Reassessing the life of Chica da Silva: A tale about Brazil

There is no doubt that Brazil’s history remains under-researched and under-theorised. Especially with regards to the country’s extensive colonial legacy, different periods can be open to negotiation and interpretation, but most of which are still stuck in a range of stereotypes that say little about the complexities of its characters.

The biography of the 18th-century slave, Chica da Silva (1732-1796) is one of these attempts to re-interpreting history in all its caveats. Silva lived in the village of Tejuco, in the modern city of Diamantina, a city in the north of the Minas Gerais state. She has become notorious and iconic to contemporary audiences due to programmes and films featuring her life.

Owned as a slave in a big household, she managed to be sold to the Portuguese diamond merchant João Fernandes de Oliveira, a representative of the Portuguese Crown. Despite the blur that surrounds her life after marriage, the few accounts amount to an extravagant lifestyle. Owner of dozens of slaves herself, she lived in a lavish house, entertained herself with exotic goods and lots of guests.

Besides the colourful details of her biography, this is at the same time a tale of class mobility that has attracted so much attention. How much of it was true? What does this tell us about colonialism, race, and mobility in Brazil? It was indeed an extraordinary life,  even for modern Brazil, with such a meteoric rise even to modern day standards. Her fairy tale is also about challenging the order, but also focuses on her personality as a distinctive trait that would allow her to move forward.

In sum, her grace and power would carry an antidote against a racist and obscure society. Examples abound in her lifetime: if the Church does not allow your presence inside, let’s build a new one; if she could not travel to the sea, she made them build a lake. IHer myth is as sociological as it is celebrity-driven. To the left, she was an icon of resistance that would inspire the black movements; to the right, she showed how racial relations in Brazil were not too harsh.

A documented reassessment was made possible thanks to “Chica da Silva: A Brazilian Slave of the Eighteen Century” (Cambridge University Press), a book by Junia Pereira Furtado. The book’s main merit stems from Furtado valuable effort to shed light on Silva’s physical existence in the 18th century, still doubted by some, as well as to confirms further details of her life. Furtado is successful in placing Silva’s in a wider context, moving her into a less spectacular place.

Silva’s life, according to the book, was not an average one. This is for sure. After all, any black individual breaking the 18th-century social contract, based on slavery and inescapable use of African individuals as economic commodities, could not have lived a normal life; leave alone a rise-up to own and ostentate a luxury lifestyle.

On the other hand, in her will to balance, Furtado also recognises the impossibility to tell more about Silva, except that once married to a white Portuguese man, she behaved as many other women in her condition. The evidence failed to show anything more than an uninteresting life after her establishment in society.  No surprises or breaks from the order what one would see in a woman of her wealth, whether of black or white skin.

What strikes me after reading Furtado’s enlightening account is the transformation of this character over time. Silva’s story is one of a slave’s luck, from the senzala into the heart of the Catholic, colonial Portuguese society. Instead, the conventional saying tells us that all glories from her marriage to a white, rich man stem from her sexuality and outstanding beauty. This attractive picture is the way in which she has appeared over centuries (since the 19th century at least).

The documents also tell us about the conservative turn of Chica da Silva, different from the confrontational stances that soap opera authors have told. Once her husband returns to Portugal, her option, for instance, was to hide in religious “sisterhoods”, sustained by members of the elite. The book also informs us about the fate of her sons, some of whom once moving to Portugal, had deliberately erased her presence from their backgrounds.

In sum, Chica da Silva’s trajectory is not only one of a rise-and-shine at expense of struggle against the gold-fed establishment of Minas Gerais, an important piece of Brazil of the time. Her trajectory is one of confirmation of the mechanisms of inequality and the ephemeron fractures that allow a few to emerge from time to time. As Furtado encapsulates it, it is about the average black lady “Chica”, an archetype so common in countryside Brazil, and one of a sexual volcano, white man temptation “Xica”, graphed in a marketable x.

Confronting the homogenised Xica (like in Caca Diegues’ eponymous movie or in the famous soap opera of the extinct Manchete TV), Junia Furtado’s book dismantles this portrait, but not necessarily puts up another one. We simply don’t know more about it. After many trips paid to archives in Brazil and Portugal, what she achieves is to fit an otherwise disruptive character into Brazil’s course of history. Maybe because these documents are so revelatory of Silva’s ordinariness, to the extent of the deceptive, that this book is not more popular than it deserved.

Back to the starting argument, there are signs that the recklessness with history is changing. The new Joaquim movie released in 2017, directed by Marcelo Gomes, gives a new direction to the image of the martyrised hero. Who knows this film could be the beginning of a critical re-appraisal of the country’s heroes, at least as the media see it.

As Furtado’s study digs deep into Chica da Silva’s contradictions, it is possible to assert that Brazilians have cared very little about history. If they did not do so, they could search for new meanings and, in the meantime, find opportunities to reflect on past misconceptions that could offer new teachings for the present’s faults.

Between methods and “inner experience”: The challenges of studying sexuality

In “Eroticism”, Georges Bataille discusses the need for methods and even science when approaching sex and sexuality. He argues that studying such subjective phenomenon, one could quit objective resources: data, methods, and traceability. One could, instead, use as scientific research oneself’s “inner” experience. As human beings, we have all experienced some erotic situation. In this case, it is a matter of how to transmit that knowledge. 

For Bataille, to communicate what one understands as eroticism, a realm close to that of religion, is to admit that “neither philosophy nor science can answer the questions that religious aspirations have set us.” On the other hand, while every scholar is acquainted with erotic experiences as any other human being is, we can neither stop behaving as subjects, not refrain from talking experience:

“My inquiry, then, based essentially on inner experience, springs from a different source from the work if religious, historians, ethnographers, and theologists. No doubt men working in these fields did have to ask whether they could assess the data under their consideration independently of the inner experience which on the one hand they share with their contemporaries and on the other resulted to some degree from their personal experiences modified by contact with the world constituting their fields of study (…)”

Bataille then hints at an alternative, to map “coincidences”:

“This difficulty is a general one, though it is relatively simple for me to imagine in what way my own inner experience coincides with that of other people and in what way it enables me to communicate with them.”

By the end of the book, he ponders on how research difficulties emerge even for those who try to study sexuality from a neutral point of view:

“If we affirm that guilty sexuality can be regarded as innocently material, our awareness, far from seeing sexual life as it is, neglects entirely those disturbing aspects which do not fit in with a clear picture. A clear picture is actually the first requirement but because of this, the truth escapes notice. Such aspects, felt to be accursed, remain in the twilight where are a prev to horror and anguish. By exonerating our sexual life from every trace of guilty science has no chance of seeing for what it is. Our ideas are clarified but at the cost of being blinkered. Science with its emphasis on precision cannot grasp the complexity of the system in which a few factors are pushed to extremes when it rejects the blurred and distinct realities of sexual life.”

Excerpt from:
Bataille, G. (2001). Eroticism, trans. Mary Dalwood. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Revisiting Pasolini’s “Love Meetings” (1964)

In 1964, Pasolini set out to mission impossible. He proposed a trip around Italy to document people’s views on sex. The result might sound outdated today, but it is not, by any means, irrelevant. One finds prosaic, uninformed, prejudicial opinions, but, at the same time, imaginative, inquisitive, and, somehow, liberated accounts on sex. I have gathered here a few screenshots of what I found brilliant moments, in which Pasolini pushes, challenges the people to say what they think or to build an opinion on the spot.  I wonder what happened to this form of documentary, where filmmakers, journalists, and media professionals engage with the vox populi, as a bottom-up way of seeing the world.

“Here in the deep south, everyone has a clear picture of sex”

Pasolini visits the “deep” Italian South. He asks a young man about local terms such as fuitina (quick sexual intercourse). Bravely, he approaches a group of young men to ask how many girls they have met lately to find a disappointing answer.

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“I would resort to a remedy”

When approaching two young women about homosexuality, Pasolini gets a wary response from the ladies. They said to have mixed feelings about the issue. One of them said she expected everything “goes well” when she gets married. While seeing homosexuality, in a psychologic perspective, as “abnormal”, they have hopes these individuals get “cured” or “resort to a remedy”.

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“He was born with an impulse”

Back in the north, Pasolini raises the same controversial question to a group of young men. Responses get more nuanced, but once responding in front of their friends, some of the men are cautious at condemning “inversion” or “perversion”, while “accepting” it is dangerous. Most of them dwell on “un-natural” v “of nature” argument. A few others say to “pity” inversed men due to their behaviour, “an impulse” to one of the interviewees.

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“It’s in a deep crisis”

Consulting with a range of Italian intellectuals, Pasolini gets confronted with the complexity of his research, then decides in the middle of the film to adapt his survey to focus more on “practical questions”.

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“Encounters on Roman beaches”

Looking for informal locations, Pasolini approached beachgoers of all ages, types, and educational backgrounds. The answers he collects are as varied as the characters are charismatic, Pasolini says to have acknowledged the “status quo.”

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“There was no sexuality, nothing”

At the end of the 1960s, Italy lived a period of liberalisation of sex-related laws, with topics such as divorce coming at the top of people’s discussions. Pasolini approaches in his beach series what local Romans think about these issues.

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“Because women need to stay in their place”

The question on divorce had the potential of shaking the old structures of marriage and “La Famiglia”, bringing up strong opinions, but also revealing what was a generational conflict of ideas.

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“You don’t want to understand”

Pasolini’s approach for young people has been notorious in cinema. His depiction of a punished youth in Saló makes one wonder what an encounter of his with young people, in reality, would look like. Well, in Love Meetings he not only meets them, but he confronts them with questions about sexuality. Interestingly, he challenges a group of three young boys on topics that could really be alien to them, such as the issue of love v. one’s patriotic love.

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What impressed me recently (1): Arendt, Fox, Lithuania, and Chagall

cri_000000118515Hannah Arendt’s Lying in Politics (1971)

Arendt’s style is not for beginners. She throws at you lots of background information, random quotes in Latin, archaic terms, tricky references. However, once we join her, at least when we think we do, it is hard not to transform her reason into a shared passion.

The Watergate scandal and the Pentagon Papers are already too far from our generation. In the face of post-Snowden outrage, the public slowly gets used to Trump’s politics as a natural consequence of democracy. But after all, what does Watergate tell us today regarding what one thinks of good and evil government?

After we escalate the Arendt mountain, we can enjoy the view of her profound reflections on an early decline of the United States, but which seemed unlikely in the early 1970s. The US government comes up as a machine of “problem-solvers”, governmental liars, and disinformation in the high ranks. She also places guilty to the universe of “intellectuals” that helped to theorise the war:

“What is surprising is the eagerness of those scores of “intellectuals” who offered their enthusiastic help in this imaginary enterprise, perhaps because it demanded nothing but mental exercises.”

As we watch new Syria tensions on the rise,  Arendt’s initial thought that “the only individual who should not take uninformed decisions is the President of the United States” is strikingly true. The many degrees of complacency with US-native ignorance is a history apart, but the series of myths that have led to the Vietnam war, once unveiled in the Pentagon Papers, cost a huge price in US trustworthiness seen to this day:

“No reality and no common sense could penetrate the minds of the problem-solvers who indefatigably prepared their scenarios for “relevant audiences” to change their states of mind – “the Communists (who must feel strong pressure), the South Vietnamese (whose morale must be buoyed), our allies (who must trust us as ‘under-writers’), and the US public (which must support the risk-taking with US lives and prestige).

So much so because these categories haven’t changed a lot today (perhaps from Communists to “terrorists”?), but one could argue that they matter little. The extent to which the lessons from an ill-fated Vietnam War can be all forgotten is Arendt’s primary concerns. Ultimately, is having Donald Trump at the office in 2018 still a surprise to the same outraged public? What this quick naturalisation of such man in power tell us about the relevance of US prestige, power, and decline? A genuinely independent follow-up to Hannah Arendt’s lucid account needs to be written as soon as possible.

Robin Lane Fox’s Pagans and Christians in the Mediterranean World

51C6UiGyDRL.jpgFox’s book is from the 1980s but the 2006’s edition still attracts lots of interest. At some point in 2016, I decided to learn more about what was “paganism” and what was its relationship with Christianity.

In fact, Fox’s writing and method are labyrinthic. His prose is kind and gracious, but his prose envelops you with bits of evidence here and there, then it goes over and over before it finishes a point, which ends very far from where it started. It does not matter though. His proof is sharp, and he’s the best thing a historian can be, sceptical.

At the end of the 800-page book, which took me nearly a year, we have an engaging narrative that includes Pagans, Christians, but also Manicheans, Persians, “perfectionists”, “over-achievers”, and other labels. The way Fox feeds these names makes it easy to map the mentality of the years 250-325 when the book seems to focus upon.

When looking at Christianism we might not recognise its current bureaucratic face. Indeed, from a religion of death, martyrdom, never-ending fasting and zero sex, it has suffered numerous deaths across history. On the other hand, Fox’s book invites fresh reflection on traces of the Christian faith in its continuous mutation into the modern world.

I am not sure if it is the case of stretching Christian influence up to the so-called ‘identity politics’, or to the renovated focus on notions of truth (fake news) and chasing purgatory for deviant men (The Weinstein scandals), or even to the modern sanctification of children. These contemporary developments may reach to one’s mind when learning about the slow counter-attacks from the Christians against the Hellenic religious order.

In any case, after reading Fox’s lines on the dubious interests that drive a religion into mass expansion (state and society, personal and collective, emancipatory and correctional), I would not say that the Christian faith is lost in the context of the West. At worst, we have it thriving under another name.

Lithuania’s case of anti-semitism underneath the skin

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Vilnius’ Holocaust Museum (The Green House) 2015

The New York Times story about how anti-semitism has been entrenched in Lithuania’s urban fabric has a potential for greater debate. Although based on the anti-semitic past and how it is mingled in the urban fabric, it focuses on how facts (the country’s massive adherence to the Nazis) are met with denial.  It is when the legal verbiage “occupation” equates Soviet oppression with Nazi mass-extermination. I’ve seen many of these traces of denial in my visit to Vilnius in 2015. To be fair, I was received very well during my stay and there is no single trace of contemporary, open anti-semitism. However, the “holocaust” museum that does not dare to say the name of the perpetrators, the obscurity of the locals on the “diaspora” that ended exterminated in the suburban wet forests remain very little known and people seem happy with this.

Leave aside the name of many Lithuanian-Jewish artists that migrated that lie forgotten in the public imaginary. The brilliant painter Lasar Segall is one of them.

Marc Chagall: In search of a new fascination

I was walking through the streets of Hampstead, London, when I was faced with a painting. It was on a peaceful road close to the Finchley and Frognal station. It was a quiet Winter afternoon when even the birds have all gone silent. What I spotted that purposefully decorated living room, with a charming chandelier, in complete emptiness, I thought: it was definitely a Chagall.

I am not sure what type of individual has such self-confidence (and confidence in London’s safety) to do this shameless and informal public exhibition of such artwork, but it gave me a spell of fascination for Chagall’s rural landscapes. His scenes are all made of chaotic, colourful characters. It is surreal. It is romantic. It is nonsense.

I just can think of “I and the Village” (1911) as an allegory of his entire body of work, as a symbol of Chagall’s relationship with reality, or better saying, of ignoring reality.

This particular painting is an assemblage of many characters, with a prominent horse face in the foreground. If Chagall meant to represent his Hasidic village so beautifully and saw magic in it, I am authorised to seek the same fascination of being in a gloomy London of mid-February without going mad.

 

What I’ve been writing (1)

A review of the exhibition “Another Kind of Life” at the Barbican

In this review, I focus on the ambitiousness of saying that one can portray “another kind of life”, as there are limitations found in and out of the art world. I welcome the exhibition due to the great names it can gather, and yet I lament the lack of boldness in stressing the contradictions between “marginality” and “fashion”, especially in a time when everything visual is a commodity.

Debunking the myth of “study abroad” for Brazilians

In Brazil, there has been a myth of studying abroad as a way to good job prospects and professional prestige, which is not necessarily false. However, as I point out to in this article, some drawbacks that are not entirely known by the ordinary student. Departing from a story at Folha de S. Paulo in which Brazilian students complain about higher fees recently imposed on them at Coimbra University, I review the “dark” side of the higher education using the case of England. High fees, poorly-paid staff and an increasingly marketised industry, are some of the aspects, on which I invite readers – students and non-students – to reflect if it is indeed what they want to join at such astronomic costs.

Optimists or Uninformed? A reflection about Brazil’s international bloggers and their cosiness in being abroad

I discuss my reading of a few blogs authored by journalists based overseas. Hosted in the some of the country’s most prominent mainstream publications (Folha de S. Paulo and Estado de S. Paulo), I argue that these blogs had the duty to present more critical points as opposed to seeing life abroad as positive and flawless, which confirm myths of inferiority and backwardness, still held by ordinary Brazilians.

Featured image: Marc Chagall I and the Village (1911)

 

 

Reading Stuart Hall as an immigrant: A review of Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands

81F6qVR2E7LStuart Hall’s considerable influence in the UK and abroad stems from his cultural, sociological and political trajectories (Back & Moreno Figueroa, 2014; Roman, 2015; Zhang, 2017), as these areas perfectly articulated throughout his life (Solomos, 2014). Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands (Penguin, 2017) is an excellent opportunity to glance over them in both personal and academic terms.

For those who aim to engage with the thought of the famous sociologist, Hall’s memoirs provide available, panoramic guidance. For those, like me, who seek in him the Jamaican immigrant, it is refreshing to see that the man has, in fact, lived in and out the establishment.

In reality, by centring the book’s narrative like that of a “stranger”, an image that Hall kept of himself until later life, editor Bill Schwarz allowed that a stream of conversations could unfold logically. We go through many of the doubts and concerns that spring from Hall’s move from Jamaica and become a witness of his awakening as an immigrant in Britain.

Kind, but mind-blowing, the emotional portraits of Jamaica appear to depict a place stuck in time. Many of these snapshots show how life in the colony is far from an assimilated narrative. Britain continued, by many senses, “present” in modern Jamaica.

The range of everyday situations that derive from Hall’s background is essential reading for anyone interested in seeing how colonialism works. Primarily because it is neither monochrome nor solemn: it was the White British man mocked on the streets of Kingston for its colourful clothes and excessively formal gestures; it was the Jamaicans’ detailed reproduction of the old British class order.

Indeed, Hall refuses to assess colonialism on binary grounds. Instead of “pessimism” (Jhally, 2016), one finds in his accounts a sophisticated dynamic that stirs a set of unrecognised identities. Colonialism is the drainage of other people’s culture and wisdom, as it is a lengthy collection of myths that will serve to probe the invader’s superiority.

The voice of the immigrant that underpins all this is the same of the academic. This is indistinctively a feature of Hall’s work (Ang, 2015). But we cannot stop perceiving how the former overshadows the latter. Tales of his life illustrate much of his theoretical points much more efficiently. For instance, his perception of physical difference, which manifests since his early stages of life (he was “the darkest” of his family). That context can clarify why he struggles in seeing himself as the “bursary-holder, Oxford student”, highlighting the “young colonial” who came to struggle with the vast collection of imperial icons.

This active consciousness of being “the other” while putting his efforts into developing familiarity with the concepts of this adopted nation creates an ambiguous scenario-setting throughout the book. The ability to accept and refuse the status-quo is something recurrent: on one side, Hall contradicts his otherness by engaging with British society at length; on the other, he enlists differences that do not go away.

Questions emerge on the nature of colonial or post-colonial taxonomy, if only for its epistemic view to be challenged. Hall quotes his wife Catherine (Hall) to ask: is Kettering a city in Northamptonshire or the little coast town in Jamaica of his memory? Allegorically, this sort of comparison also serves him to go back and analyse his family’s past behaviour, so black and yet so colonial.

Like many foreigners living in the so-called global cities of our time, Hall stashes away “colonial” moments to disclose them in crucial moments.  For him, this continued ambivalence of an immigrant’s consciousness mustn’t reach the level of cynicism but as a by-product of diaspora: “I characterise my particular brand of being ‘out of place’ as the product of a ‘diasporic’ displacement.” Bhabba’s “in-between” or Du Bois’s “double consciousness” are two of the thought-inspiring theories on which he draws during the conversation.

To break away from the early colonial life, to join the ex-Empire, then find himself moving towards a “re-birth” amid post-colonialism are phases of Hall’s life that –  amazingly – did not lead to resentment, or at least we don’t know it from the book. Despite the fact that he became the political protagonist and member of the academic elite that we know, his experience seems to have been one of discomfort, mainly when his political life had led him to tacit negotiations that entailed the racial, economic divides in Britain.

Familiar Stranger covers, for instance, the strategic ‘forgetfulness’ of the ex-Empire when new generations of Indian, African, and Afro-Caribbean immigrants arrived in the 1950s. For Hall, nobody could have possibly revived the memory of the British hosts, as they seemed to ask: “Who are these people? Where are they from?” The “disavowal of a collective force” has clashed with the long-dreamed expectation of millions who saw the British land as the promise, as in reality, it was the big “illusion” (a feeling also carried by Hall’s? it does not become not clear).

That the settlement of the colonial experience fails, Hall is aware, but where he dwells more often is on the link with the following decades of hardship, racism. Quoting the late 1950s’ riots as a response, Hall remembers how the “Windrush” generation would find itself continuously reacting to the most blatant racism in the media as a result. Readers might wonder what Hall would have made of 2017’s Grenfell Tower in flames.

Furthermore, the last two chapters of the book try to harmonise this back-and-forth journey from colonial to postcolonial, finding a possible projection of England as “home”. Hall lays out the case of Henry James, the White American author. James is one of the few literary names to grasp a broader diasporic side of living in Europe. James’ loyalty to his origins appears in his sense of impersonating a kind of immigrant that fearlessness assesses his position at the heart of the colonial heritage.

Again, we are back to discuss taxonomic choices. Hall’s prefers “British” over “English”, as he sees the latter term being “denied” for someone of his skin colour. By making these exercises of meaning, Halls settles his condition in British society, perhaps as a neutral element. Partner to a white woman; member of UK’s “radical” New Left; a protagonist in academia, these were his safe ports, as he categorically asserts: “I wanted to change British society not to adopt it”.

Nonetheless, some questions remain: Is complete integration, as we know, as Hall knows it, still a viable or replicable experience? How do we remember a younger generation of colonial or post-colonial taxonomies and repertoires in the age of identity-based positions? What place has the immigrant’s truth amid the ever-reproducing colonial myths? Is Hall’s genuine independence of mind still available for us, 21st -century immigrants in the UK and elsewhere?

Living the adopted reality without “giving himself away” is Hall’s inspiring tale of his life as an immigrant, from which we learn his unique mode of diasporic thinking (Rizvi, 2015).

In times of turbulence for immigrants around the world, and migratory journeys to Britain made increasingly harder (to be worsened after Brexit), Familiar Stranger enlightens on the impossibility of integration. As Eric Hobsbawm also mentions: A Polish man migrating into the UK will be a Polish man in the UK, not a new arrival to the “community”.

In the face of a wide range of limits imposed to any idea of one’s insertion in contemporary, cosmopolitan society, within and outside cultural borders, Hall’s reassessments can inspire a broader reflection on the everlasting effects of colonial taxonomies. This is seen to this date: the detachment (or forgetfulness) of the British locals on crucial aspects of their legacy around the world, as well as the detachment of the new immigrants of their adopted nations’ past.

In both cases, Hall’s voice still tells us that settling down in a foreign land should not drive one’s acceptance of inherited meanings as a given, but an invitation to adequately and moderately challenge them as they manifest in the everyday routine.

References

Ang, I. (2016). Stuart Hall and the tension between academic and intellectual work. International journal of cultural studies, 19(1), 29-41.

Bhabha, H. K. (1996). Culture’s in-between. Questions of cultural identity, 1, 53-60.

Back, L., & Moreno Figueroa, M. (2014). Following Stuart Hall. City, 18(3), 353-355.

Hall, S. (1993). Culture, community, nation. Cultural studies, 7(3), 349-363.

Hall, S.; Schwarz, B. (ed.) (2017) Familiar Stranger: A life between two islands. London: Penguin.

Roman, L. G. (2015). ‘Keywords’: Stuart Hall, an extraordinary educator, cultural politics and public pedagogies. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. 36 (2), 161-170

Rizvi, F. (2015). Stuart Hall on racism and the importance of diasporic thinking. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(2), 264-274.

Solomos, J. (2014). Stuart Hall: articulations of race, class and identity. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(10), 1667-1675.

Zhang, L. (2017). How to understand Stuart Hall’s “identity” properly?. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 18(2), 188-196.

 

 

An image, a favela, and my research

I won the City University’s Images of Research award with an image that represented my PhD research.

The photo shows one of the gigantic sculptures by Projeto Morrinho, an art project that started out from Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. It consists of – literally – a mountain of bricks colourfully painted in a way to represent a favela community, with its tiny streets, and colourful dwellings up on the hill. It carries positive messages and small figurines, which give a realist but with a touch of fun and grace.

I had captured the image while on a visit to the Museum of Art of Rio de Janeiro, in 2016, then recently refurbished.

I thought this image illustrated my research because it had everything I looked at in media producers from Brazil’s periphery: It showed improvisation, community-spirit, and the right of self-representation, which is a new possibility for Brazil’s disadvantaged populations.

The way that Projeto Morrinho has proudly assembled the installation, which showed one of the region’s which Brazilians had been most ashamed of, either because of its poverty or precariousness, explains how the perception of these communities has changed, within it and outside. They communicated not only hope but a will to confront reality with joy, strength and creativity.

Reading Stuart Hall in 2017

Two fresh publications feature the life and work of academic and postcolonial thinker Stuart Hall: Familiar Stranger (Allen Lane) and Selected Writings (Duke University Press). Both were reviewed by Tony Jefferson for a recent edition of Theory, Culture, and Society. On Familiar Stranger we find:

“Originally conceived more than 20 years ago as a short dialogue outlining Hall’s intellectual trajectory, it grew to a manuscript of ‘over 300,000 words’(xiv) at the time of Hall’s death in 2014. Schwarz was then faced with a massive editing job and then, after discussing with the publishers, recasting everything ‘as a first-person narrative’(xv). The fact that it reads so smoothly is a testimony to Schwarz’s labour and his ability to ventriloquize Hall: ‘Some parts are verbatim, while many others have been constructed from fragments’(xv).”

Indeed, after reading this first book, it is evident that Hall’s depth and originality feels much untouched, even though Schwarz, the editor, admits in the preface to have worked hard to glue what were actually multiple excerpts. In fact, some parts were actually collected by email or during conversations, as Stuart Hall’s health deteriorated, delaying the book’s launch. The editor’s strategy has made the whole thing make sense as the book reads according to the sequence of Hall’s life in the UK. On Selected Political Writings, it is said:

There are seven essays on ‘The New Left and after’, eleven on ‘Thatcherism’ and three on ‘NeoLiberalism’, which are book ended by a concise contextualising ‘Introduction’ by the editors and an unfussily succinct ‘Afterword’ overviewing ‘Stuart Hall as a political intellectual’ by Michael Rustin. 54 years separate the first and last essay; but you would hardly know it. The themes are those thrown up by the changing political scene: changes in political parties (like post-war changes in the Conservative party, the birth of Thatcherism, the crisis of Labourism, the formation of a new social democratic bloc, New Labour); broader shifts (e.g. in class relations, political commitment, the New Left, racism, the growth of authoritarianism, new times, neoliberalism); and dramatic events (like the Cuban crisis). But the continuity in approach is remarkable.

This remarkable political trajectory is another chapter of the complex genius of Hall’s. In the end of the books, the reader will have witnessed a kind, but profoundly aware individual on the limitations of life in the so-imagined metropolis. At the same time these limitations aren’t enough to stop what turned out to be a strong engagement and frenetic militancy, to the extent that it often overshadowed that of the native inhabitants of the ex-Empire. As Jefferson asserts on Hall’s multiple lives:

Add to this the ‘double consciousness’ of a diasporic intellectual and one can begin to see the origins of an expanded view of the political and impatience with reductive thought of any kind.

The full review can be accessed here. To complete Hall’s deserved revival in Brexit Britain of 2017, a podcast presented by Ben Carrington fleshes out the multiple impressions Hall has caused during his academic life. Here, there are debates on immigration, racism, colonialism, and conscious Marxism that emerge in the voice of his ex-work partners, colleagues, and admirers. It is really worth listening, delivered in a fine-cut radio show in accessible and didactic format for non-UK spectators.

 

Documenta 14 debates immigration and democracy

It sits on a medium-size, industrial city at the heart of Germany’s Hesse State. The city of Kassel receives once again the Documenta 14. Although the art show has had an earlier edition in Athens, Greece, it is here that we better acknowledge its spread, disarticulated, and site-specific project. Without wrapping itself in only one sign, as the Venice Biennale does to Venice, or the São Paulo Bienal dwells on a big modernist building, the Documenta is distributed in multiple sites; it is impersonal, and does not have a big crowd, though it still conserves a certain charm.

From the short visit I paid recently, I attempted to summarise the key trends, as curators seemed particularly anxious to talk colonialism, globalization, and democracy.

1. Parthenon of books, Marta Minujín

 

As one of Kassel’s big feats of this year, the Argentinian artist Marta Minujín has recreated that old Greek Parthenon by attaching books to large, real-sized structure. Appropriately, Minujín has chosen titles that were banned during the Argentinian dictatorship. As an archetype of democracy, and culture as social justice, the construction sounds like a cliché. However, it ends up complying with Documenta’s ambition to discuss it as an ideal. First, curators seemed much influenced by the Athens’ edition. Second, as found elsewhere in the Documenta, Minujín mimics in her construction not the whole democratic project in the shape of a building, but seems to agree that “democracy” has to be re-enacted as utopia, as no building is sustained only by books. In fact, by underlining her work with bloody, and, somehow, unresolved legacy of the Argentinian dictatorship, the artist rightly recovers some degree of originality by also highlighting the slow reconstruction of democracy in her home country, since the early 1980s. The monumentality of the work at Kassel’s main square eventually helps us to forget the common place in which the artist operates.

2. Fluchtzieleuropahavarieschallkörper – Guillermo Galindo

 

By appropriating remains or reliquiae left behind by those rushing to cross the US/Mexico border, Guillermo Galindo gives us a powerful image of an important issue of our time. If migration is rather abstract and ephemeron, the artist gives to it an image of a hanging boat wreckage. If the news media exploits the portrait of migrants arriving in Greece from the East; or lining up to crosses fences in Calais, swimming to escape drowning in the Mediterranean, Galindo reverses this repertoire by promoting absence and nostalgia. Emptied bottles, a weathered plastic comb, animal bones are other parts of his imagery, as if they were monuments in praise of those who are neither there, nor here; they are gone. Such enormous drama echoes O’Keeffe with her carcasses, which also runs in risk of commoditising hardship, and the run of those souls through the desert, and yet, what happens is the opposite: the artist sensitizing us about the questions that stem from these hanging remains. The calm that arises from the still life does not explain the whole story, nor it should.

3. Proud and Well – Ali Farka Touré

 

It is easy to say that de-colonial art is something about identity and that’s it. In fact, many contemporary artists have embarked into the train of the so-called ‘identity politics’. Different from that expectation, part of the first floor of the Documenta Halle building featured the interesting work of Ali Farka (1939-2006). We find his records, posters, clothes, guitars as his resumé, which are testimonials of the exuberant career of the Malian artist. We see that part of the effort of privileging non-mainstream starts cannot escape from the mission of documenting it. It is not only about discussing it, or making it controversial, but gently memorializing it as part of collecting the relevant and the admired far from the heyday, as it happens with Touré.

4. Democracy and its Greekness

Apart from the main sites, there is much more to be seen and critiqued at Documenta 14. I tried to group some of the main works that are highly representative of other smaller initiatives. For instance, Ibrahim Mahama’s great installation that covered a pair of old buildings in central Kassel with jute sacks to remind of colonialism. Oliver Tessler’s videos on democracy, featuring commentators from different countries giving their views; Moreover, one sees the Parliament of Bodies (picture above), an interactive installation where visitors are invited to sit on military-dressed cushions and debate, as in the old Greek agora.

These works dialogue with the crisis of democracy of our time. If on the one hand,  the guest artists are well positioned to draw a consensus on what are the authoritarian forces we should fear; on the other, we are still dwelling on one kind of democracy, the Western-centric myth that has in Greece its epicenter, which is a  rather restricted thesis about it.  The universality which Documenta has over the years called to itself, firstly by Arnold Bode in 1968, does not appear to subside new visions. It is all about contemporary Europe and viewing the world from here. As far as this view still invites key issues to other non-European societies, in next editions the show must dare to break with its Eurocentrism in benefit of other kinds of realities, elevating them to the status of documents, as it has done it, over the years, with the so-called Western heritage.

Book review: Activism on the web – Everyday struggles against digital capitalism by Veronica Barassi

As we witness phenomena such as Momentum, Labour’s digital assemblage that pushed for Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 General Election, we might want to remove digital activism out of commonplace. Beyond the rhetorics of the “phenomenon”, “social media-led change”, scholars have challenged the actual ICTs penetration in these activist realms by contrasting their relationship with digital capitalism. To what extent can they become bedfellows on what concerns commoditization, immediacy, and “digital labour”? These are central questions for Veronica Barassi in Digital Activism on the Web: Every Day Struggles Against Digital Capitalism.

This is an ethnography of three distinct groups of activists. First, she studies a UK-based initiative aimed at working for a positive image of Cuba, much connected to the UK left. The second one is a young collective battling for better public spaces in Milan. And the third NGO is based in Madrid, with the purpose of promoting politicized ecological discussions.

Barassi sees a gap in critical theories of the digital as they fail to address realistic settings. This could be solved by delving into the political roots of activists/users, inquiring into the self-referential language of the social networks. This failure at going deeper with what activists do, developing a closer look at their history and sense of strategy once on social media, for example. That could reverse the trend of having “thin” approaches to digital activism, as a “thick” approach would be one of more empiricism, cataloguing behaviours, mapping the real intention behind the use of digital assets in the everyday activism. To what extent participants are conscious not only of technologies, but of its implications, such as the evils from digital capitalism.

Indeed, digital capitalism can be a rather controversial concept. Barassi resolves it by furnishing her activist ethnography with three stable notions. By assigning categories such as the “self-centred communication and individualism”, followed by the “user-generated data to profit”, which leads to a discussion on “digital labour”, we are guided through the principles of her exploration. Aware that these areas are also objects of unresolved disputes among scholars, Barassi opens these concepts to further interpretations. In dialogue with similar explorations of networked activism, as seen in Castells (2011) or, more recently, in Gerbaudo (2012), Barassi’s attempt to rethink some of such meanings seems more settled as a kind of anthropological perception.

The author first focuses on activists’ self-projection through digital tools. The book skips normative divides such as the “new” and the “old”, “networked” or “non-networked” movements, as that would be to otherwise confirm a “thin” perception. Instead, We find the interesting idea of media imaginaries. While not necessarily connected with the digital capitalism discussion, we understand, for example, the reasons why a white-male group of activists from the UK has sought to transpose an “ideal” of Cuba to the heart of British politics. Crossing present, past, and future scenarios into the same media imaginaries appears as a key resource for them.

Back to the digital problem, Barassi’s ethnography intends to avoid a techno-determinist approach. For that reason, details on activist organizations emerge here as a priority for the study, as well as discussions on their routines. This conscious focus on the “human” part to some extent contrasts when activists admit that the Internet has” radically changed every day practices” (54);  it does not get clear how exactly this came to happen or to what degree their role as ordinary Internet users coexists with that of activists, or if both remain the same.

Barassi comes to later concede that activists switch between both receptors and participants of the technological agency.  However, likening activists’ opinion on technology with ideas of adoptions or concessions with the digital capitalism discourse seems a bit of a stretch. We risk to naturalize the action of corporate Internet giants, such as Google, by assuming that some of its interventions over people’s lives are not our concessions (browse on it, for example), while other actions (advertising, marketization) are so. The premises according to which one considers what digital capitalism is and where it extends to, how it is perceived, would need a bit more of development, under the risk of becoming too arbitrary.

On the other hand, by interpreting the interplay between activism and digital life through ethnographic data, we learn that activists are prone to negotiate the technological agency along with other values. Technology is the advent that gives a contemporary shape to their gestures, but which does not affect a hard, long-standing political core. Barassi treats this duality very well by allowing the digital discourse to be a  “contested space of meaning” (60). At one level the role of the corporate web is expected and pictured by the activists, at another, this is about each user’s idea of what the digital means to their lives.

Two final points approach the pressures from technology and its effects. The first one is about the “self-centred” nature of social media as an attitude-influencer. We realize that activists are rather critical of the “networked, individualist self” of the web, but that opinion seems to appear marginally, or on a case-by-case basis. In other words, activists might be self-centred, but a narcissist social media does not seem to affect collective processes of meaning and engagement, as they continue to acting as regular users.

On digital labour, insofar as no real consensus exists on this controversial topic, this book does not seem to side with the “techno-optimist” theses. Whether by clicking and liking exists as a type of work or not, digital labour embodies a rather virtual concern to the activists. Regardless of the kind of digital labour we are talking about, participants argue on the creation of a different type of “value”. Eventually, this particular kind of labour will not necessarily follow a capitalist logic, rather, it resembles a  representational goal, aimed at mocking “social worlds”, not necessarily a sort of production system (96).

As seen, activists’ accounts can inform the limits of the digital media usage, but it also sets the limits to scholars appropriation of this topic because it leads them to conform with much subjectivy from each user. Social movements’ action suggest much more complexity of terms such as digital labor, individualism, or immediacy than one would imagine. Therefore I wonder if an ethnographic approach is still what best suits this study. In reality, conversations have better worked to show that discussions on technology happen at a different pace when consumerism and technology are confronted with the activism reality. The book could have been slightly bolder by trying to translate other adoptions or refusals by activists, yet it shows a good use of the ethnographic when it focuses on purpose, rather than to confirm patterns for use of technology. 

It is noteworthy that the author can give a fascinating account from the ground. By visiting meetings, closely talking to activists, or relating to their past or present experiences, Barassi creates a valuable set of data that is captured under non-spectacular, media-oriented circumstances. Pity that the constant reference to “capitalist” discourses seems to lack echo in many of the activists’ testimonials. Instead of “digital capitalism”, activists seem to cope with the pressures of a generic “digital mind-set”, which may rival their old principles and offline loyalties.

The approach for activist magazines at the end of the book gives us a quick glance on how the legacy of struggle is far from being memorabilia. This part deserved to be further extended, perhaps by extracting more discourses from their past and comparing what we have in the present, if this doesn’t make another study. Overall, Barassi’s book has succeeded in demonstrating that, as far as activists acknowledge the pressures to adjust to a world of constant “new” digital capital, they also embody an ambiguous, slow-paced analogic side. In these negotiations, one must not assume that sides – pro or con – will be necessarily chosen. In that sense, Barassi’s book is a balanced and realistically grounded exercise.

 

References

Barassi, V. (2015). Activism on the web: Everyday struggles against digital capitalism. Routledge.

Castells, M. (2011). The rise of the network society: The information age: Economy, society, and culture (Vol. 1). John Wiley & Sons.

Downing, J. D. (2000). Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. Sage Publications.

Gerbaudo, P. (2012). Tweets and the streets: Social media and contemporary activism. Pluto Press.

 

Book review – British Representations of Latin America, Luz Elena Ramirez

800px-Page_187_(The_Lost_World,_1912)While not officially part of the British Empire, interactions between Britain and Latin America have existed in reports, literary accounts, and detail-rich descriptions. Reading a variety of 19th century British writers, we find similarities in reports from many distinct countries that constitute what we call by Latin America; countries as distinct from each other as Mexico and Uruguay, Argentina and Panama, Brazil and Colombia. In British Representations of Latin America (University of Florida Press), we find an interesting model of sociological analysis of these accounts, without resorting to the traditional post-colonial, capitalist imperialism seen when looking at transatlantic relations.

Ramirez starts by reviewing many of the shortcomings of these postcolonial, imperialism theories to explain why British interpretations of Latin America seem so unusual. On the one hand, capitalism theories have focused on trade in colonial times, much embedded in Marxism values, which fail to see implications that lie beyond the much quoted “dependence” theory. For example, these theories would forget the role of British commerce had for the struggle for the region’s independence, which comes down as a relatively positive outcome, let alone all the collaborations that foreign traders received from natives, and local elites.

41mHwueHBSL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_On the postcolonial side, Ramirez sees writers such as Césaire as “romanticizing” Latin America, as much as the “dependence” theory did. Yet, here authors have oversimplified the local context, where “no conflict” existed before the European conquest. Said’s Orientalism is reviewed more positively in that sense, particularly because it fits in very well to understand British colonial narratives. Despite British presence in Latin America appears as less aggressive than in India, for example, though “more risk-sensitive”, Said’s inclination to portray power lays a good foundation for this study, especially in what touches the Foucauldian articulations of power through the discourse.

We are introduced to what Ramirez calls as the Americanist discourse, the colonial view developed by the British on Latin America. Following the next chapters, we find key case studies. Ralegh’s Discovery of Guiana, Conrad’s Nostromo, Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Lowrey’s Under the Volcano, and Greene’s work on Mexico, Argentina and Panama. They will subside a discussion that brings about more than “cultural bearing”, that is, despite being novels, some of them ficcional reports, they are also embedded in the complexity of commercial relations between Britain and Latin America of the time. It is not about escaping the image of the “barbarian vs the civilized”, but these texts will reveal much of the post-imperial mood in Britain as the Empire starts its decline at the late 19th century.

We see, for instance, the extent to which Ralegh’s and Schomburgk’s travels across Guiana have brought much of its enthusiasm from the Armada victory against the Spanish. Yet, how Schomburgk’s search for the place of British Empire amid the “savages” of the Amazon. Both are accounts that end up being more about Britain than about Latin America. Not much distant from this, Conrad’s characters have mirrored the late development of the Andean region, but also invites the inevitable “cynicism” with which he sees the dubious role of foreigners in the country’s stabilization. Doyle’s regard to Brazil and the Amazon bears ties with Darwin’s evolution theory and its naturalization of colonizing practices (“beating the natives”, p. 109), but witnesses much of the problematic adaptation of foreigners to the new tropical reality.

The most interesting part of Ramirez’s detailed exploration dwells on the links with metropolitan publications, namely The Review of Reviews, the London-based tabloid. Plenty of satirical views of Britons in the region came out in the tabloid, some of which mirroring prejudice and humor. Not less sensationalist, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Doyle’s The Lost Word stressed the consequences of the British man’s expeditions around the world; in Latin America this gets supernatural tones of shock with nature, the dangers of bureaucracy and corruption among the barbarians. Greene’s The Lawless Roads adds “irritation and boredom” to it, as it quotes the “mañana, mañana” jargon (tomorrow things will be ready) (p. 151).

The merit in critically engaging with such Americanist narratives is that of recognizing what lies behind the literary interpretations from the Empire, whether on Asia and Africa, but which, on Latin America, assume features of its own. It is a “literary conversation” on key themes such as development and trade (p. 169), but which imports folklore and mysticism, unveiling insecurity of Britain’s attempts to engage with the wider world on a non-extractive, classic colonial basis (at least directly). There was a need for the country to launch such expeditions, and much of the disillusion appears in the way Latin America is portrayed as the “disappointing” endeavor, the failing region in the extent of risky commercial partner, which is an impression that stretches over other subjects.

At one level, it is a discourse that fits well in a context of Britain intellectual expansionism to readers back home, partly based on academic interest, as seen in the example in Darwin’s goals of collecting species from around the world, but partly mundane as a pub chat. At another level, that effort is articulated within a new modernist look to the outside, as writers do not get rid of old “civilizing” ideas, which results in their own detachment and poor self-assessment of what “being foreigner” means, a dismay to the outer world that may last to this day.

At the end, Ramirez aims to continue the conversation by citing films that follow this Americanist orientation in contemporary times. And yet, there lies a missed opportunity in this book. Ramirez falls short of developing about Americanism in the aftermath of the British Empire, which could appear interesting to discuss in a time of declining British presence in Latin America.

To what extent could the Americanist discourse reside in Britain’s loss of influence, if not, isolation, in contemporary affairs? How could this framework serve a more ambitious narrative that leads, if not only to indifference, to a certain ignorance? The look at the Americanist narratives as a framework on its own versus its post-colonial implications could also deserve further reviews as the post-structuralism and the preoccupation with language loses popularity in academia, opening space to the political correct.

In any case, British Representations of Latin America achieves a good deal of empirical research regarding an often-dismissed relationship, as it comes as an alternative way of looking at colonial mind set. It confirms neither the hegemonic British look of authority and knowledge, nor the victimizing position that Latin America may assume in post-colonial studies, as hegemonic relations carry far more complexity.

Natives at the 2017 Venice Biennale

To pay homage to the world’s indigenous communities, the Biennale creates unnecessary mysticism

The 57th Venice Biennale decided to dedicate a large pavilion of its Arsenale section to the art of native communities around the world. An example of this incursion is the large embroidered hut designed by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto, entitled “Um Sagrado Lugar” or A Sacred Place. Neto’s original proposal was not only to debate shamanism by reconstructing a type of dwelling found in the Amazon forest, as he also invited a few members of a tribe to the show’s opening, straight from north Brazil. At the occasion, a few members of the community spoke with the artist, as they performed rituals in circles, sang typical songs.

One month later, whoever visited the Arsenale would see a slight diversion from the “sacred place”. In fact, what old shamans took millennia to protect and cultivate, one Biennale is enough to turn it mainstream and consumerist. The layout of Neto’s installation is still the same, but the mystery and the genuine performance of the indigenous culture now appears as a mere object for thousands of visitors’ appreciation, who have gone through the gigantic exhibition. Would these visitors care if they are seeing Appalachian art, or Masi art, or Dengese art? They would be all branded as native and that is fine.

That means that the indigenous hut was nothing more than shelter for children and their parents, as millenary songs were now entertaining the crying babies. In brief, Neto’s curation of indigenous art, brought here for being authentic, was the delight of foreigners in their sightseeing vacation programme. While fitting well into the Biennale’s proposal, the problem is whether his pieces could still bear any relation to the indigenous people, whose cultures curators vow to defend and revive.

It is not the case of vilifying Neto for his sincere interest in importing the unknown from Brazil to international stage, which would inevitably produce a commodity. This is not the point. The problem behind opening what ethnic minorities do in their native lands in this way, alongside selling their rituals as ready-made (useful enough for the “world” gaze and re-enactment) is at the limits of this ambition, and at the generic frame adopted by artists and curators alike.

There is a breaking point between the revival of what once was genuine, as found at its birth place on one side, and the legitimisation of the fake, on the other. One thing is the religious and reverent side of shamanism, another thing is the irony and mockery as result of its exhibition and foreign reconstruction. The question is whether Neto’s attempt to talk indigenous to this audience adds anything in their consideration (or knowledge) for the ancestral non-Western cultures, therefore, then generalising the crushed indigenous history in the West. That question would apply to the entire pavilion and the event’s bona fide will in general.

On the other hand, it is also important to recognise that other artists in this Biennale have also developed a sincere relationship with all things indigenous. For them, what was really at stake was the critique, while still a comfort zone, gave visitors more things to consider. Juan Downey’s work, for instance, is more sensitive to the mediatisation of the indigenous as of Latin American culture and politics. Downey places old TV sets in circle broadcasting what seems to be indigenous ceremonies continuous programme, which includes images of Chile’s colonial and authoritarian past, as if they belonged to the same context of colonisation and power. Although not putting it in that way, Downey’s repertoire is doubtlessly aware of the limitations to portray the indigenous, which is for a great deal of the population media images only.

Indeed, the very problem of ‘going native’ at the Biennale lies in the extent to which artists do recognise mediatisation as their take when moving forward on this subject. Amid droves of tourists circulating in the legendary city, the question is less who-did-what-and-where, and even lesser about playing the political correctness card, and more about the de-politicisation of others’ culture. Shall artists, such as Neto, still try to broker the objective presence of such distant, imaginary environment on this stage, or should they deliver artistic, intellectual, or creative analysis or critique of how indigenous materiality has been appropriated, sold, destroyed, and imitated by the “white man”?

Less ambitious works have invested in the second hypothesis. Artists have created beautiful pieces in which indigenous or colonial memories do not try to play the spectacle for the audience and do the “such extraordinary thing”. Abdoulye Konaté’s produced a large textile piece named Brésil (Guarani). Konaté has travelled across Southeast Brazil to re-connect what he found as similarities between the art produced by Brazil’s tribes with that of his native Mali. The result is a multicolour fabric piece starting from tones of indigo, but converging into a full variety of other tones. It is about recognising the variations of a same culture when forcedly or spontaneously seeded in multiple sites.

Another example exists in Nicolás Garcia Uruburu, from Argentina. In a work originally shown in the 1970s, Uruburu painted everything in green, colouring the many canals and old buildings in Venice. As far as the core of his interventions is purely at designing a new environment and an echo from ecologist movements, it has also encapsulated a fundamental debate on colonisation and de-colonisation as change, mix, or otherwise, conservation, without raising an eyebrow by manipulating ancient cultures on their iconic value. He has crafted his own icons to talk about changing others’ environments.

Thus, no shock effect is necessary to bring the powerful and powerless, victims and agents closer. While vocal on art that aims to revenge against colonialism, the shamanic in the Venice Biennale sets another return to the visually exotic, but comfortable enough for the likes of European audiences, cuddling each artists’ ego as both victim and protagonist. Part of this agency is creating a new modern, international traveller indigenous, but which, otherwise, drives visitors away from the state of preservation into a state of trivialisation.

To wrap it up, it is not a matter of artistic cynicism only, but of ignorance. By not granting visitors a chance for self-criticism, particularly regarding the century-old European voyeurism to the disadvantaged natives (as everyone is native at some point), curators seemed to privilege interpretative, mockery art on top of the real thing. It is if the real thing could not exist without mediation, let’s say it. The same problem seen decades ago in Magiciens de la Terre, the controversial French exhibition. That had given us so much to think about in the last decades. In brief, it told us that there is no need to invite shamans if curators are the first ones to create mysticism and alienation.