enc05_welcome_02_jp_LgPhoto/ Foto: Julio Pantoja

Dear Participants:

Welcome to "Performing Heritage"--the Hemispheric Institute's 5th Encuentro co-sponsored and hosted by UFMG! This topic builds on the work we have all done to help develop contemporary indigenous performance as a field throughout North and South America.  The Hemispheric Institute's collaborative work with scholars in the Americas has produced unique materials (archival, scholarly, and artistic), in the fields of indigenous theatre, performance, ritual, and embodied practice. We shifted the focus from written to embodied culture, from the discursive to the performatic. Our encuentro continues that exploration by bringing artists, scholars, and activists together to look at performance traditions as the source of knowledge.

Part of the colonizing project throughout the Americas consisted in discrediting autochthonous ways of preserving and communicating historical understanding.From the 16th century onwards, conquerors and colonizers attempted to extinguish and supplant Native performance traditions that served to strengthen social and religious systems. As important, these performance practices functioned as "acts of transfer," transmitting Native knowledge, memories, and values from one generation to the next.

Native performances, of course, did not "disappear." They continued to transmit vital knowledge and a sense of identity. These embodied practices, too often ignored in written histories and accounts, can only be understood by examining performed (as well as written) culture. Fiestas, dance, processions, celebrations of the dead, ceremonies, based on ancient traditions, and avant-garde performances continue to transmit cultural memory and identity, even as they adapt to changing realities.

These performances—whether 'traditional,' transformed, or re-invented—help us understand important contiguities in the present.  While attempts continue to relegate these practices to the past, and contain them in demarcated spaces, all the evidence points to dynamic and creative contemporary performance practices across the Americas.  Native artists are working together across national, tribal, linguistic, and cultural divides. Their work shows local specificities and points of conflict, as well as reaching to form a broader network of affiliation. We hope that this encuentro—with its three umbrella topics [Intangible Heritage, Cultural Agents, and Arts and Markets] will help us all broaden and deepen our networks of affiliation. Thanks to all who made this event possible, and welcome!!!

Leda Martins and Diana Taylor