OISE: The Indigenous Education Network’s film series explores ‘state violence and Indigenous resistance’
OISE’s Indigenous Education Network (IEN) is hosting the second installment of its State Violence and Indigenous Resistance film screening series at 2:30 pm on February 17 at the University of Toronto’s Innis Town Hall.
The event features a double bill that includes “Unearthling. In Conversation” and a performative screening of “The Formaldehyde Trip”. The films will be followed with a discussion and response by artist, activist, and scholar Syrus Marcus Ware.
Moire Hille, OISE Visiting Student, recently spoke with the films’ directors, Belinda Kazeem-Kamiński (Unearthling. In Conversation) and Naomi Rincón Gallardo (The Formaldehyde Trip) to learn more about their work.
Naomi and Belinda, we are super excited to have you here in Tkaranto, and to have the possibility to show and see your works. To give people who are not familiar with your work yet a short introduction to it, what are the general themes that we will find in your artistic practices
Belinda: I come from theory and writing, and also have an activist background from years of working in self-organized groups/collectives of migrants and especially Black people. My artistic work is deeply informed by that.
At university, I was especially interested in the representation of blackness in the European, specifically the Austrian, context. It came kind of naturally to then start engaging with the formation of museums, the field of ethnography, knowledge production, and photography.
My interests do of course shift, but in general one can say that my work deals with blackness, colonial violence, flashbacks, and radical imagination. When it comes to the typical mediums I work in, I have to say that I am still undecided, that means that you will find photography, collage, text, performance, and recently also film in my portfolio.
Both of your works are dealing with violence and cultural archives, in very different ways, but both raise questions on representation and art as a tool to articulate resistance.
Belinda, your work deals with Blackness and continuity of colonial violence, you hereby use methods of reduction, can you please elaborate on your visual and spoken strategies?
Belinda: It is just recently that I am using the terms Black reduction and Black annotation, both coined by Christina Sharpe, a cultural theorist and writer that wrote In the Wake. On Blackness and Being (2017) – an incredible book by the way. For anyone that hasn’t read it yet, please do so, it will definitely blow your mind. But let me come back to your question.
There is one question that is very central to my work that Christina Sharpe also touches on: How is it possible to work with archival material e.g. ethnographic photography, in a way that doesn’t reproduce the violence on a visual level? That is important for me as a Black artist working with ethnographic material, e.g. photographs, because I do care for the photographed people and I also care for my audience. I am here speaking especially about people in the audience that due to their own experiences can relate to white imperialist violence. It is not necessary to reproduce the images as many of us in the Western world have grown up with these images anyway.
Nevertheless, I work with these images because I want to talk about what has happened and is still happening, I want to add something to the narrative, thoughts by people that weren’t considered subjects. In my works, you can find various forms of Black reduction and Black annotation when working with visual and textual material. For example, deleting, e.g. in the work Voids (2017) that deals with the display of a group of Africans or Black people in Vienna in 1896/97 or cutting out and covering as in Unearthing. In Conversation (2017), the film that will be screened on February 17 together with Naomi’s work.
Naomi, your work is influenced by queer and decolonial epistemologies, in your works collectivity plays an important role, and the moment of collective activism is central, can you say some words on how you understand your artistic practices related to activism and collectivity?
Naomi: I speak/feel/do from a perspective of a queer feminist person of color yearning for decolonial presents and futures. It is not a fixed stance that one reaches once and for all, but a process that demands keeping oneself alert to different axis of oppression and power relations in order to rearticulate an oppositional consciousness under ever-changing circumstances and contexts. I am aware that the inheritances of women of color feminisms and third world feminisms, queer studies and decolonial feminism do not easily connect by themselves. My work wrestles to weave such interconnectedness.
I wouldn’t consider myself an activist. But I do want my work to contribute to transformations in the affective and political imagination. I long for a collective re-writing of the world. I work with people with whom I have built alliances out of political affinities and affect. I confess though that I need time in solitude to nourish my artwork
But I also work in projects where co-participation is central. I belong for instance to a feminist collective called invasorix in Mexico City, with rotating roles and collective decision-making. We collectively try to articulate our concerns, anxieties, indignation and anger, but also our desires and utopian perspectives. We try to collectively respond to specific political/social situations and we intervene in educational settings, protests, academic spaces. We’ve managed to continue working despite the distance.
I’m aware that in collective work each person joins by different interests and expectations, not necessarily reconcilable with one another and even contradictory and conflictive. I find important to work across differences. But I also find necessary to step back and work certain singularities that for me are not negotiable: that’s where my own artistic work happens.
At the moment I hold a relative privilege as an educated (precarious) cultural worker awarded with a Mexican State grant to study abroad (in Vienna), while simultaneously occupying in a white Western context the role of a racialized other.
While I perform as a PhD student, my mind is very often somewhere else. It drifts to a neo-colonial context in which a fierce onrush of technologies of death and plundering by racist hetero-patriarchal capitalist power is violently throwing people into a dark abyss. People are increasingly exposed to naturalized danger, violence and disappearance, lowest ranking wages, chaotic conditions of living, toxicity, stigmatization, militarization of the national territory, multiplication of paramilitary and criminal organizations. And the awareness that the horror is around the corner can be paralyzing.
While I am working/studying abroad it is hard to tell if the place one yearns to return is the place from which one should better flee away. The very degree of exposure to vulnerability shapes specific understandings, anxieties, desires and longings for different futures. It also shapes different forms of resistance and new political subjects. I want my work to join the creative inventiveness against the horror.
We will have the great opportunity to see a work by each of you The Formaldehyde Trip and Unearthing. In Conversation on February 17 at 3pm in Innis Townhall. Can you give as a brief outline about those two works?
Naomi: The Formaldehyde Trip comprises a set of videos, songs and performative speeches imagining the journey of Bety Cariño through the underworld, where the seed of her struggle against dispossession of indigenous land, cultures, and bodies is to be nourished and multiplied. Through her journey she finds companions in widows, witches, both sexed animals and deities, who escort her towards a gut-awakening, dirty, re-birth ceremony. The assemblage mixes and matches left-overs of buried Mesoamerican cosmologies, decolonial feminist perspectives, crafty and ornamented props and costumes; echoes from Mexican B-side Sci-Fi films from the 60s and 70s, and lyrics addressing women’s struggles against the dispossession of their lands, bodies, and cultures. The project will be presented as a performative screening, where I will introduce the videos through an oratory performance.
Belinda: My work on Unearthing. In Conversation was sparked by an encounter with a man on a photograph that Paul Schebesta (1887-1967), Austro-Czech missionary, writer, and ethnographer took in the former Belgian Congo in the early 20th century. I was confronted with this archival material in an exhibition and while looking at it had the urge to do something, to discuss what this material meant to me, why it made me think about the past present and future of blackness in Austria.
Another aspect of the work is the discussion of artistic research and responsibility, ways of dealing with trauma and violence, when working with visual material, and getting to terms with the inability of filling the gaps, as Saidiya Hartman writes, and therefore accepting that the stories we can tell stay fragmentary and incoherent.
Both of you are also working as educators, how does this influence the way you think about your artistic works?
Belinda: As my artistic work stems from an interest in working with theories, I cannot really separate what I am teaching from what I am dealing with artistically. Much like my lectures and texts, I see my artistic works as invitations to engage. I am interested in creating a climate that makes it possible to think, reflect, and grow together despite. Having said that I also like to challenge my audience/my students and working artistically or with artistic works are incredible tool for that. The confrontation with artistic works often pushes us out of our comfort zone and, while this disorientation might sometimes even be painful, I do believe that it can lead to change and new ways of being together.
Naomi: I am interested in twisted pedagogies committed to transformation rather than reproduction. I understand pedagogy as a platform to learn and unlearn collectively with the purpose of transforming our subjectivities and our realities. To what purpose would it be relevant to twist pedagogy? To explore the singular and anomalous rather the universal in order to challenge common sense and to ask for a translation that is not to be fully achieved. Twisted pedagogies may multiply interferences while shifting away from the exclusive domination of intellectual and distanced discourse to a mode including the body, affects and desire.
I think that arts can be a pedagogical strategy rather than a subject to be studied or admired. Art can offer ways to reach a poetic/aesthetic value rather than a delivery of information. Heterogeneous forces can be introduced into the scene of teaching and into learning practices although taking the risk that such forces might be inassimilable. Twisted pedagogy would provoke thoughts and emotions to be processed with certain delay. Pedagogy is the time for ignorance being exposed and for the awakening of indignation, critical inventiveness and incitement to transformation.
You are invited by the IEN (Indigenous Education Network) and Dr. Eve Tuck, what are you interests in this collaboration and in general your interests in Tkaranto?
Naomi: I am influenced by decolonial feminisms shaped by the insights of a new indigenous female subject who has been emerging as key political actor against hetero-patriarchal capitalist projects of death and destruction of the planet.
I think that the Zapatista movement has been radically nourishing the path of decolonial feminisms in Mexico: a decolonial feminism that seeks, as Sylvia Marcos would put it, for an embodied theory intertwined with nature and matter. Within contexts of internal colonialism (a notion borrowed from Pablo González Casanova), the social structure corresponds to events of Conquest in which native populations are not annihilated and come to take part in the Colonial State and then in the State after the formal independence, while forms of subjugation mutate and linger.
The project of Mestizaje has been an ideological tool used after the Revolution, both to imagine a modern nation founded in the hetero-patriarchal model of catholic nuclear family, and to suppress Indigenous communitarian organization and spirituality. But as I mentioned before, that violent hetero-patriarchal modern project has lots of cracks from which Indigenous knowledge and social organization has managed to resist and emanate inspiring political movements.
Coming from such perspective that has been primarily nourished by Mesoamerican worldviews in a context of internal colonialism, it has been absolutely fascinating and inspiring to get to know perspectives on decolonization from a Settler colonial context. I’m interested in the ways that the material unsettling process of decolonization might be materialized to interrupt the settler colonial nation State.
Belinda: I am a huge fan of the podcast The Henceforward and its bringing together of Indigeneity and blackness. I do find the podcast very inspirational. Learning from and with each other despite of different conditions of our struggles has been and still is important to me for my political development and there are a lot of people that I owe much of what I know today.
As a Black European dealing with the remains of colonialism and enslavement, I do draw a lot of inspiration from Indigenous and Black scholars, artists, writers, theorists. Therefore, it is a great honor and I do feel super privileged to be able to come to Toronto. Especially with one of my dearest colleagues, Rincón Gallardo, a friend and an artist that has taught me a lot in the last years. Thank you to all the people that were involved in getting us here!
My specific interest is to exchange with activists, artists, theorists based here and to learn more about their work and challenges on the local level. I am especially interested in community schools and art programs offered to Indigenous and Black students of various age. Therefore, I was extremely happy to hear that we will be able to host a workshop for Making Sense of Movements at OISE. I am really looking forward to this.
So do we! Thanks so much for your time and efforts to do this interview! We are really looking forward to have the opportunity to engage more with your work and to have a conversation with you!