By Angela Aguilar, UC Berkeley
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending a poetry reading with Amiri Barka. In his closing remarks, he urged audience members to engage with one another, using literature, books, poetry as catalysts. “Back and forth back and forth, that’s how you learn.”
This past weekend began with a confrontation. A personal one of which the details are not important here. In retrospect, I realized how symbolic and interconnected that confrontation was to the events that unfolded throughout the remainder of the weekend.
Being outside of the institution of education for some time and returning has allowed for the criticism that I have toward it, the educators and those being educated. I know now that I can no longer separate myself from what I am learning. I feel that I am able internalize it and utilize it in my everyday interactions, possibly more so than my self would have 5 years ago. Daily, I remind myself of what it was that never allowed me to forget or disregard the many injustices in the world. That thing, that force, has been art. In its many forms.
A recurring question that I have asked myself time and again is why are the arts are so under funded in public education. What kind of power lies in the creation of art? This question is one I carry with me as I continue my journey through academia. Being an undergraduate student in the Ethnic Studies program has opened up many possibilities for me to think about power and resistance through and within another lens. As a result of the thinking I have been doing in the classes I am currently enrolled in, I am becoming more and more interested in looking at how art (in its many forms) has been used to construct an imaginary (nation-state projects, creation of an “other”) and how it is used in spaces of resistance.
Friday’s symposium events were refreshing for a few reasons. I thoroughly enjoyed the keynote conversation Friday morning titled Transnational artworlds, social justice, and the “will to globality”. Professor Perez discussed her work that is published in her recent book. She raised several questions that were of particular interest to me. One of them being the issue of occupation of public spaces through privatization and corporatization. How has the public been responding to this crisis in the arts? She was eloquent in her articulation of the role of current neo-liberal government policies fomenting the disappearance of truly open and public spaces. So she asks the question, why struggle for these spaces for artists? Well, community consciousness is created in these spaces! And so it seems consciousness in any form is a big no-no in the current world system!
Professor Grosfoguel adds to this argument as he commented on the importance of shifting the geography of reason to a more southern perspective. I am currently enrolled in a seminar class with Professor Grosfoguel and he synthesized much of what we discuss in class into the minimal amount of time that was allowed during the panel conversation. Underlying in all of his comments is the idea of the urgency of adopting a critical attitude about the so-called Capitalist world system in order to create a new reality. However Professor Grosfoguel introduced a new phrase for the world system formerly known as Capitalist (European/Euro-American, Modern/Colonial, Capitalist/Patriarchal, Christian-centric World System). This new term renders visible all of the hierarchies of power that are currently hidden in dominant thought and discourse.
Okwui Enwezor discussed the techniques of coalition building that are created in the arts and asked the question, What can you do as a young artist that seems relevant and meaningful. (How can young people use art in ways that are relevant and meaningful to resistance while building coalitions) He raised some interesting points as to how life worlds of communities can function through the raising of consciousness through the arts.
Let me transition from the keynote conversation to the Translocalities/Transmodernitie
Ms. Moore-Pewu, discussed the contemporary media representations of Africa and the role the media plays in the perpetuation of the belief that Africa is a “hopeless continent”. The discussion of World Systems theory can be brought into conversation with Jamila’s research. The perpetuation of this image of Africa completely negates the fact that Africa has been systematically underdeveloped in order for first world countries to live lavishly and comfortably. I’d just like to say that I am hardly comforted by that reality.
Ms. Veronelli’s contribution to the panel was especially interesting and relevant to me as many of the ideas she was proposing align with the work I am reading by Maria Lugones. Ms. Veronelli discusses the coloniality of language as a dialogical problem. She is thinking about the Spanish language and the struggle to make sense in a given geo-politcal situation. (I think I might have a mixed understanding of what Ms. Veronelli was saying, so please correct me where I might have strayed a bit…) In understanding the coloniality of language, she goes on to discuss how, in unveiling language as a hegemonic construction, we need to look at the project of language from the perspective of the marginalized and silenced; it is here that we will discover the natural ways of making sense. One of the most interesting points that she conveyed, in my opinion, is when she said that we must not take dialogue for granted, or that we are even going to make sense to each other. We must take risks and move and engage in places where we do not necessarily belong. We must confront and engage contradictions as opposed to simply tolerating them. The decolonial shift requires making connections, but “disconnections we cannot take for granted.”
I have preoccupied myself for some time with asking these questions: why do we trust without question and tolerate? Why are people confrontation-phobic??
Finally, on Sunday I attended a few minutes of the final roundtable discussion. I am so glad that I was able to enter that space and express my opinion and interest in relation to the symposium. I realized then and there what has been missing for me in the past year since I transferred to UCB: My active engagement with and in spaces where I previously assumed my opinion was not needed or important. It was here that I experienced the importance of dialogue and really understood the danger that lies in assuming. I would have missed out on making connections with people who are doing amazing things in the area that I am particularly interested in. And so my weekend ended with a confrontation of sorts. I hope to continue conversations with the people that I had the pleasure of meeting this past weekend, especially the wonderful people that are here at UCB.