“In the polychromatic and confusing space of the postcolonial city, the symbolic stem-cells—the combinatorial abstract logic that underlies our linguistic and corporal practices—have not been erased.”
-Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, 01
We have launched ourselves into a collective endurance exercise of attempting to unlearn the impulses traced on our bodies by cultural practices. We (read: an inclusive, utopian “we”) are 5 graduate fingers/toes from 5 different corners of the world working together to decolonize our bodies through experiments that intervene with the visual coloniality of the internet. Scroll to interact with some models of opaque and obscure narration positioned to disentangle bodily knowledge from oppressive education.
If embodied practices can be passed on through generations and if our personal and common history is integrated into our bodies, does it mean that deeply embedded, colonial embodied practices determine our interactions? How do we negotiate the space between colonized embodiment and non-white traditions and rituals serving as practices of resistance? The complexity of hegemonic globalization (Santos, 86) creates an opacity between reality and appearance, blurring the contours of the roots and our possibilities of choices, creating a false sense of belonging. How can we flow – like water – through embodied tactics to counter configurations of power that are represented in our audio-visual-digital world(s)? Moreover, how to think other strategies between practice and theory to reconfigure our understanding of social-cultural exchange, experience and freedom?
If the body is our first and final condition which unites us and separates us, embodied practices configure a complex (and fertile) field of decolonization to be explored. In this context, our presence in the world can be ritualized as an opportunity to review our acts and its reenactments. This piece investigates 4 performative experiments created to escape from this dizzying cycle: an assemblage of visual and audio examples from the internet, a playful take on Augusto Boal’s Newspaper Theatre practice, an artistic engagement with paper planes through imagined borders, and ending with a ritual for marching forth. Collectively inspired by the conflicted life-giving and life-stripping (super)powers of the sea – an ensemble of movements, depths, configurations and behaviors – these propositions work to compliment each other as we move through audio-visual-digital colonization and place focus on varied aspects of our senses and subjectivities, proposing a temporal cycle of successive or simultaneous ritual actions.
“My body, in fact, is always elsewhere. It is tied to all the elsewhere of the world because it is around it that things are arranged.
It is in relation to it – and in relation to it as if in relation to a sovereign – that there is a below, an above, a right, a left, a forward and a backward, a near and afar.
The body is the zero point of the world.
There, where paths and spaces come to meet, the body is nowhere. It is at the heart of the world, this small utopian kernel from which I dream, I speak, I proceed, I imagine, I perceive things in their place, and I negate them also by the indefinite power of the utopias I imagine.”
– Michel Foucault, Utopian Body, 233
Visual Decolonization: politics of imagination
“Acknowledging that communication is not neutral puts everything in perspective (…). A design cannot be disconnected from the values and assumptions in which it was created, from the ideologies behind it.”
Ruben Pater, 02
The idea of visual colonization can be understood from different levels and perspectives as a field that operates on social/cultural practices, including our everyday life, the visual/performing arts and the digital world. Visual communication and ideology are directly related to everything around us and are perceived as natural. In subtle layers, through the desire of power, we maintain the process of colonization in the clothes we wear, our appearance, the food we eat, what we watch and consume daily. The colonizer’s perspective is the “better” option because it represents a guarantee of success and inclusion. Furthermore, we are constantly acting and reproducing these hierarchical relationships in racial, genre, cultural and social contexts. If it is impossible to totally erase this condition and its limits, it is urgent to accept and to understand how these situations occur on many levels of our global-mestizas societies (Santos, 51). In which contexts can we decolonize our imagination, if our repertoire is usually contaminated by the global European and North American archives?
According to Juan López Intzín, “in the epistemological area, our [the colonized perspective] sources of knowledge and history were burned and destroyed. (…) Our knowledge was characterized as superstitions”. Until today, this rupture in the “lifeworlds and worldview of our people” (Intzín) – a collective repression/trauma – remains in our subjectivity and affects our choices, producing a dizziness that works at the visual level crossing into our bodies. When a body experiences trauma — whether physical, emotional or verbal — it prepares to fight, flee or freeze. This chronic stress can be passed down through generations and normalized as a natural condition. If we are contaminated by this kind of blindness, it is a challenge to distinguish what is ‘natural’ and what is a colonial/colonization.
In this sense, the video below was created as an overlapping sequence of fragments collected from tv shows, movies and pop songs that exposes the uninterrupted audiovisual colonization and its different layers of appropriation/ points of view about ‘reality’. We ask: how to decolonize the mind and the imaginary? How to operates in the narrative dispute in a world of ‘fake news’ and empty desires? Who hybridizes whom and what? Can we escape from this permanent dizziness? Which kind of repertoire are we absorbing every day?
“Internal colonialism has continued to exist after independence until today. It is very difficult to imagine an alternative to colonialism because internal colonialism is not only, or mainly, a state policy; it is rather a very wide social grammar that permeates social relations, public and private spaces, culture, mentalities, and subjectivities. (…) In sum, it is a way of life”
(Buenaventura de Souza Santos, 26).
Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui asks: “Can we say that we are assisting to a new, globalized and homogenizing citizenship, a kind of transnational mestizaje who’s the main asset would be it’s own “hybridity” and indetermination?” Different and complementary perspectives have emerged from different epistemologies, countries, cultures and contexts. To escape from coloniality there is a necessary set of practices and strategies to provoke new perspectives and to create ruptures, estrangements and other political imaginations. Is it possible to remember our condition every day? Taking the body as our main instrument of resistance, we understand that embodied practices configure a weapon to struggle against all of these forms of oppression and submission. As Diana Taylor defines: “Embodied performance makes visible an entire spectrum of attitudes and values” (Taylor, 49). The possibility to expose these situations is useful to underline our practices and an inspiration/invitation to turn our behavior in a different way. The acceptance configures the first step on this journey through the audio-visual-digital decolonization.
Between the fascination for the established representation to our ‘original’ memories and stories came from our ancestor communities, crossing individual and collective bodies, connecting them, these complementary practices constitute an important tool, a call to remember ourselves, a way to integrate, to cure, to detoxify our body-mind-soul and a practice to fracture the trauma(s).
Visual Colonoscopy-ism – Exercises Against the Sick Joke of Mastery
As seen in the rapid-pulse video about visual colonization, dehumanization of human bodies is entangled with a long history of domestication and abuse that is inextricably linked to colonization and coloniality. Is there anything at all funny about that? No. We choose to emphasize the ways that humor and satire can become survival strategies for existing within a white supremacist regime. Using Jose Esteban Muñoz’s claim that “comedy does not exist independently of rage” (xii, Disidentifications) as our guide and maintaining groundedness through attention to “unburdened representation” (Nyongo) we acknowledge some perverse routes of visual, embodied decolonial practice.
For instance, in a recent stand-up act, comedian Clayton English beseeched his white audience members to “think about people the way you think of animals and fuckin’ save us!” He went on to imagine that if police were walking around neighborhoods shooting black Labrador retrievers, white people would immediately organize and form a group called “Black Labs Matter”, their posters emblazoned with a little-raised paw. Upon hearing this we might be reminded of the “heartwarming” videos circulating online after the recent hurricanes swept the Atlantic coast. The videos feature pets, namely dogs, being rescued from their drowning homes and reunited with their human companions. The fixation on these videos within one’s social media network illustrates precisely what English, as a black American, is critiquing in his quip: pets taking priority while people of color are still being treated as less than human.
English is also displaying a decolonial practice that we embody through our experiments with Augusto Boal’s Newspaper Theatre, a technique of re-reading newspapers using theatrical/musical/embodied forms to tell a new news story. By stepping into these headlines and the viral photos associated with them, we are able to develop a practice akin to the well-known Brooklyn-based artist Alexandra Bell, who posts rewritten NY Times articles on walls in her neighborhood to shed light on the highly racialized and problematic “left” newspapers’ portrayals of people of color. Like Bell, we are intervening through storytelling for audiences willing to bend their necks read notes in the margins. In order to do this, we must become playful with our interpretations of the news. This is where the traditional trickster or joker role comes in, where sarcasm can help us convey the blind spots prevalent in the news story we’ve chosen to unpack. We are suspicious of our own eyes.
Like water, running throughout this experiential project is an element of trickery necessitated by the ugly truth of contemporary animalization and dehumanization. Feminist theorist Gloria Anzaldúa writes about the dangers of inflexibility in a world that rejects your racialized presence. She says “Rigidity means death” (79). To each story there is also a before and after that is hidden backstage, so we oscillate between these histories in search of stability. We are here to drop the curtain on the pants-less star.
“I slip into corners, my long antennae encountering the various axioms on the surface of things.” – Frantz Fanon, “The Lived Experience of the Black Man”
Between Sharpe’s “Wake Work” and Boal’s “Newspaper Theatre”
How does “being in the wake” disrupt the images the majority portrays in the media? How does wake work help to demolish those views and help make light for people who live in a constant state of the wake? Understanding Sharpe’s Wake Work Theory, we can all begin to dissect images we see about people and then practice how we can decolonize those images through Boal’s Newspaper Theatre. Christina Sharpe’s Wake Work Theory combined with Augusto Boal’s Newspaper Theatre is a pairing of theory+practice used to demonstrate two aspects of the media: what the media wants you to believe versus what actually happened. Fascinated by how Augusto Boal incorporates the embodied experience and theatre, we used his techniques, exercises and games. Newspaper Theatre intrigued us because we thought it was a great way to exercise a practice of decolonization because in colonial imperialist society the news is “the nonbiased source of information”. With alternative news sources on the rise, we can slowly see how the news is also dominated by capitalism, causing some stories to be told in a certain perspective or not at all. Through Boal’s Newspaper Theatre we can begin to understand how we can decolonize the news and restore humanity to the different people involved in the stories, images and articles. We selected four images, along with four newspaper articles, that depict human life as almost invaluable. We wanted to showcase their side of the story that the media deflects. In Newspaper Theatre, you can choreograph, sing, dance, act, and so much more to present a more in-depth coverage of what the actual story is conveying in the news. The usage of the monologue was a choice we decided to use because it allows the person to tell their side of the story. Each voice tells another perspective to the news article and shines a different light. This gives depth and more understanding to the people involved in the stories. Enjoy!
La Mestiza-Internet — Visions for Internet Consciousness
Amidst a sea of images existing in the realm of the digital, we swim, we float, we dive, searching and surfing for connectivity. The world is getting smaller with these shifts and we must move towards a global state of mind, one that dissolves border-walls which include now the borders of the digital. Learning from Anzaldua we cannot have rigid walls, we must petition for an internet with a consciousness like La mestiza. One where access flows freely into hands of the people. (Anzaldua, 75-89)
La mestiza-internet operates in a “pluralistic mode” where things can upload and collide to form multiple lines of user participation. Ricardo Dominquez redefines the digital borderlands with his project Electronic Disturbance Theatre (EDT) tag-teaming with the indigenous revolutionaries Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), the Zapatista Army for National Liberation. The Zapatista’s existing in a state of continuous protest for indigenous rights sent hundreds of paper airplanes over the rigid walls of a military encampment. Each airplane’s flight over the border wall held a fragment of expression, discursive missiles as messages. This collaboration turned trans-material a year later drawing inspiration from the happenings on the ground, transferring into the digital. Jill Lane sites the digital piece of the project;
“The Electronic Disturbance Theater had designed the flight plans for a companion digital Zapatista Air Force: the code for its “Zapatista Tribal Port Scan” (ZTPS) was released for public use on 3 January 2001. With this software, artists and activists could mount their own aerial attack on any website—the U.S. government, or the Mexican military—sending thousands of messages through the“barbed wire” of ports open to the cyber network.” (Lane, 130)
Existing in the form of a cyber-protest, the digital messages mimicked the paper airplanes, flying through network borderlines. The software developed was a tool to permeate the wall of the U.S. government and Mexican military, creating a disruptive presence in digital space. This breaking through the wall was facilitated by tools of the digital, it is what La mestiza-internet has the capability to achieve. In a world where “Our word is our weapon..” (Marcos, 258-261) the internet can provide an opportunity for the deployment of another kind of arms, revolutionary speech.
A Rite of Passage from Embodiment to Immateriality
“I would like to advance the thesis that the emergence of the geo- and bodypolitics of knowledge introduced a fracture in the hegemony of the theo- and the ego-politics of knowledge, the two standard frames for the colonization of the souls and the minds since the Renaissance.”
(Walter Mignolo, 484)
Embodied practices imply the use, and most importantly, the existence of a physical body. In an attempt to disembody practices – trying to work outside of our ego and our own perception – we propose in addition the idea of the ritual, a rite of passage. A “cleaning ritual”, from embodiment to immateriality. Taking the concept of a Body without Organs (Deleuze/Guattari) and the fact that everything alive is part of Nature, we understand that different “bodies” interact with each other. It is an attempt to move away from the physical/material body for a moment through ritual. We define ritual as a free space for the reconstitution of subjectivity and agency, and even though we consider the previous propositions as ritualized practices (that bring together a conscious presence to think, to feel and to act at the same time), this last piece desires to connect with each other/collective without the concept of the material body.
Boal also uses the idea of ritual as one of the strategies to reveal the cultural societies’ superstructures and our personal roles. In this context, the established sociocultural ritual “thingification” is seen in the human relationships and the masks we use in our daily life to reinforce our behavior and the false idea of belonging. Our need for rituals configures a potential politics of resistance, not confirming the collective, contaminated colonial performance but rather making possible new paths to experiment with different communication and ways to understand ourselves: “a poetic of liberation” (Boal, 59), an act of freedom.
Between missing our original land and the anxiety to be accepted in a global contemporary context, our bodies can expand their capacity of dispossession resisting physical limits to find the disembodiment. The ritual we propose here is a way of being in the world connected with other human beings and more than human beings, expanding our understanding of collective and our connection with Nature. This challenge is confronted bodily. Foucault affirms that “the body is also a great utopian actor when it comes to masks”, so it is urgent to ritually connect our bodies with our origin, without masks, and experiment with a disembodied practice.
If the sea was the device that brought the caravels from the colonizer nations and the ships from (our) black communities with (our) people enslaved, we propose a water ritual to wash this past and to connect ourselves with the power of Nature. This brings us back to our main title image of the water in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal, one of the countries where people were sold as slaves. Dissolving old routes, the water’s behavior immerses us in constant movement, fracturing the contaminated practices of oppression and “looking for an energy that creates and pro-creates in common-unity between the sky and the Earth, dialoguing and heartening” (Intzín). This is not a procedure of forgetfulness but rather its opposition: I never forgot the past but I am not stuck in it.
Nature is a powerful tool/point of departure to explore a different way of interacting with oneself and with each other. From Madagascar and Brazil, our original people kept their rituals, remembering traditions and connections, the ancestor’s routes and ways of life to reinforce the ritual as another survival procedure. If “all of this [traumas] was marked in our bodies” (…) “it is the lived experience of that rituality in the present that grants intuitive force to our desire for reconstitution. It is sensing the presence of the mountains, listening to the voices of the landscapes, and all the substrates of memories that speak to us from their summits, lakes, ponds, or from its multiple apachetas and roads” (Cusicanqui, 02).
Below, the video water ritual is offered as an element, an image and a root, a body without shape, without organs, that operates differently in many contexts and dissolves daily traumas and densities. To ritualize is to notice our connection with Nature and the knowledge from our ancestors with water, with the sea movement and its capacity to wash and energize. The water has the property to change, to erase: it is humor, fluidity, a dematerialized substance. The water cleans our perspectives, reviews our emotions, embraces us, circulates the world in the shape of rivers, sea, waterfalls, rain, clouds, air. Your bread connects you with the Universe, with the macro level of existence. To connect, reconnect, reimagine. A possibility to reborn in symbolic ways.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. “Borderlands = La Frontera: the New Mestiza”. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2012.
Cusicanqui, Silvia Rivera. “The Potosí Principle: Another View of Totality”. E-MISFÉRICA 11.1 Decolonial Gesture. V.11, Issue1, 2014. https://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/emisferica-111-decolonial-gesture/e111-essay-the-potosi-principle-another-view-of-totality.
English, Clayton. “2 Dope Queens: #46 I Don’t Practice Santeria.” WNYC, WNYC, 21 Nov. 2017, www.wnyc.org/shows/dopequeens.
Fanon, Frantz. “The Lived Experience of the Black Man.” Black Skin, White Masks; translated from the French by Richard Philcox, Grove Press, 2008, pp. 89–119.
Foucault, Michel. “The Utopian Body”. In “Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology and Contemporary Art”. Edit by Caroline A. Jones. MIT Press Edition, 2006.
Intzín, Juan López. “Sp’ijilal O’tan: Knowledges and Epistemologies of the Heart”. Translated by Margot Olavarria.
Mignolo, Walter D. “DELINKING – The rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality and the grammar of de-coloniality”. In Journal Cultural Studies, 21:2, March 2007: 449-514. Issue 2-3: “Globalization and the De-Colonial Option”.
Muñoz, José E. “Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics”. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Print.
Nyong’o, Tavia. “Unburdening Representation” from The Black Scholar, 2015.
Santos, Buenaventura de Sousa. “Epistemologies of the South – Justice against Epistemicide”. New York: Routledge, 2016.
Sharpe, Christina. “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being.” Duke University Press, 2016.
Taylor, Diana. “Acts of Transfer”, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas, Duke UP, 2003. (Video: *Percepticide is a term that comes from Diana Taylor and means blinding to how something affects and exploits people of color, minorities, and indigenous people).
Lane, Jill. “Digital Zapatistas.” TDR: The Drama Review (T 178), Summer 2003, pp. 129-144 (Article) Volume 47. no. 2: (2003. ). Web. 2 Dec 2018.Marcos, Subcomandante. “Our Words Is Our Weapon.” Washington.Edu 00. (1992). Web. 2 Dec 2018.
Works CitedAnzaldúa, Gloria. Boderlands: La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Book Company, 1987. Print.Lane, Jill. "Digital Zapatistas." TDR: The Drama Review, , (T 178), Summer 2003, pp. 129-144 (Article) Volume 47. no. 2: (2003. ). Web. 26 Sep 2021.Marcos, Subcomandante. "Our Words Is Our Weapon." Washington.Edu 00. (1992. ). Web. 26 Sep 2021.