Photo/ Foto: Marlène Ramírez Cancio

Dear Participants:

This encuentro–Spectacles of Religiosities–marks the fourth in a series of gatherings for the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics: Brazil (Performance and Politics in the Americas, 2000), Mexico (Memory, Atrocity and Resistance, 2001), Perú (Globalization, Migration and the Public Sphere, 2002). Each encuentro brought the topic of performance and politics together in unexpected ways. In Brazil, our host institution, UNI-RIO, was on strike, as were all public universities in Brazil at that moment. Striking students and faculty allowed our encuentro to go forward, but we all had to ask ourselves what our role was–as academics, students, activists, and artists–faced with the impoverished condition of universities throughout most of the Americas. Mexico was interesting too, as the change of political regime following the presidential elections of 2000 meant that all those who vouched support of our gathering at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León and in cultural centers in Monterrey in 2000 were out of power or reassigned in 2001. The situation in Lima, Perú was somewhat different–the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú is a private and relatively prosperous university, but as a religious institution it is somewhat conservative, so we chose to find alternate venues to host some of our activities. Now, in the U.S. we are faced with the most critical situation to date–hosting a ‘performance’ event at a moment in which the U.S. government’s project of imperial expansion is pushed forward as much by ‘performance’ as it is by military weapons. George W. Bush has taken “presidential theater” to new heights. He knows, as we do, that performance requires participation, and he calls on national and international spectators to behave as good audiences– i.e., to clap, stay in our chairs, and willingly suspend our disbelief. So now more than ever, those of us–artists, activists, and scholars of the Americas–who work at the intersection of performance and politics are called upon to reflect on the very real political power of performance, and to intervene by taking an active role in the social arena.

This encuentro, Spectacles of Religiosities, invites participants to think of the many ways in which religious practices and traditions have sustained and challenged powers-that-be in the Americas. Before the conquest, when Aztec, Mayan, and Incan religious belief systems required enormous social and individual expenditures and sacrifice, to the 16th century, when the European conquerors and evangelists justified the invasion of the Americas in the name of Christianity, to the present, when government officials and evangelists continue to justify imperial expansion in the name of superior faith, religions have served as central conduits of social behavior, memory and identity. Yet, religious ceremonies have also transmitted the beliefs and world-view they seek to banish–i.e., many indigenous and afro-American religiosities have been transmitted through the images, music, and ceremonies supposed to promote Catholicism. Vodun, carnival, pilgrimages, memorial walls, drumming and other forms associated with religiosity that we will discuss here transmit a local, at times very political, sense of community and its relation to the sacred and the worldly.

During these nine days, let’s explore, enact, and enjoy the power of participating in our own performances.

Diana Taylor