this dialogue. The more or less exclusive focus was on economic opportunity. While this is clearly a limited range of engagement in terms of broader international relations, it is also fraught within its own terms. If the aim is to expand business activity into Latin America, it seems critical to change these stereotypes through broader cultural exchange between Australia and Latin America.

In the final session, Jose Blanco, the Chairman of the Australia-Latin America Business Council, spoke about team Australia-Latin America in competition with team Australia-Asia. If this is indeed the scenario, then it is worth looking at how the competition have been building up their capacities. Ever since the Asian focus was elevated when Paul Keating was Prime Minister, it has been seen as important to develop our regional identity through cultural programs – sending a diverse range of Australian exhibitions and performances to Asia and hosting Asian artists here. Both the Asia Pacific Triennial and Asialink were established as necessary platforms to pave the way for future economic ties.

Much of the exchange currently is being handled by the Council of Australia Latin American Relations. This is largely a back-room body, supporting individual projects. Those businesses that are keen on Latin America could do worse than the Myer Foundation, who largely funded Asialink, and help establish a public body to foster cultural ties. Like Asialink, this could be done through a hosting of exchanges and visitors, publishing thought pieces, and nurturing a broader narrative about cultural partnership.

There are some obvious common interests across the Pacific:

  • the place of Indigenous cultures in a contemporary context
  • impact of globalisation, particularly on cultural diversity
  • intellectual property in the information age
  • impact of mining and development on communities
  • multiculturalism
  • relationship to nature
  • gender in society

There are immediate opportunities for business across the Pacific. But if these are to grow into long term partnerships, then an understanding of common interest would need to be developed.

It may take two to tango. But both have to learn how to dance first.

Southpaw launch–a new literary journal

South Paw Order Form

 

SOUTHPAW # 1

You are invited to the launch of a new literary journal
Southpaw: writing from the global south

To be launched by
Professor Stephen Knight
Wednesday 14th December
Arena Project Space
2 Kerr Street Fitzroy
6.30 pm

Refreshments

All welcome

Southpaw # 1 features writing from and about Australia, Africa, China, Philippines, South America and the Pacific around the theme of displacement. It includes essays on the idea of South, power shifts in East Arnhem Land, change and development in Philippines, UFOS in South America and displacement in Colombia fiction and creative non-fiction from Angola, Australia, China, New Zealand, South Africa and Suriname; reviews of Tamil pulp fiction, Indigenous graphic novels and documentaries from the Pacific. There’s an Ainu fable re-told, a radio play and poetry from many places in the global South, much of it in new translation.

Further information: 9416 0232 or 0418 304 500.

Other Knowledges: Reflections on Recent Archaeology in South America by David Turnbull

To give you some sense of where I am coming from, I have always worked in what is now known as science studies, and in particular within the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK). My overarching interest has been with looking at the ways in which people, practices, and places are moved and assembled in differing local knowledge traditions. So I see my work and that which the Latin American historian Santiago Castro-Gomez has labelled ‘Coloniality of Power’ Group, as having a key question in common­– how to work with the multiplicity of knowledges without subordinating them in the panoptic archive of western science.[1]

A guiding principle of SSK has been ‘things could be other than they are’, accordingly that which seems self-evident, natural, true or authoritative requires examination and explanation. The historical understanding of South America, like the global south as a whole, Australia included, has been frequently enmeshed in the self-evident and naturalising assumptions of Eurocentric explanations of the emergence of complex societies and civilization, of what civilisation consists in and how it came to be. This is especially apparent in the méconnaissance and violent misrecognition surrounding knowledges, spaces and rationalities in the narratives of prehistory within which South America has been framed.[2] South America has been variously portrayed as the last continent to be ‘discovered’, a ‘New World’, a pristine wilderness, as inhabited by primitive natives without civilization, though with the acknowledged exception of the Incas. Not only has South America been continuously subjected to the most extreme forms of violent conquest and exploitation since Columbus chanced upon it, but our understandings of it have been shaped within a narrative of a universalizing knowledge tradition and an abstract space, perhaps the most egregious and disturbingly popular being Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel.[3]

However, such narratives have been substantially challenged from a number of directions. First and foremost have been the challenges from South American critics, authors, and indigenous activists including Jorge Luis Borges[4], Edmundo O’Gorman[5], Arturo Escobar[6], Walter Mignolo[7], Enrique Dussel[8], Eduardo Viveiros de Castro,[9] and the movements leading to the establishment of The Intercultural University “Amawtay Wasi” (UIAW) of the Indigenous Nationalities and People of Ecuador[10], all of whom, in various ways, aim to destabilise the dichotomies under which the hierarchical hegemony of a unifying and universalising western science is established. They pose differing oppositions of unity and multiplicity in their conceptions of ‘agonistic pluralism’, ‘transmodernity’, ‘diversality’, ‘interculturality’, ‘multinaturalism’. Other challenges have come from a rethinking of the peopling of the world, the origins of complexity, modernity and civilization, that have emerged along with the geneticisation of history and archaeological work in Africa and the Near East. But it is the debates and controversies surrounding recent archaeological and historical ecological research in Norte Chico and Amazonia, and their articulation in understanding the emergence of complex societies and what constitutes civilization that are the central concerns of this paper. Naturally this concern carries with it a reflexive corollary: can an explanation of complexity in terms of emergence avoid simply being an extension of a universalizing knowledge tradition on the one hand, while avoiding a vitiating proliferation of multiplicities on the other?

A number of assumptions have served to preset the narratives of prehistory. Among them are the assumption that early man had little agency and was subject to population and environmental pressures, climate change, resource supply and geography, and that agency was only fully achieved with settlement and the invention of agriculture. This ‘sedentarist’ metaphysics reinforces the dominant orthodoxy that the Neolithic revolution was the precondition of civilisation and modernity, and was largely a Mesopotamian phenomenon.[11] Though counterparts in the East were acknowledged, the natural supremacy of Europe was assumed, because, at least according to Diamond, Europeans were geographically advantaged by being able to spread their domesticated crops and animals latitudinally. They were also lucky enough to have a climate and environment that encouraged them to sleep with their animals and thereby acquire immunity to infectious diseases. All they needed was to invent steel and the world was theirs.

This narrative underpins a particular conception of modernity and rationality that ties it to being settled in place — particularly Europe — and to building cities, establishing the rule of law and creating hierarchical states. Fixity in space and place has become the foundation stone of western rationality and epistemology. Consequently unrestrained movement is equated with wandering, irrationality, placelessness and the primitive, something that needs to be controlled, located and set in logical, linear order.[12] It is now possible to pose a counter narrative in which movement is given greater salience, and in which the notion of revolutions, especially the European Neolithic revolution, as foundation of modernity are undermined by recent archaeological work in South Africa, Turkey, and South America.

Arguably one of the key components on which all forms of movement depend is a social technology of kinship – a network of relatedness, bonding, and obligations that enables the transmission of resource access and knowledge across generations through a classification of friends, enemies, and strangers. Such conceptions of kinship and relatedness are social and cultural constructs and do not necessarily map naturally onto genetic and biological relationships. However, the development of such complex forms of social cognition is, Clive Gamble suggests, a prerequisite for overcoming the limitations of co-presence and extending relationships in space and time. A view that is consonant with Robin Dunbar’s ‘social brain hypothesis’.[13] Dunbar argues that ‘Primate societies are implicit social contracts established to solve the ecological problems of survival and reproduction more effectively than they could do on their own. Primate societies work as effectively as they do in this respect because they are based on deep social bonding that is cognitively expensive. Thus it is the computational demands of managing complex interactions that has driven neocortical evolution.’ This conception of the dynamics of human neocortical evolution as social rather than simply technological or biological fits well with both the model proposed by Stanley Ambrose for the co-development of language, symbolisation, a larger brain, and compound tool-making that began in Africa around 300,000BP, and with Ben Marwick’s claim that language and symbolisation developed with the extension of exchange networks.[14] In large part the symbolisation and feedback essential to the development of such social networks depends on keeping track of relatedness and kinship through forms of telling – performing and representation, storytelling, singing, dancing, painting, building, and, importantly for my argument, weaving.[15]

The narrative of human dispersals around the world simply as mass migrations or demic diffusions, can now be countered with a more complex narrative. One in which human movements are seen a relatively fast and strategic, demonstrating great flexibility in a diversity of environments, necessitating complex information exchange systems that allow group decision making and feedback, but without the necessity for hierarchy or plans.[16] Such information-exchange systems typically exhibit forms of emergent complexity in which relationships, language, materials, genes, places, practices and people are co-produced in the process of human movement.[17]

Correspondingly there are at least two possible frameworks, with multiple dimensions, within which to understand the origins of social complexity, modernity, and the relationship of knowledge and space. In a heterarchical framework social order can be understood as an emergent effect of a complex adaptive system. While a hierarchical framework implies that systemic superstructural forces produce social order. In turn heterarchical models have a dynamic based in multiplicity and difference, while hierarchical models are totalizing. I would argue that the answer to how work with multiplicity is not to simply favour the heterarchical, but to hold these two frameworks in the kind of tension of agonistic pluralism advocated by Dussel, that would allow for emergent knowledges and spaces.

Python Rock, oldest religious site, Tsodilo Hills, Botswana, 77 kya

Python Rock, oldest religious site, Tsodilo Hills, Botswana, 77 kya

To date production of universalising scientific knowledge has been a narrative of dependency on a tightly demarcated organisation of abstract space and regularized movement. However, the naturalization of this narrative of space, time and knowledge subserving an account of European modernity is now countered by recent discoveries at the Blombos Cave and Pinnacle Point in Southern Africa which reveal that the behaviours that have been claimed to make humans ‘modern’ such as sourcing, combining, and storing materials that enhance technology or social practices, along with external symbolization and religion, occurred, not in Europe after a Neolithic revolution, but 100,000 years ago, before humans ever left Africa.[18]

Fig 2 Pierced shells Blombos Cave 75kya indicating external symbolisation and use of string

Fig 2 Pierced shells Blombos Cave 75kya indicating external symbolisation and use of string

Fig 3 Incised ochre with possible tally marks according to Ambrose

Fig 3 Incised ochre with possible tally marks according to Ambrose

Fig 4 Incised Ostrich shells

Fig 4 Incised Ostrich shells

Fig 5 Arrow heads

Fig 5 Arrow heads

While recent excavations in Turkey and Jordan suggest that the sequence of settle down, invent agriculture and only then are complex and hierarchical structures and societies possible is not the way things worked out in every case, rather there appear to have been a diversity of approaches to living and working together, including examples of building complex structures without agriculture or settling down.[19]

Fig 7 Community center for processing wild plants, and performances. Wadi Faynan 16 South Jordan 12,000BP

Fig 7 Community center for processing wild plants, and performances. Wadi Faynan 16 South Jordan 12,000BP

Fig 8 Gobekli Tepe 11.5kya pre-agricultural monumental architecture

Fig 8 Gobekli Tepe 11.5kya pre-agricultural monumental architecture

Fig 9 Çatalhöyük 9.5kya post-agriculture; all domestic spaces, no complex monumental architecture, the only public space being house roofs

Fig 9 Çatalhöyük 9.5kya post-agriculture; all domestic spaces, no complex monumental architecture, the only public space being house roofs

Fig replica of a Catal Hoyuk house, with everything public and domestic in one space:- a shrine, a hearth and ancestors under the bed

Fig replica of a Catal Hoyuk house, with everything public and domestic in one space:- a shrine, a hearth and ancestors under the bed

There is no time here to expand on the evidence for alternative paths to complex societies in the Near East, or on the evidence of human movements by sea in prehistory.

Fig 10 Possible Maritime Routes into South America- the ’kelp highway’

Fig 10 Possible Maritime Routes into South America- the ’kelp highway’

However, the revision of the view that human movement around the globe was largely by land, opens up the possibility of a much earlier time frame for the peopling of South America no longer constrained by an impassable barrier in eth Bering Straits. As early as 30,000BP people could have been coasting on the ‘kelp highway, with multiple groups overlapping each other along the coast and penetrating the interior simultaneously.[20]

It also lends strong support to Michael Moseley’s controversial ‘Maritime foundation of Andean civilization’ (MFAC) hypothesis, that is at the heart of the debate over Caral which, with its impressive size and massive pyramids and plazas, is now variously proclaimed the ‘oldest city’ or ‘oldest civilization in the Americas’, even ‘the oldest in the world’ and which is the main focus of this talk.[21]

Fig 11 Norte Chico

Fig 11 Norte Chico

The area of coastal Peru north of Lima, now known as Norte Chico, was first noted as significant in 1905. Aspero, the site at the mouth of the Supe river on which Caral stands, was excavated in 1941 by Willey and Corbett. Much to their subsequent embarrassment Willey and Corbett simply failed to recognise the existence of pyramids at the site, dismissing them as ‘natural eminences of sand’.[22] The site did not excite much attention because it was pre-ceramic, having no pottery or gold; it was also in an arid cold desert. It simply didn’t rate as a site of a possible civilization.

Fig 11 Aerial view Caral Complex

Fig 11 Aerial view Caral Complex

Fig 12 Ampitheatre Pyramid Caral

Fig 12 Ampitheatre Pyramid Caral

Fig 13 Caral Megalith

Fig 13 Caral Megalith

Fig 14 Main Plaza torch lit

Fig 14 Main Plaza torch lit

Fig 15 Caral Geoglyph Human Face

Fig 15 Caral Geoglyph Human Face

Fig 16 Shicra (woven) reed bags of differing sizes filled with stones

Fig 16 Shicra (woven) reed bags of differing sizes filled with stones

image

image

Fig 17 4000-year-old engraved gourd image reveals the fanged teeth and splayed feet of the

Fig 17 4000-year-old engraved gourd image reveals the fanged teeth and splayed feet of the

It was not until the late 1990s that the single-minded persistence of the Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady revealed its full complexity and extent with multiple, massive pyramids, temples, plazas and residences. Interest in Caral became intense when Shady published the dating results in Science in 2001 with the help of Jonathon Haas and Winifred Creamer from the Field Museum in Chicago.[23] At 2900 BCE it was declared ‘the oldest civilization in the Americas’, making Caral one of the oldest civilizations in the world. At this period the only other site with that degree of urban complexity was Sumer in Mesopotamia.

Haas and Creamer have turned their attention to revealing the complex of sites in adjacent valleys, and to articulating an alternative explanation to Ruth Shady’s for the emergence of this society, while Shady has continued to excavate Caral. Despite a growing rivalry and differing explanations, Shady and Haas/Creamer have taken each other’s work into account and have more in common than their apparent differences.[24] The importance of Caral lies in the fact that much of what has been found does not fit with the orthodox understanding of the emergence of a complex society, of civilization. The same can be said of recent work in Amazonia.

Much to everyone’s surprise historical ecologists, archaeologists and anthropologists, Anna Roosevelt, William Denevan, Clark Erickson, William Balée and Michael Heckenberger have found evidence of the fabled civilizations first reported by Francisco de Orellana in his extraordinary voyage down the Amazon in 1541. The region may have had a population of 4-5million, but who, in a wavefront of disease, possibly smallpox, disappeared ahead of full-scale Spanish invasion. Such large populations, it is claimed, were made possible by the total and deliberate transformation of what would be otherwise rather difficult and restricted ecosystems with very poor soil subject to severe flooding. The Amazon, on this account, is not a pristine wilderness, but an anthropogenic construct, a performative landscape with spatial, temporal and epistemological dimensions, a co-production of human agency, knowledge practices, movement and the environment. Until recently what has gone unnoticed, seemingly invisible in the dense rainforests, were the massive complexes of geometrical earthworks, mounds, causeways, canals, roads, fishtraps and terra preta.[25]

Fig 18 Prehispanic Raised fields Beni Region Bolivian Amazonia

Fig 18 Prehispanic Raised fields Beni Region Bolivian Amazonia

Fig Terra Preta mounds

Fig Terra Preta mounds

Fig 19 Xingu complex of villages

Fig 19 Xingu complex of villages

These earthworks and soil transformations enabled the proliferation of large interlinked urban settlements. Around the Amazon and its tributaries in the floodplains (varzea) the dark earth (terra preta) mounds, carefully and deliberately created out of soil mixed with charcoal, broken pottery, fish and food remains and human excreta, were superbly fertile, allowing the abundant growth of food crops.[26]

Fig 20 Fazenda Colorada Geoglyph Geometric Earthworks Upland Amazonia.

Fig 20 Fazenda Colorada Geoglyph Geometric Earthworks Upland Amazonia.

At the same time geometrical earthworks or geoglyphs are starting to become visible in upland areas of the Amazon (terra firme) as they are exposed by forest clearing and archaeology’s newest research technique Google Earth. These massive constructions are most likely to be performance spaces, though there is some possibility that they had defensive functions. Whatever their function the researchers anticipate finding thousands more such structures, revealing a completely unexpected degree of social complexity in a region held to have been only capable of supporting simple villages.[27]

Now that the first round of what Denevan calls the ‘Amazon archaeology wars’ has been won, and the presence of these vast complexes has largely been accepted, what remains at issue is how and why they could have been built. The critics argue that the massive earthworks would have required a correspondingly massive workforce, which in turn would have necessitated a hierarchical social structure and division of labour, typical of state-level societies, along with an augmented food supply, i.e. agriculture,

Erikson, Heckenberger and Roosevelt have shown that there is evidence of augmented food supply, but agree there is no historical or ethnographic evidence of such hierarchical social structures in Amazonia [28] They suggest the earthworks, were built by heterarchical societies: groups of communities, loosely bound by shifting horizontal links through kinship, alliances, and informal associations. For Heckenberger these were ‘self-organising autonomous polities in a distributed system’, for Erickson the result is ‘the accumulated landscape capital of generations of farmers who built it more or less on their own’. [29]

In my own work I have similarly argued that complex structures like the gothic cathedrals did not, in the first instance, require either a master architect or a plan, they were the result of the ‘ad hoc accumulation of the work of many men’.[30] However, I would also argue that these communal activities have to be understood performatively. These communities were creating knowledge spaces, enabling people, practices and places to be linked together. They socialised the landscape through performance of a collective social identity.[31]

At Norte Chico the evidence is more equivocal. Norte Chico is of great importance because of its special features, not just its surprising age. It is built in one the most arid environments on earth, which would seem to lend support to Moseley’s MFAC hypothesis based on the superabundance of anchovies, sardines and molluscs on the Peruvian coast. However, Shady’s discoveries at Caral and Haas and Creamer’s at other inland sites in Norte Chico reveal a complexity that caused Moseley to modify his claim that ‘it’s all based on fish’. All the sites are centered on irrigation utilising the seasonal floodwaters of the four main rivers coming down from the Andes. While some food crops were grown in these irrigation areas, the dominant crop was domesticated cotton. Despite Haas and Creamer’s claims that their inland sites are as old as, and outnumber the coastal ones, and[V1] that hence the maritime hypothesis cannot hold, it seems plausible to claim that the region displays a unique example of co-dependency.[32]

Fig 21 Buena Vista site of oldest calendar? 4.2kya

Fig 21 Buena Vista site of oldest calendar? 4.2kya

Fig 22 Sechin Baja Plaza near Casma 5.5kya

Fig 22 Sechin Baja Plaza near Casma 5.5kya

Fresh sites of greater age are being found, on the coast, inland, and in the mountains as attention has become focused on Norte Chico, at Sechin Baja at Casma, Buena Vista, Bandurria and Chankillo for example.[33] These sites suggest that initially they were autonomous, though right from the earliest stages they were linked in trading networks exchanging exotic goods up and down the coast, inland into the mountains, possibly even to the Amazon.

Fig 23 Bandurria 4.5kya

Fig 23 Bandurria 4.5kya

Fig 28 Found at Caral: 1. feather necklace 2. offering 3. basket 4. sandal

Fig 28 Found at Caral: 1. feather necklace 2. offering 3. basket 4. sandal

Fig 29 Whale vertebra seat unearthed at Caral

Fig 29 Whale vertebra seat unearthed at Caral

Fig 30 Caral Flutes with Incised Amazonian jungle monkey images

Fig 30 Caral Flutes with Incised Amazonian jungle monkey images

Fig 27 Spondylus shell

Fig 27 Spondylus shell

For example Spondylus shells from the warm water off the Ecuadorian coast have been found in the Andes, as have salt crystals from the Peruvian coast.[34] Feathers from the Amazon jungle along with Condor bones, the aphrodisiac achiote, and obsidian from the Andes have all been found in Norte Chico.[35] Michael Moseley suggests that there was an ancient coastal trading tradition with exchange specialists called mindala. [36] These traders sailed massive balsa rafts up to Mexico carrying Spondylus shells and other exotic materials, and would have been the kind of craft captured by the conquistador Pizarro in 1526.

Shady’s and Haas and Creamer’s attraction to a hierarchical explanation of social complexity may in part be rooted in their attempt to attribute a special iconic status to Norte Chico as a ‘mother civilisation’ on the grounds that, unlike any other, it grew in isolation from outside influence.[37] The trading networks and exchange systems which would have been established through the movements and interactions of the region’s earliest occupants, as a precursor to social complexity, make such miraculous births seem as unlikely as ‘neolithic revolutions’ and ‘pristine wildernesses’, whilst they also undermine the apparent corollary of seeming to have done it all by themselves, and that there must have been an elite to direct it.[38]

Autonomous communities and exchange networks aside, the evidence seems to show that the inland communities’ basic source of protein was fish, and for the coastal communities to supply that volume of food they had to have nets, nets made[V2] from cotton domesticated and grown in irrigated plots inland. Over time what may have developed was a relationship of co-dependence rather than dominance by one or the other. Equally problematic is the qustionof how the labour force was organised to build this massive complex of monuments[V3] ?

For Haas it’s straightforwardly obvious: The size of a structure is really an indication of power…People don’t just say, ‘Hey, let’s build a great big monument.’ They do it because they’re told to and because the consequences of not doing so are significant.[39] Shady is likewise in no doubt, it was a proto-state run by an elite in the service of a religious ideology: ‘Religion functioned as the instrument of cohesion and coercion, and it was very effective’[40] But her key claim for the necessary existence of an elite hierarchy dominated by religious and scientific experts is that Caral was laid out in a specific spatial plan based on astronomy and a calendar.

[t]he arrangement of architectural structures implies a spatial ordering that preceded construction and the elaboration of a planned design of the city, that recognised important social organisational criteria such as hierarchical social strata and symbolic divisions into halves- upper and lower, right and left…Supe society produced advanced scientific and technological knowledge; it constructed the first planned cities in the New World and laid down the foundations of what would become the Central Andean social system.[41]

Leaving aside the question of the evidence for accurate astronomical and calendrical alignments, which she does not provide, her argument depends on a self-evident understanding of knowledge and space. If a set of structures has a spatial ordering then there must have been a planner or group of planners. The apparent differentiation in the quality of domestic spaces may be evidence of social division, but it may also be interpreted as permanent and occasional accommodation. However, the claim of necessary hierarchy looks less cogent if the large geometric and spatially organised structures in the Amazon were built communally without an expert elite. Other archaeologists such as Richard Burger suggest that it was possible to mobilize the large labor force needed for such monumental architecture without state coercion. Like Shady he thinks religious ideology was the key innovation:

In motivating collective efforts, maintaining order and perpetuating the system… an ideology that held that the community not the individual owned and controlled critical resources… structured many of the productive activities and shaped social and economic dimensions. Consequently it would be misleading to think of religion – and particularly in these early ‘ceremonial centres’ – as somehow separate from the economic or political spheres.[42]

For Burger, unlike Shady, hierarchy is not self-evidently necessary nor is communal ideology inherently coercive.

Herrera proposes a ‘heterarchical framework that drives socio-spatial organization’ and: sketch[es] a picture of Andean social complexity as embedded in the history of deeply intertwined sacred and economic landscapes, held together by reciprocal relations about places, including sources of water, ultimately anchored in memory through the idiom of kinship.[43]

Burger’s and Herrera’s interpretive frameworks differ from that of Shady and Haas, not only in conceiving knowledge and space as an emergent effect of heterarchy, but also in being performative rather than representational, a framework which brings to the fore two key dimensions. The first gives the community active and engaged agency rather than reducing them to passivity and coercion. The second is the manifest spatial character of all the Norte Chico sites and especially Caral, where the central and most obvious characteristic is not the buildings or their layout, but the plazas and their associated performance spaces, spaces where the community enact their understandings of the world and the cosmos.[44] The cultural landscape and the community are the product of movement and social interaction, of people making connections. However, the performative and emergent character of an heterarchical, distributive system, framework cannot be assumed presumptively, it has to be held in tension with the top down structuralist character of an hierarchical one. But I also think we should treat the notion of tension as having more ontological significance than this epistemological point would suggest.

These reasons lie in the role of string and stories, textiles, khipu and narratives; other forms of connection which seem relatively slight, mundane and banal against the massive solidity of the pyramids and the vast plazas, but which were also central to the performance of knowledge and space at Caral.

Fig 31 Oldest Khipu Caral

Fig 31 Oldest Khipu Caral

Fig 32 Caral textile

Fig 32 Caral textile

In a sealed room in one of the pyramids in 2005 Shady and her team made the most exciting find at Caral – the earliest known example of a khipu, a proto-khipu consisting of a ladder-like assemblage of 12 cotton strings, some knotted, wrapped around sticks. Famously Khipu are the knotted string devices used for recoding and transmitting information in the Inca Empire. Along with the khipu many fragments of textiles have been which along with the landscape itself are held to be readable as narratives of social order and identity.

Fig 33 Andean textile

Fig 33 Andean textile

Heather Lechtman in her brilliant analysis of Andean technologies of power argues that solutions to the problem of productive management of the disparate and distributed systems in the Andes that were ‘uncoordinated spatially and temporally’, ‘had to be solutions of articulation, design and labour orchestration rather than through tools, artefacts, or machines’.[45] And it was textiles, string and Khipu that provided the means of orchestration.

‘Textiles were the primary visual medium for the expression of ideas, the fundamental art form of the Andean peoples’.[46] Their ‘weaving insists that messages be embodied in and expressed by structure’. [47] As Katherine Seibold puts it, ‘Textiles are art which reveals cosmologies.’[48] Inca landscapes were draped with textiles, as for example on the island of the sun in Lake Titicaca, and people’s clothing was designed to be read t reveal their status and their ethnicity.

 

Fig 34 Last Inca string bridge

Fig 34 Last Inca string bridge

‘Andean solutions to the most fundamental, physical and mechanical problems of daily life, as well as those of communication and ideology, were sought, conceived and executed through resource to technologies based on the engineering of fibres.’[49] According to William Conklin ‘tension was the Inca way. Textiles are held together by tension and they exploited that tension with amazing inventiveness and precision’.[50]

Fig 35 Ceque lines radiating out from Cuzco. According to Bauer

Fig 35 Ceque lines radiating out from Cuzco. According to Bauer

Fig 36 A khipu that may be a map of Ica Valley Ceque System

Fig 36 A khipu that may be a map of Ica Valley Ceque System

Fig Q’enqo Huaca near Cuzco. Maybe a map, a solar observatory, a shrine, an altar, a performance space, on, in, through and around.

Fig Q’enqo Huaca near Cuzco. Maybe a map, a solar observatory, a shrine, an altar, a performance space, on, in, through and around.

Likewise the landscape was marked by lines (ceques) radiating out from the capital Cuzco. These lines joining sacred shrines (huacas) formed an abstract social map projected onto the landscape as paths, which had their fabric and material analog in the knotted string khipu.[51] In their ‘discursive construction of the landscape…the ceque lines, and the khipu may be homologous forms: visible, tactile, and emotive, they each embody knowledge, produce history, and harness the memory’. [52] Khipu are knotted strings that hang off a main primary cord. Their spin, colour, size of knots and so on can record all kinds of knowledge. It has been known for some time that some of them are numerical ledger books recording llama flock numbers, labour tax records, tributes and food quantities in storage.[53] It is now hypothesised that there are many varieties of khipu and some may also encode narratives and histories.[54]

Fig 37 Khipu on display at civic plenum Peru 1995 (Salomon)

Fig 37 Khipu on display at civic plenum Peru 1995 (Salomon)

This understanding fits with that of the anthropologist Frank Salomon who has recently found khipus are still in use in some Peruvian villages.[55] Admittedly they have been undoubtedly transformed from those of their original Inca ancestors, nonetheless he finds khipu are markers of social obligation to the commons, and are also badges of office. They are used in pairs in dialogue with each other; one as sort of simulation of an agenda, the other a simulation of the results. The dialogue between the plan and the record generates the communally agreed rationality of the community and public acknowledgement of the labour obligations of its members. Basically Salomon finds khipu to be operational devices for trying out alternatives, for modelling and assembling a plan for the commons through being publicly performed in theatres or ceremonial plazas.

In Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, Elizabeth Barber made a delightful observation that she suspects string to be ‘the unseen weapon that allowed the human race to conquer the earth, that enabled us to move out into every econiche on the globe during the Upper Palaeolithic. We could call it the String Revolution’.[56] The recognition that the capacity to join things together through lashing, binding and knotting, with string or cordage, is what enabled people to move is of profound importance. Movements are performed by groups of people through the actions of their own bodies and are coordinated and motivated through ritual, music, dance and stories. Historically stories and string were very likely coproduced with one another; they certainly inform each other mythopoetically through the fundamental commonality of narrative and weaving. Weaving and storytelling reflect a common origin in the derivation of text and textile from the Latin verb texere to weave. What weaving, stories, and string share is the complex duality of tension and connection, difference and similarity. Stories join ideas, string joins things together, and both are dependent on tension.[57] String and cordage derive their connective capacity from tension in knots, binding, or twining. Weaving depends on the tension between the warp and the weft.

The “incredible fact,” in the view of William J. Conklin, architect, archaeologist and research associate at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C, is that “weaving was invented for what we might call ‘conceptual art’—to communicate meaning—and only afterward was it used for clothing. Textiles are important to every society. But their role in Andean societies as carriers of meaning and power is different from anything else that I know.”[58]

Just as khipu are not forms of writing Andean textiles are not representations.[59] Weaving and textiles like khipu are profoundly tactile coming alive in performance, which makes Andean knowledge traditions profoundly different ontologically and epistemologically from those underpinning Western conceptions of modernity. For the Inca ‘[t]he universe and the world are alive and this can be captured in weaving, the threads can have power, life and meaning are imparted by the weaver through rotation spinning and twisting’.[60] Tension is thus central to an Andean ontology, and to heterarchy and complex adaptive systems in the opposition of positive and negative feed back.[61] But, tension is also central to the agonistic pluralism and diversality that is vital to working with differing knowledge traditions, and to the possibility of emergent new knowledge.

The conditions for possibilities of there being other knowledges, other spaces, other rationalities’ lie, as Dussel suggested, in creating a space for transmodernity in which modernity and its negated alterity could co-realise themselves in a process of mutual creative fertilization. However, I would argue, along with Dussel, that in order to ground an anti-foundationalist position with its recognition of multiple incommensurable knowledge traditions you need to sustain critical reason in order to avoid the vitiation of simply celebrating difference.[62] Critical reason is best sustained through comparing the ways in which spatiality, temporality, knowledge and reason are coproduced in differing traditions. Such ontological dimensions are typically concealed and invisible behind a screen of self-evidence in any given tradition, bringing them to the fore and recognising them may best achieved through by putting them on a equitable footing, acknowledging that all knowledges whether they are indigenous, scientific or traditional, are local in that they are performed by people in places with specific practices. Holding them in tension can reveal the differing ways in which knowledge and space are co-produced. The linkings of people, practices and places and the production of knowledge spaces have messy, contingent, and only partly acknowledged dimensions: ontologies, systems of trust, reciprocity and obligation, technical devices, social strategies and spatial structures for moving, assembling, and performing the knowledge, along with narratives of spatiality and temporality that shape community and identity. In addition to being profoundly narratological and spatial, knowledges are also performative, they are based in embodied practices, in the movement of human bodies in engagement with each other, with the physical environment, and with their own artifacts, in the movement along cognitive trails through conceptual space in making linkages and connections.[63]

To make all these dimensions visible, to enable them to interact and to create the conditions for the possibility of the emergent knowledge, we need to experiment with ways to create third spaces, theatres of diversity in which differing knowledge traditions can not only be performed together, but can be critically compared in determining how best to proceed in sustaining diversity and the commons once we are aware of how things could be other than they are.[64] To that end I am working with Wade Chambers to develop Story Weaver at The Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) and with Robin Boast at the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology in Cambridge and Ramesh Srinivasen at UCLA to develop a distributed knowledge system between museums. Both these projects sustain the commons by allowing differing knowledges to work together while holding them in tension rather than absorbing them into one dominant tradition, but that is a story for another day.

This paper was previously subtitled ‘Other Spaces, Other Rationalities: Heterarchy, Complexity and Tension, Norte Chico, Amazonia and Narratives of Prehistory in South America’. It was delivered at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies, Melbourne on 5 Nov 2011 as part of the Southern Perspectives series by David Turnbull from the Victoria Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL), Architecture Faculty, University of Melbourne (email [email protected]).


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[30] Turnbull 2000.

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[34] Burger, Richard. 1992. Chavin and the Origins of Andean Civilization. London: Thames and Hudson, 32. See also http://www.chirije.com/the-spondylus-trail.html

[35] Brooks, Sarah Osgood. 1997. Source of Volcanic glass for Ancient Andean Tools. Nature 386 (6624):449-450.

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Owen, Bruce. 2010. The Late Preceramic period: Massive Monuments in Simple Societies 2006 [cited June 1st 2010].

[36] Moseley, Michael. 2001. The Incas and Their Ancestors: The Archaeology of Peru. London: Thames and Hudson, 48-9.

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Salomon, Frank. 1987. A North Andean Status Trader Complex Under Inca Rule. Ethnohistory 43 (1):63-77.

Burger, Richard. 1992. Chavin and the Origins of Andean Civilization. London: Thames and Hudson.

Heyerdahl, Thor, Daniel Sandweiss, and Alfredo Narvaez. 1995. Pyramids of Tucume: The Quest for Peru’s Forgotten City. London: Thames and Hudson.

Sandweiss, Daniel H. 1999. The Return of the Native Symbol: Peru Picks Spondylus to Represent New Integration with Ecuador. Society for American Archaeology 17 (2).

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[37] Mann, Charles C. 2005. Oldest Civilization in the Americas Revealed. Science 307 (5706):34-35.

[38] Marwick, Ben. 2003. Pleistocene Exchange Networks as Evidence for the Evolution of Language Cambridge Archaeological Journal 13 (1):67-81.Gamble, Clive. 2007. Origins and Revolutions: Human Identity in Earliest Prehistory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[39] na. 2001. Ancient Peruvian Metropolis Predates Other Known Cities. National Geographic News

[40] Solis, Ruth Shady. 2006. America’s First City? The Case of Late Archaic Caral. In Andean Archaeology 111: North and South, edited by W. Isbell and H. Silverman, 28-. New York: Springer, 58-9.

[41] Op cit 36, 62.

[42] Burger, 38.

[43] Herrera, 180

[44] Moore, Jerry. 2005. Cultural Landscapes in the Ancient Andes: Archaeologies of Place. Gainesville: University of Florida.

[45] Lechtman, Heather. "Technologies of Power: The Andean Case." In Configurations of Power: Holistic Anthropology in Theory and Practice, edited by John Henderson and Patricia Netherly, 244-81. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993, 246.

[46] Ibid 255

[47] Ibid 273

[48] Seibold, Katherine. "Textiles and Cosmology in Choquecancha, Cuzco, Peru." In Andean Cosmologies through Time: Persistence and Emergence, edited by Robert Dover, Katherine Seibold and John McDowell, 166-201. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

[49] Lechtman, 255.

[50] Mann, Charles. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2005, 83

[51] Abercrombie, 179

[52] Howard R, 2002, "Spinning A Yarn: Landscape, Memory, and Discourse Structure in Quechua Narratives", in Narrative Threads: Accounting and Recounting in Andean Khipu Eds J Quilter and G Urton (University of Texs Press, Austin) pp 26-52, 46. Frame M, 2001, "Beyond The Image: The Dimensions of Pattern in Ancient Andean Textiles", in Abstraction: The Amerindian Paradigm Ed C Paternosto (Societe des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelle, Brussells) pp 113-136.

[53] Urton, Gary. Signs of the Inka Khipu: Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.

[54] anon. "Language Could Be Tied up in Inca Knots." Canberra Times, Aug 13th 2005, 15.Brokaw, Galen. "Toward Deciphering the Khipu." Journal of Interdisciplinary History xxxv, no. 4 (2005): 571-89.Conklin, Willliam. "A Khipu Information String Theory." In Narrative Threads: Accounting and Recounting in Andean Khipu, edited by J. Quilter and G. Urton, 53-86. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.Quilter, J., and G. Urton, eds. Narrative Threads: Accounting and Recounting in Andean Khipu. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

[55] Salomon, Frank. The Cord Keepers: Khipus and Cultural Life in a Peruvian Village. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2004. See his khipu conservation project www.ucl.ac.uk/…/ peters-khipus/index.htm

[56] Barber, Elizabeth. Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years. New York: W.W, 45. See also Good, I. 2001, Archaeological Textiles: A Review of Current Research, Annual Review of Anthropology, 30, 209-226, 209.

[57] According to Webster’s Dictionary tension owes its etymology to the Sanskrit word for string. My thanks to Lesley Green for this point.

[58] Mann, Charles. 2005. Unraveling Khipu’s Secrets. Science 309 (5737):1008-1009.

[59] Mignolo, Walter. 1995. The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality and Colonization. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 86.

Boone, Elizabeth Hill. 1994. Introduction: Writing and Recording Knowledge. In Writing Without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes, edited by E. H. Boone and W. Mignolo, 3-26. Durham: Duke University Press.

[60] Conklin, William. 2008. The Culture of Chavin Textiles. In Chavin: Art, Architecture, and Culture, edited by W. Conklin and J. Quilter, 261-278. Los Angeles: Costen Institute of Archaeology, University of California.

[61] Turnbull, David. Working with Incommensurable Knowledge Traditions: Assemblage, Diversity, Emergent Knowledge, Narrativity, Performativity, Mobility and Synergy 2009 [cited. Available from http://thoughtmesh.net/publish/279.php?space#conclusionassemblage.

[62] Dussel, Enrique. 2000. Epilogue. In Thinking from the Underside of History: Enrique Dussel’s Philosophy of Liberation, edited by L. Alcoff and E. Mendieta, 269-290. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 276-7.Turnbull, David. 2005. Multiplicity, Criticism and Knowing What to Do Next: Way-finding in a Transmodern World’. Response to Meera Nanda’s Prophets Facing Backwards. Social Epistemology 19 (1):19-32.

[63] Cussins, Adrian. 1992. Content, Embodiment and Objectivity: The Theory of Cognitive Trails. Mind 101:651-688.

[64] Guardiola-Rivera, Oscar. 2010. What If Latin America Ruled the World? How the South Will Take the North into the 22nd Century. London: Bloomsbury Press, 48.

Escobar, Arturo. 2008. Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes. Durham: Duke University Press, 25.

Indigenous Knowledges in Latin America and Australia conference

Please note the upcoming Symposium that SURCLA is organising: Indigenous Knowledges in Latin America and Australia | Locating Epistemologies, Difference and Dissent | December 8-10, 2011.

The symposium will bring together Indigenous educators and intellectuals from Mexico, Argentina and Chile to Sydney to meet with interested Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators, scholars and activists, as well as non-Indigenous practitioners and allies, to discuss different models and approaches of Indigenous Knowledges and Education in the tertiary sector and beyond.

This project aims at helping educators and researchers in the Higher Education sector of Australia and Latin America to identify opportunities for integrating in their research and teaching and learning relevant aspects of Indigenous Knowledges in the areas of culture, education and sustainability.

Apart from the symposium itself, academic publications, public lectures by distinguished visitors and the creation of a website, the project will stimulate debate on Indigenous Knowledge and film production in Latin America and Australia by hosting film screenings on the topic.

For more information, visit the website.

David Turnbull – Other Knowledges: Reflections on Recent Archaeology in South America

Other Knowledges: Reflections on Recent Archaeology in South America
3 November 2011 7:30pm Institute of Postcolonial studies

David Turnbull considers recent research into the ancient civilisation of Caral in Peru, which questions the privileging of sedentary forms as necessary for complex social organisation. Turnbull reflects on the nature of heterarchy as framework for emergent knowledges and spaces. He relates this to the work of Enrique Dussel, which advocates ‘a space for transmodernity in which modernity and its negated alterity could co-realise themselves in a process of mutual creative fertilization.’

Dr David Turnbull is a philosopher of science who has published extensively on the history of space and time, with recent emphasis on concept specific to southern knowledges. His books include Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge (2000)

Institute of Postcolonial Studies
78-80 Curzon Street
North Melbourne
Victoria 3051 Australia (map)
Tel: 03 9329 6381
Admission – $5 for waged, $3 for unwaged, and free for members.

‘Decoloniality’ in Latin American art

This paper by María Helena Lucero was delivered at the Southern Perspectives series at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies on August 11 2011. It introduces recent Latin American thinking about modernity, particularly in the concept of the ‘decolonial’.

Beyond the Favela, the Rua and the Museum: Reading Hélio Oiticica and Artur Barrio from Decoloniality.
Fluctuations and Paradoxes of a Latin-American Modernity[1]

I

Thinking about modernity in Latin America implies revising the works of certain artists who have been protagonists of episodes of rupture in the local as well as in the international cultural arena, including the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. As we move in this direction, it is possible to recognize visible signs of a decolonial position in two emblematic artists of Brazilian, and thus Latin American art: Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980)[2] and Artur Barrio (1945). The aim of this paper is to focus on a reading of these two visual trajectories, from a critical perspective that is rooted in what Ramón Grosfoguel and Santiago Castro-Gómez (2007) have called the “decolonial turn,” given that it is necessary to re-evaluate certain cultural itineraries from an adequate epistemic framework if we are to concern ourselves with a Latin American specificity. Decoloniality formulates a vision of knowledge that is compatible with that of postcolonial studies, an aspect that will also be taken under consideration. In this way, the development of theoretical perspectives that aim for the expansion of discussions around the global-south implies pluralistic modes of perception and interpretation of the cultural productions that emerge there.

Hélio Oiticia

Hélio Oiticia

Artur Barrio

Artur Barrio

Hélio Oiticica has gone through different artistic stages, from the two-dimensional paintings we associate with the Frente group in the 1950s to his Cosmococas in 1973, or actions born out of “contra-bólido”’ toward the end of the 1970s. His explorations resulted in theoretically complex, vigorous, and coherent constructions, that drew a personal itinerary that stimulated a “permeable corporeity”: he would activate not just a connection with certain surroundings, but also perceptual channels that, at times of oppression, would work as zones of self-conscious liberation and as decolonial signs. Artur Barrio initiated, toward the end of the 1960s, a series of interventions in urban and peripheral zones in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. His well-known trouxas ensanguentadas, pieces that alluded to physical remains that were wounded or devastated, operated as provocation devices that altered the perception of the unaware walker-by, who would come across these disturbing packages that were squirted and stained with a violent red as he stepped along the city sidewalk.

Both trajectories have shown us visual propositions that, on one hand, instituted regional expressions within an international artistic arena, expressions that are tied to the subversive character of Latin American conceptualism –a counter-discourse strategy that questioned the political hegemony of the State and the fetishist condition of legitimated art. On the other hand, they openly rejected the military dictatorship that took place in Brazil (1964-1985), which reached its crudest and most violent moment in 1968, when the law AI 5 was passed to suppress the civil and political liberties of Brazilian citizens.

II

Before developing the concept of decoloniality, let´s consider the academic backgrounds of the members of the modernity-coloniality network, the nucleus from which the concept arises. Certain Latin American intellectuals, among them Aníbal Quijano in 1996 and Ramón Grosfoguel in 1998, while working in U.S. universities, began to debate colonial legacies, the geopolitics of knowledge, and the coloniality of knowledge in Latin America. Up to par with researchers like Santiago Castro-Gómez, Walter D. Mignolo, Edgardo Lander, Fernando Coronil or Enrique Dussel, these intellectuals participated in the activities of the modernity-coloniality network. As do Cultural and Postcolonial Studies, “…el grupo modernidad/colonialidad reconoce el papel esencial de las epistemes, pero les otorga un estatuto económico, tal como el análisis del sistema mundo” [… the Modernity/Coloniality Group recognizes the essential role of epistemes, but it assigns them an economic status, like world-system analysis] (Castro-Gómez, Grosfoguel, 2007: 16-17). This epistemic frame is in some ways linked with the theories of Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak, but it has also avoided automatically introducing postcolonial reflections on the Latin American stage, in order to examine regional singularities and to consolidate a discussion on Occidentalism “by and from” Latin America. It is in this context that the term “post-occidentalism” has gained currency, as a reformulation that conjugates decolonization and postcolonialism, where knowledge is forged in interstitial or hybrid ways, “…pero no en el sentido tradicional de sincretismo o ‘mestizaje’, y tampoco en el sentido dado por Néstor García Canclini a esta categoría, sino en el sentido de ‘complicidad subversiva’” [… but not in the traditional sense of syncretism or ‘mestizaje’, and also not in the sense given by Néstor García Canclini to this category, but in the sense of ‘subversive complicity’] (2007: 20).

Strictly speaking, decoloniality, as it has been mapped out by Castro Gómez and Grosfoguel, insists on the liberating nature of the term and encourages a second decolonization—of an intellectual and cultural nature, in comparison with a first decolonization that is restricted to the legal-political level, achieved by the Spanish colonies in the nineteenth century and the British and French colonies in the twentieth century. The transition from modern to global colonialism took place without a substantial transformation of binary organizations, such as the economic poles of centre-periphery, thus reproducing political and economic submission. The crisis of the modern condition produced cracks and variables in the historical canon of power that denied multiplicity, superposition or hybridity, making a turn toward increasingly plural global presences. In spite of these changes, the colonial traces of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have endured. Thus, it follows that the decolonial perspective pushes for a culture that is intertwined with decisive effects on ethnic, racial, sexual, epistemic, and gender dimensions. In and of themselves, racial discourses provoke negative consequences in the international labour system, a worrisome aspect for decoloniality.

Racial premises would justify the access of supposedly “superior races”[3] to better offers in the labour market, as opposed to the “inferior races” that would be relegated to badly-remunerated tasks, thus tracing a way of thinking that inherited notions of the nineteenth century. This condition should be examined from a heterarchical perspective, where no level exists that dominates or subjugates others but, instead, there is a multiple and shared influence that works for a new and better paradigm. Let us remember that the idea of heterarchy, developed by sociologist Kyriakis Kontopolous, is antithetical to hierarchy and undertakes the analysis of social structures by including dysfunctional aspects in a partial, discontinuous, and non-homogenous way. Likewise, decoloniality confronts coloniality of knowledge, which is grounded on an economic dimension as well as on mechanisms of social control. As Mignolo (2007) has noted, decolonial thought has been configured as a resistant and different zone from modernity/coloniality itself. In this manner, coloniality exteriorizes the situation of domination of those who have been forcibly submerged in modernity.

Even though the theoretical alignment of the modernity/coloniality group traces differences and relocations with respect to postcolonial studies, they do share its interdisciplinary and deconstructive character with respect to the Eurocentric, colonial paradigm. Mellino (2008) has presented a revision of the term “postcolonial” in order to delineate a genealogy of its repercussions and incidences in the international academic world. He makes a distinction between a literal and a metaphorical interpretation of the concept of postcolonialism. In the first case, it would refer to a “post” moment of decolonization in the political arena, or forms of emancipation from territorial colonization at a given time period; in the second case, there appear far-reaching implications that are not contained within a segment of time. The crucial precedents for this way of thinking are to be found in Edward Said, an intellectual associated with anti-imperialist criticism; in Gayatri Spivak, who detects, in British literature, the echoes of colonialism and imperialism that subsist beyond the multiple cultural meetings, contacts, and shocks between Orient and the West; and in Homi Bhabha, whose expressions of “hybridity” or “the in-between” have endowed us with the capacity to give a name not just to the cultural interstices forged on fluctuating borders, but to new social actors who do not have a fixed locus. Here, postcolonial criticism works through the deconstruction of the Western imperialist subject, exploring the degree of epistemic violence in the narratives that are cast upon cultural alterities.

From Said´s, Spivak´s, and Bhabha´s contributions, the postcolonial paradigm came to be formed as a “desarrollo del pensamiento posmoderno orientado a la crítica cultural y a la deconstrucción de las nociones, de las categorías y de los presupuestos de la identidad moderna occidental en sus más variadas manifestaciones” [development of postmodern thought aimed at cultural criticism and the deconstruction of the notions, categories, and presuppositions of modern Western identity in its most varied manifestations] (Mellino, 2008: 51). For Homi Bhabha, colonial discourse attends to a system of symbols and practices that organize social reproduction in colonial space. According to him, the sense of “post” that is implicit in the term “postcolonialism” refers to a “beyond” and embodies a certain “inquietante energía revisionista” [unsettling revisionist energy] (Bhabha, 2007: 21) that has the ability of transforming the present into a locus of experience and plurality. In this operation (which, in the end, assumes a political stance), culture makes up a seminal dimension, founding a “estrategia de supervivencia es a la vez transnacional y traduccional…” [strategy of survival that is at once transnational and translational…] (2007: 212) and that establishes a space “in-between” that allows for the emergence of hybrid and interstitial cultural signs.

III

In order to circumscribe the critical tone of the productions generated by the aforementioned artists, let us remember that the tone that preceded conceptualism in Latin America stimulated reflections on the idea of dematerialization. Mari Carmen Ramírez (2004) has pointed out that this cultural project did not depend on centre or metropolitan phenomena, but transcended the opposition “centre-periphery” and accentuated structural and ideological factors over perceptual conditions. A systematic “inversion” occurred through Latin American conceptual experiences with relation to the North American model, given the conditions of marginalization and repression that Latin America experienced in the 1960s and 1970s. The revision of conceptualism in these latitudes obliges us to approach it as “the recovery of an emancipatory project” (Ramírez, 1999: 557). These incipient enunciations predict developments in global conceptual art from an eccentric position, outside or displaced from the centre. Luis Camnitzer underlined certain mechanisms that marked Latin America as a “cultura de resistencia en contra de culturas invasoras” [culture of resistance against invading cultures] (Camnitzer, 2008: 31), whose visual and formal productions pollinated dimensions of the political along with poetry and pedagogy. These sides merged, and the result was a globality that transcended the dichotomy “agitation/construction”: the artist didn’t propose himself as an activist but as a builder of forms, objects, ideas that become embodied in the artwork. There would be a Latin American specificity in contrast with the U.S. conceptual process, observable when taking in account areas such as: the role of dematerialization, pedagogical incidence, the application of the text or literature. For the Latin American case, the process of dematerialization followed a politicized and politicizing condition, more than an aesthetic choice.

Oiticica developed part of his work in the period that immediately preceded as well as during the Brazilian dictatorship. The 1964 Parangolés were capes that were made of ephemeral materials, outside the art circuit. The spectators, besides integrating the work, would make movements in space to the rhythm of Rio de Janeiro samba, thus establishing a dialogue with the surrounding context. In this way, there appeared a new “una experiencia integradora donde la Percepción cumple el doble rol de estructurar y transformar el mundo de lo cotidiano (…)” [integrative experience where Perception has the double role to restructure and transform the quotidian world (…)] (Lucero: 2009a: 2). In 1965, the common denominator among artists and critics was their opposition to the system through protests of a cultural nature, that took place in events such as Propuestas 65 in São Paulo, an event that was similar to Opinião 65 in Rio de Janeiro. These were interdisciplinary exhibits that discussed the fate of the arts after the military coup. Hélio, in Propuestas 66, called this new trend “our objectivity”, thus underlining the avant-garde characteristics of these encounters, as well as promoting a space of experimentalism where subjects could free their imagination and, besides being part of that world, they could also be its creators.

Hélio Oiticica Parangolé P 08 Capa 05 – Mangueira, 1965; P 05 Capa 02, 1965; P 25 Capa 21- Nininha Xoxoba, 1968; P 04 Capa 01, 1964. Image from Ivan Cardoso’s film H.O, 1979. Credits: Catalogue Hélio Oiticica. The Body of Color, 2007, p. 317

Hélio Oiticica Parangolé P 08 Capa 05 – Mangueira, 1965; P 05 Capa 02, 1965; P 25 Capa 21- Nininha Xoxoba, 1968; P 04 Capa 01, 1964. Image from Ivan Cardoso’s film H.O, 1979. Credits: Catalogue Hélio Oiticica. The Body of Color, 2007, p. 317

Tropicália from 1967 was the product of diverse appropriations, which allowed him to advance his environmental agenda, and can be understood as “an idea of a garden for sensory and graphic experiences” (Figuereido, 2007: 118). The notion of anti-art coined by Helio emphasized the artist´s condition as an instigator of creation and that of the spectator as an active participant of the artwork. Anti-art was the response to a collective need in relation to the creative action, that was exempt from intellectual or moral premises: it was man´s simple position within himself, “in his vital creative possibilities” (Oiticica, 1999: 8). Dance was a direct search for the act of expression, and in contrast with ballet´s mechanical choreography, the movement suggested by the dances of carnaval was the equivalent to the exteriorization of the popular element in these communities. The collision with preconceptions related to artistic practices formulated “the connection between the collective and individual expression – the most important step towards this -” (Oiticica, 2006: 106).

Artur Barrio has been a reader of Frantz Fanon (also Oiticica had a translated copy of The Wretched of the Earth). This is an important detail that helps us understand his plastic choices as well as what it means to produce art in the periphery of capitalism. The reference to residues of cheap materials targeted hierarchies and reflected the idea of “economic leftovers”, or edge of the margin. In this sense, “la obra de Barrio incluye estrategias del Conceptualismo apelando al uso de elementos precarios, banales y frágiles, trazando una opción disidente respecto a los materiales industriales de alto costo económico” [Barrio´s ouvre includes conceptualist strategies, that make use of precarious, banal, and fragile elements that delineate a dissident alternative with respect to industrial, high-cost materials] (Lucero, 2009b: 6). The sum of his aesthetic choices constituted the equivalent of an attitude of resistance against others´ control over his own matter. “La postura estético-política de Barrio es una toma de conciencia en relación a la producción del arte en el Tercer mundo como resistencia a la contramodernidad” [Barrio´s aesthetic-political position is an act of conscience with relation to the production of art in the Third World as resistance to countermodernity] (Herkenhoff, 2008: 15), if we understand “countermodern” in Homi Bhabha´s terms, that is, as related to neocolonialism. In this way, Barrio took a clear position before an instance of oppression, that colonized liberty and the senses. In 1969, the artist piled up packages that were toned with blood in one of the rooms of the Modern Art Museum in Rio, that were presented under the title Situação..ORHHH.OU..5.000.T.E..EM.N.Y…CITY: the word “situation” set a deviation from traditional notions of art, while emphasizing an attitude of spatial intervention. One month later, those packages would be taken to the steps of the garden or to the street. The project became more and more extended and in 1970 Barrio deposited the trouxas ensaguentadas on the banks of the river that runs across the City Park (Parque Municipal).

Artur Barrio Trouxas ensanguentadas, in Situação…T/T1; Belo Horizonte, April, 1970; Credits: Inverted Utopias. Avant-Garde Art in Latin America, p. 370

Artur Barrio Trouxas ensanguentadas, in Situação…T/T1; Belo Horizonte, April, 1970; Credits: Inverted Utopias. Avant-Garde Art in Latin America, p. 370

He then packed five-hundred plastic bags with human remains, such as nails or bones that were splattered with bodily fluids, and he placed them in different sites in Rio and Belo Horizonte. The trouxas were, according to Herkenhoff, evidenciadores or “witnesses” that altered or brought a different dynamic to a particular state of affairs. These evidences or demonstrations translated into: operations of repulsion against countermodernity; distributive circuits in the urban and marginal fabric; objects that were “anxious” to force a confrontation with the visceral fear that emanated from the dismembered or gashed organism; visual contaminations, fragmented bodies, paintings, flesh, and finally, living mud. Also in 1970, he did an ambulatory experience that consisted in spending four days and four nights without food or sleep, and just smoking manga rosa, a seed that is grown (sativa) in Brazil that became popular during those years. His body was the physical support for an action that became effective at every moment, in a way that was erratic and to-the-limit. The artist recorded these explorations in perception in a notebook and eight years later he wrote a text defining the term “deambulário” as a one that was written and inscribed on the body (Klinger, 2007).

In Oiticica, the Parangolés provoked an attitude of emancipation in all of the participant´s perceptive dimensions. Each cape provided a different tactile arsenal, with different textures, and colours, promoting a decolonial sense in two ways: the independence involved in dancing with the piece of clothing, and the liberation of showing revolutionary and rebellious phrases: “be marginal, be a hero.” The Tropicália installation generated feelings of provocation and dislocation because it subverted the order of conventional visuality. There, a cultural need irrupted that made it possible for the subaltern to empower and renew himself, while rescuing the symbolic remains that accumulated in the margins and infiltrated the artistic production, an enunciation that was also political and that grew out of a bastard, emergent territory that induced new, contextualized ways of seeing.

Barrio, on the other hand, swept away with the high cost industrial façade while augmenting the symbolic value of throw-aways from the technological circuit. The trouxas ensanguentadas were furtive cargo that reinforced a decolonial strategy, not just because of the precarious and ephemeral materials from which they were made, but because of their subversive wink against despotism and nationalized torture. He reconstructed private cartographies (the location of the packages) as well as public ones, transforming the urban theatre through minimal interventions that were reiterations but also effective. The wandering that went on for days, that put in risk his physical and mental health, opened an erratic channel that, among other things, allowed him to explore his own bodily limits and his autonomy of action – a personal choice that is articulated within the mode of decoloniality.

IV

Why speak of a Latin American modernity that is vexed by fluctuations and paradoxes? From the field of sociology of communication, Roncagliolo (2003) defines the broad concept of modernity through its chronological and cultural aspects. When we think of the beginning of modernity since the end of the fifteenth century (and through the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries), this temporal category designates, in Berman’s words, a whirl of interacting, parallel phenomena. But this series of vertiginous events were directed toward three potential zones: a nucleus of cultural, scientific, and ethical signification; another of a financial and industrial nature; and another with political roots. The voracious development of economic modernization drove forward the accumulation of capital, an action that was stimulated by the colonization that has expanded toward non-Western territories since the fifteenth century. The projection of these modernising trends in Latin America was attempted with great difficulty, The geo-social reality here differed so profoundly from that of Europe: “América Latina fue una región necesaria para la modernización del mundo capitalista, pero ella misma no se modernizó cabalmente” [The Latin American region was necessary for the modernization of the capitalist world, but Latin America itself wasn’t completely modernized] (Roncagliolo, 2003: 114).

Some of these frictions stem from the persistence of unequal degrees of modernization and, as Achúgar (1993) notes—quoting the Mexican writer Fernando Calderón—, Latin America accepted the cohabitation of the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern. Mixed temporalities exposed paradoxes in our modernity, which provides the conditions of decoloniality.

I have noted here that decoloniality calls for a cultural, artistic, and intellectual decolonization. As a critical category, it refutes Eurocentric views within the field of culture and confronts the heavy weight of coloniality in the realm of knowledge. It opens other senses which, in confrontation with the cultural mainstream, strengthen contortions that betray, perturb, and invert that mainstream. The chain of signifiers is exposed in the objects themselves: the significances disperse, disseminating in the multiple gazes of the spectators. The cultural movements that began in the 1920s and continued in Latin America, and which became belligerently propelled in the 1960s, fought against this condition of coloniality that was rooted for centuries, allowing for the emergence of a “búsqueda de conformación de plataformas de pensamiento propias” [search in the formation of self-made platforms of thought] (Palermo, 2009: 16).

The restitution of local and regional materials, challenging the official status quo of art, and a deeply politicized visual production, are pivotal characteristics of Oiticica’s and Barrio’s installations. Moving their actions to public or socially neglected areas places these aesthetic versions on an institutional edge. At the same time, these artists proclaim, with a most fervent individual freedom, a cultural act that is fuelled by decoloniality. Both Oiticica and Barrio revealed a nucleus of signification that refers to disruptive gestures that, in turn, transcended legitimated art media channels, slipping beyond the favela, the rua, and the museum. They bore witness to a state of crisis not just in their own social and political context, but also in the notion of modernity itself that, as a local phenomenon, was marked by fluctuations and paradoxes, thus producing a cultural convulsion on the Latin American stage.

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[1] Translated from the original text in Spanish by Laura Catelli. The citations that appeared in Spanish in the original have been kept in the original language of publication and translated in parentheses.

[2] This presentation has been extracted from my Doctoral Dissertation, Approximations to the Construction of a Methodological Device from the Crossing of Disciplines: Analyzing Productions by Tarsila de Amaral and Helio Oiticica from an Anthropological Perspective. Here, decoloniality is formulated as one of the key concepts for the examination of the artworks.

[3] The term “race” is used here in quotation marks in order to highlight its biologicist and determinist sense. Let us take in consideration that the concept will be debated afterwards, given that it connotes a strong colonialist view that stems from the reflections of authors such as Bernier, Gobineau, Buffon, Renan or Le Bon. For more details, see Tzvetan Todorov’s “Race and Racism” in On Human Diversity: Nationalism, Racism, and Exoticism in French Thought (Harvard UP, 1994).

Dr María Elena Lucero teaches at the School of Humanities and Arts, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina. She is Director of CETCACL (Centre of Critical Theoretical Studies of Art and Culture in Latin America), Universidad Nacional de Rosario. She is the author of many publications on Latin American art movements and artists, including Eugenio Dittborn, Cildo Meireles and Adriana Varejão. She has also written widely on pre-Columbian cultures.