Indios Medievales, Tomás Ochoa

What decolonial gesture is

Jill Lane, Marcial Godoy-Anativia and Macarena Gómez-Barris |New York University and University of Southern California

“Listen Winka...!”

Decolonial gesture is: saying “Listen winka...!” whether or not the winka understand that they are being hailed. 

Decolonial gesture is: blood. Blood in 5 of 16 glass jars, that represent and preserve the Native Alaskan blood quantum—5 of 16 parts—of the artist Erica Lord. The blood asks: does indigenous identity lie in these five jars, as the State insists, and not those others? In this work, Lord asks: what other jars or calculus could measure the indigenous memory, knowledge, and practices that tie people to land and to each other? Daniher asks through the artist: what is quantified and what is preserved in State practices that require “degree of Indian blood certification”? What is partitioned, and what is forgotten?

Decolonial gesture is: chi’xi. “The possibility of a profound cultural reform in our society,” says Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, “depends on the decolonization of our gestures and acts and the language with which we name the world.” Ch’ixi is one such word. It captures the Aymara idea of something that is and is not at the same time. Ch’ixi “expresses the parallel coexistence of multiple cultural differences that do not extinguish but instead antagonize and complement each other.” Ch’ixi is the frame through which Cusicanqui critiques the extraordinary Spanish-German exhibition “The Potosí Principle”: where the exhibition sees the exploitation of poor Indians who, powerless to stop the machine of savage capitalism, paint masterpieces of their misery, Cusicanqui sees in those same paintings “an active recombination of opposed worlds and contradictory meanings.” Baroque ch’ixi is “a dialectic that does not culminate in a synthesis but lives in permanent movement, articulating the autochthonous with the alien in subversive and mutually contaminating ways.”

Decolonial gesture is: friendship. In San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Rebecca Belmore (Anishanabe) and Victoria Patishtan (Chamula) rehearse an act of friendship—they spin wool, make beads out of chewed newspaper, tie the strings into an unbroken like—interrupted by the incommensurability of their spoken languages. To Patishtan’s repeated attempts at conversation Tzotzil, Belmore replies, “No, English”—an Anishanabe artist (Canada) and a Chamula artist (Mexico) bound by friendship and histories of resistance.

Decolonial gesture is: metal. Scenes of the torture of indians first engraved by Theodore de Bry in the early 1600s are etched by artist Tomás Ochoa into the metals for which those indians died by millions: silver and gold. Casting these primal scenes of colonial violence into precious metal and into valuable art, Ochoa’s gesture illuminates the furious amalgamation of the two “hungers” that drive the colonial project: as Barriendos puts it, the raw “hunger for metals” and the ethnographic hunger for indigenous alterity fuels an extraction (of metal, of life, of labor). The gesture is, also, flesh: in “Medieval Indians,” Ochoa re-enacts the engraving by de Bry in which Indians hold a conqueror captive and “quench” his hunger for metal by pouring liquid gold down his throat; in this performance today’s migrant workers are cast in the place of de Bry’s “monstrous” Indians. In the oscillating superimposition of colonial visual culture on the coloniality of present day imaginaries, says, says Barriendos, a territory opens for the possible decolonization of seeing, viewing, and imaging alterity itself. 

Decolonial gesture is: motherhood, Motherhood without documents, without sanction. An undocumented woman giving birth in the United States—making a claim, and being claimed by us.  Through Vera-Rosas, we learn that “the illegalities of the undocumented mother can be conceptualized as an ethical practice of the flesh, a corporeal politics of noncompliance”— a breaking of unjust laws, a de-linking from a hegemonic system.

Decolonial gesture is: cuir. Transfeminist, Postpornographic. The textual shift from queer to cuir is, says Sayak Valencia, a gesture of “sexual dissidence and its geopolitical and epistemic displacement toward the south.” Decolonial gesture is: CUIR FAT POWER! with artist Alejandra Rodríguez, aka La Bala. It is Post-sexual with artist Katia Sepúlveda, whose 2007 work of that name offers a silicone dildo in a frypan, melting very slowly over low heat. The challenge to patriarchy pictured is both radical and glacial: the image of the upright penis melting on a frypan—a place of feminized domesticity par excellence—images the demise of patriarchy and also insists on the very slow, continuous process of social change. Its praxis as image is confrontational, oppositional: a bold portrait of feminism’s threat to patriarchy. Its praxis as durational performance is transformative: over time, the antagonism between patriarchy and transfeminism dissolves. 

Decolonial gesture is, then, ¡transmarikaputabollomestizxmigranteprecarix!  

Can we render the colonial gaze/relationship laughable? Xandra Ibarra, a.k.a. La Chica Boom does. Ibarra “fists piñatas, plays with a Hitachi Wand vibrator in the guise of La Virgen de Guadalupe and splatters hot sauce via a strap-on onto tacos, made from corn tortillas and her lacy underwear.” Patel explains that such performances—that Ibarra names burlesque “spictacles”—marshall gross exaggeration of stereotype toward “decolonial failure.” In this failure, says Ibarra, there is “no redemption, no rewriting subject, no re-performing the subject, there is only fucked life.” 

Decolonial gesture is aesthesis. For Walter Mignolo, Tanja Ostojic's performance, Looking for a Husband with E.U. Passport (2000–05) models a delinking from traditional aesthetics in order to liberate an underlying decolonial aesthesis, a "vibration of the senses" that refuses the perceptual and discursive strictures of the sublime or the beautiful.

Decolonial gesture is, now, an interruption. Listen winka…!  The title of a seminal work of Mapuche historiography, ¡…Escucha, winka…! interrupts the course of colonial historiography as usual and wedges another in its place. In the Mapuche language, winka means “foreigner,” “invader,” or “colonizer,” and more commonly refers to non-indians. Listen Winka..! is a bilingual interjection that opens space for another history, an alternate cartography, a refusal of the winka’s borders, maps, and place names; it is an interpellation into the memory of the Mapuche nation that was and is. 

Decolonial gesture is: enactment. “Eve will not emerge from Evo’s rib!” says Bolivian feminist Maria Galindo. “We make clear that the voices of women in the official constitution were mediated, brokered, censored, and measured by the political parties that legitimated only the liberal NGOs and the conservative voices of indigenous women who spoke for their men, for their sons, and for their churches and their dogmas of faith.” Constitución Política Feminista del Estado, enacts, “for all those who are looking for the breaking point in society, the place of rupture and rebellion rather than the conciliation of silence and the comfortable complicity of our own subjection.”

Decolonial gesture is: pulse, a pulse “in the break” of black diasporic aesthetics. The large-scale paintings that comprise artist Julie Mehretu’s Mogamma (2011) transform the eruptions, circulations, and retractions of revolutionary potentialities of the African/Arab spring into abstract linear form. Drawing on maps of multiple public squares, including Tahrir square in Cairo where the government building Mogamma is located, Mehretu captures the conflict between that solid, massive, ordered urban architecture and the potent energies—pulse—of peoples moving and thinking against the social order that architecture upholds. As Macarena Gómez Barris says, Mogamma renders this conjuncture, this “architectural breaking and falling apart,” through an “improvisation of lines, breaks, angry marks and imaginative gestures” that form alternate “architectures of meaning through sublime built environments that cohere into recognizable patterns just as easily as they drop off the canvas.” In the break of black aesthetics, the art—says Mehretu—mirrors the “built environment in which it operates”; it “acts as a living force, never idle and continuously pulsing.” 

Decolonial gesture is: opacity, the opacity of the undercommons. For Moten and Harney, decolonial gesture is the refusal of that which has been refused to you. The refusal to demand, plan, or call to order within the terms that otherwise shape the broken conditions in which we now live. The right to opacity. The refusal to see refusal as lack of action: when you stop making demands and requests, you can hear the noise of a change already taking place. When you don’t call the classroom to order, you see the study already happening. When you leave behind the logic of critique, you may find your way to the “the undercommons of enlightenment, where the work gets done, where the work gets subverted, where the revolution is still black, still strong.” 

Let’s listen.