conviviality in times of pandemic.
a collaborative diary
CAPE TOWN DIARY
It was not easy to come to Cape Town as a white person with the Occidental white genocidal colonial history in mind and being part of the regime of whiteness. The Cape Town area is still haunted by two violent historical periods: the struggle between the Dutch and the British for colonial control after Jan van Riebeeck was sent by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to establish a supply station at Table Bay in 1652 for ships en route from Europe to India. The second is the twentieth-century apartheid system that disfigured the city with the forcible removal of the entire racially mixed community that lived in the neighbourhood known as District Six (see District Six Museum). On February 11, 1966, the government declared District Six a white-only residential area under the Group Areas Act of 1950. More than 60,000 people were forcibly relocated and their homes demolished.
District Six, which we visited, is located on the foothills of Table Mountain. The mountain received its present name in 1652, when Dutch settlers began referring to the mountain as Table Mountain. The original name of Table Mountain was “Hoerikwaggo,” which means “mountain in the sea” and comes from the KhoiSan people. This changed when the Portuguese Admiral Antonio de Saldanha, hiked the mountain in 1503 and renamed it “Tabao de Cabo” (Table of the Cape). The mountain was sacred to the Khoikhoi and San. Both the Khoikhoi and the San were deprived of their land when the demand from passing ships soon became too great for the employees of the VOC and Dutch farmers were given land to farm and live on under the Freehold Policy. Cape Town soon became a colonial project, and a slave-based economy developed through the importation of slaves (see SAHO).
Other major migratory movements followed: Malay slaves from Dutch-occupied Java, French Huguenots fleeing persecution in France, German settlers seeking a better life in Cape Town and Natal, British settlers escaping poverty in Britain in 1820, and Indian indentured laborers or slaves brought by the British to work on sugar cane plantations in 1860.
In the run-up to apartheid, numerous social and legal decisions by the British and Dutch colonial powers ensured racial segregation. During the 19th century, Blacks, Coloureds, Indians, and KhoiSan, were forced by law to wear passes that restricted their movement. Laws were also passed denying them the right to vote and own land. By 1948, a political culture based on white supremacy was firmly established and Cape Town was a segregated city (see SAHO). The pro-Afrikaner National Party came to power and instituted apartheid. This system of racial segregation was ended in the early 1990s in a series of steps that led to the formation of a democratic government in 1994. Nelson Mandela was elected president in South Africa’s first democratic elections on April 27, 1994.
The Cape Town area is still very much influenced by these two eras of history. The post-apartheid city is characterized by a spatial division that reflects the legacy of both eras. Cape Town is all about fortified enclaves with privatized security services and computer-monitored and electrified fences, heavily gated “communities” that thrive and coexist in close proximity to informal settlements and shantytowns. Fortified white enclave, but on the other side Langa township with community and future.
So how does one enter a space like Cape Town? And most importantly, how do you enter such a space with the idea of conviviality? When we came to South Africa from Europe, we risked the harsh critique of the idea of conviviality by the community of Blacks, Coloured, designed, and classified already in the apartheid time of coexisting communities in Cape Town.
Whose conviviality are we talking about? The White regime of power lives in an illusion, a utopia of living together in the midst of a world that is literally falling apart. The question that came up palpably during our visit to Cape Town is that conviviality amidst such racialization processes is maybe just another Eurocentric idea of totality. A totality that is achieved through a state of exception and the inclusion of the excluded as a structural necessity. The critique was apt: as we are part of this regime of whiteness.
We were also grateful for a generous encounter that allowed all these open questions to be brought to the table, face to face, and to allow confrontations, confrontations of violent histories, confrontations of different struggles, confrontations of different identities, different thoughts and perspectives, different ideas of the future, but also drawing parallels between them.
Even if one hesitates to refer to the Latin “convivium,” the word means having guests at the table. So putting things on the table, and giving food for thought, could be one of the approaches to rethinking what the notion of conviviality could bring in today’s world and for the future. And that means questioning institutional, economic, and political structures and positions that make it difficult to live together in peace and justice, respecting nature and what is left of it.
In “‘Carnal Conviviality’ and the End of Race?” (Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2023), Amit Singh addresses some of the confusions and contestations associated with Paul Gilroy’s conceptualization of conviviality. In particular, with regard to post-Brexit Britain, Singh argues “that conviviality cannot be reduced to mere tentative co-existence, nor does it designate the absence of racism.” Rather, it shows “the messy complexity of everyday life,” in which people try to build lives side by side while thrown together at the margins of society. Singh focuses “on radical forms of togetherness” and speaks of “bodily convivial encounters” that represent “the messiness of everyday life as people attempt to grapple with – and overcome – emergent racism.”
Singh makes several important points: that a convivial culture need not be a bourgeois mindset, but is an inherently politics from below; that conviviality does not mean the absence of racism (in the post-racial sense); and that convivial encounters are fraught with tensions and must be worked through and negotiated.
It is not, then, a kind of “melody” of multicultural conviviality to which we aspire, but an encounter that allows for confrontation, for coming to terms with the genocidal past and present, for thinking about ideas of refusal, for demanding justice, for caring…
As Gilroy argues in his Postcolonial Melancholia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), “the radical openness that brings conviviality alive makes a nonsense of closed, fixed, and reified identity and turns attention towards the always-unpredictable mechanisms of identification” (xi) (J. Pristovšek).
CONVIVIAL WORSKHOP (Day 2)
UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN
CONVIVIAL WORSKHOP (Day 1)
UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN
CONVIVIAL WORKSHOP #1
at maiz WISSENSLABOR 22, LINZ
in cooperation with MAIZ JUGEND
Our first convivial workshop finally took place at the end of October in Linz, Austria with a group of eight young women with different personal migration stories. The workshop was held in collaboration with maiz Jugend, a subgroup inside maiz that works with young migrants to “create collective processes in which action options and possibilities for intervention are designed and implemented.” Most of the participants already knew each other from previous events with maiz Jugend, and the atmosphere was good from the beginning. Our research team (Marina Gržinić, Jovita Pristovšek, Saša Kesić and I) prepared an introduction to the idea of conviviality and how it can be practiced and implemented even on a small scale. We introduced some of the events and artistic works on conviviality that we have been working with over the last years as part of our research project, and learned about their own experiences and approach to art as a collective means of sharing and learning. Our main guest for the day was Viennese rap artist Esra Özmen aka EsRap, who came for the day to spend the afternoon in the workshop and give a concert in the evening. Esra Özmen shared with the group her own story of how she became a rap artist and found her way to art. She has a Master degree in fine arts and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. As the child of a Turkish immigrant family, born and raised in Vienna, she knows what it’s like to live a life in Austria where migration is part of the biography. She recounted how she struggled in school, spending her first years in a class made up almost entirely of immigrant children, before her parents arranged for her to transfer to an “all-white Austrian” school where she was suddenly the standout child with a Turkish background. Having to juggle multiple languages at home, at school, and in everyday life, in the midst of an “Austrian” majority society that relentlessly excludes those who have a so-called “immigrant background,” Esra wrote down her thoughts in poetry. After sharing a recording of her poetry with a friend, she was given the opportunity to use a recording studio that had been set up in a youth center. Thank you to helpful friends, she soon got the idea to add a beat to her captivating lyrics – and she began turning her poetry into rap music. As a rap artist, she found her way to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, where she was able to approach art from her own unique point of view, and she continues to do so successfully and truthfully to this day.
Esra’s way of telling her story is empowering, as it does not act as a blueprint for how a young woman should integrate and assimilate into the chronically racist, majority-oriented Austrian society. Rather, it reflects on how Esra has created and continues to create her own world that is true to her and her image and ideas of herself and who she is, while confidently taking space and locating herself at the heart of Austrian society as part of it. After her captivating narration, Esra involved the women in the practice of rap by teaching them the basics and motivating them to write some lines of their own rap lyrics. The session was a great success and ended with short performances of rap songs that each participant had written. (S.Uitz)
On October 29, 2022, I participated in Conviviality as Potentiality: workshop with Esra Özmen and FWF PEEK project “Conviviality as Potentiality” at Wissenslabor 22 (Care-Flechtungen – Kämpfe verbinden), in collaboration with maiz Jugend (Linz, AT). The participants – young migrant women aged 13-20 – were invited to rap together. Rapper Esra Özmen introduced them to her experiences with rapping and underlined the power of her autobiographical poetry with a spontaneous performance. In the afternoon, the workshops “Take Care of Yourself – Strategies for Collective Action”, “Connecting Struggle – Weaving Together Another World” and “Protective Mantle Against Racism” took place, and in the evening we celebrated with a concert (sugar pa and rio lectric, Enesi M., Ian, EsRap, Missex Dj Set). (S. Kesić)
FILM SCREENING: UNDERSTANDING CORONA
UNIVERSITY OF INNSBRUCK / LEO KINO INNSBRUCK
On October 18, 2022, I attended the film screening: Understanding Corona (Universität Innsbruck). As part of the Conviviality as Potentiality team, Prof. Dr. Marina Gržinić and I were invited to screen two short films at the Leo Kino in Innsbruck; the films that were produced during the time of the pandemic. As the art and cultural scene was strongly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the films were made under great difficulties. But through film, new spaces were created, beyond the prevailing discourses. For example, “Wearable Vocabulary” documents a June 2021 workshop in Vienna where participants discussed vocabulary against oppression and for empowerment, and “Touching Pain (Part 2)” presents the case of the Uyghur minority, which has been threatened by repression in China for years; this work talked on discrimination, fragmentation, administration, citizenship, and non-citizenship. (S. Kesić)
10/10/2022 – 16/10/2022
ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS, VIENNA
In the second week of the winter semester 2022/23, Muslim*Contemporary 2022, went on with numerous exhibitions and workshops. Taking place for the second year in a row, the goal of this multidisciplinary festival is to show, primarily through art, but also through education, the importance of Muslim communities’ participation in Austrian society, but also beyond. During the second week of October 2022, spaces for artistic exchange, empowerment, dialog and learning were created at various venues in Vienna, with the aim of negotiating important social discourses through representation. I learned that the first Muslim*Contemporary 2021 took place on the first anniversary of “Operation Luxor.” This was a violent operation by the police and state institutions in Austria against the representatives of the Muslim community in November 2020. Subsequently, many police measures were overturned by the Graz Higher Regional Court. I am also aware of an open letter written in February 2022 by Asma Aiad, Anahita Neghabat and Dr. Mireille Ngosso criticizing the attack of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) on the freedom of art in the spaces of the university. (S. Kesić)
30/06/2022 – 03/07/2022
FESTIVAL OF VOCABULARIES LIFE
at Belvedere 21, VIENNA
I am overjoyed to be back in Vienna after seven years, now as a postdoctoral researcher at the Academy of Fine Arts in the Studio for Post-Conceptual Art Practices with IBK/Akbild/Univ. Prof. Dr. Marina Gržinić. Although I arrived on July 1, 2022, at the very end of the summer semester, I find the fantastic Smashing Wor(l)ds: Festival of Vocabularies Life, which I attend for three days. The highlight of the festival, Nadia Granados, presents two performances, “LA FULMINANTE” and “mi cuerpo como un detonante vivo (my body as a live trigger),” in which she depicts the horrors of life in Colombia today. On Saturday and Sunday (July 2 and 3, 2022), I observed a number of artists exhibiting and performing at Belvedere 21. They are all politically committed to “smashing the world and creating other worlds through our words.” In other words, numerous marginalized positions from all over the world present their artworks as a way to fight against discrimination and create a better world. (S. Kesić)
17/01/2022 – 22/01/2022
VIENNA VISUAL DIARY
RUNDGANG 2022 with PCAP class at Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
The Covid-19 pandemic that dominates the world makes every step a precaution. The measures are severe because they drastically limit the possibility of conviviality that is an anthropological concept that confronts us daily with its internal and external dividing lines, because living together is living apart with violent relations of reproduction of capital. The international institutions of art and education are strongly localized, the administration of the state, the institutions, work according to a preventive logic. Europe and the EU sort more and more according to the algorithm that in a millisecond classifies each life as valuable or not, thousands for a better or worse life. These open in front of our art pedagogical cultural practice, in different roles, from professors to researchers or simply employees in an institution or students, a deep structural demand not for what to do, but how to realize a dream of occidental emancipation. It diversifies into institutional, procedural, counting methods of management, of teaching logic, of power, which ultimately serve the nation-state interest; public institutions are beholden to the nation-state interest. (M. Grzinic)
This entry will be a visual diary. We were there together; we documented this encounter and all the works of the students of the studio PCAP (Post-conceptual art practices) under the direction of Marina Grzinic, which were presented at Rundgang 2022. Two short but powerful video diary reports that you can also see on AkBild instagram (@akbild). Feel free to share them, tell your friends about the work you or your friends did, or the work you’d like to do after seeing it. Every single student work tells of the awareness that we are enmeshed in race and/or class and/or gender inequality, that we are oppressed in various ways by institutional structures and bureaucratic processes, that we sometimes play the roles that society assigns us and expects us to play, or rather, that we reject. And every single work is looking for ways to live together in a different way, based on acceptance, recognition of differences and mutual respect. (J. Pristovšek)
After more than a year, the new PCAP student has finally arrived. The student passed the admissions test, and after the long process of obtaining visas, not to mention the maps of travel regulations and the ever-changing immigration rules, between airport regulations, paperwork, and accommodation requirements, and other permits, the project of arriving on January 21, 2022 was completed. In a few months, however, it will start again. The visa is a temporary one, a gift, so to speak, to see if the person will survive the procedures in Austria.
A raw description of a trajectory we are part in proximity: the QR code registration & PCR appointment reservation at Josef-Meinrad-Platz is made. But only after the message confirming the landing comes. The first purchase of a survival kit for Vienna follows. In between: pickup from the airport. After that, full car, but we can squeeze in with all the luggage and food. Then the accommodation. Just unloading the stuff. Then the PCR test drive at 3:00pm, where they always ask you first: Hello, have you been abroad recently? Next, work out a survival plan, research Vienna street maps, write down relevant addresses, prepare Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, and successfully make another PCR appointment reservation at Josef-Meinrad-Platz for January 27, 2022 at 12:00 PM. Next, get a new sim card… You know, the phone is your physical extension these days, an archive for your e-health history and thus a ticket to society.
And we engaged the Conviviality as Potentiality team with the student in Vienna survival workshops. At least 4 zooms, and many more calls. When you come from outside Europe, you enter a new context, a different language and customs, different power structures, different laws, regulations and institutions, different social structures and relationships. You enter a space where you do not live with the privilege of being a citizen of the nation-state. The materiality of power relates differently to your body and its movement in space, it determines your living conditions, the limits and possibilities for the present and the future. Here is the discovery: the administration in the academy that show their true face, they are supportive and practical; the info center at the AkBild, the people in the central technical department and the wonderful students who embrace beyond a basic demand the newcomer. What an energy, dedication, affectivity: awesome. On February 4, 2022, as we write the diary in retrospect, the message arrives “I am happy, with my new colleagues in the PCAP class I went for a meal, talk, and a walk. Was a fantastic day!”
(M. Grzinic and J. Pristovšek)
On conviviality in practice
Europe and the institutions invite people to come here to study, work, and live, but to what extent is the potential in these structures actually justified? Ultimately, conviviality seems impossible if there is no good will on the part of fellow human beings to think of other human beings “beyond the accidents of birth, nationality, and citizenship” (Mbembe, Necropolitics, 2019, 188). It is structurally impossible. There are multiple hierarchies and categories, intersecting and not necessarily exclusive, that govern the movements of various racialized, gendered, and classed bodies… Paradoxically, in these bureaucratic procedures, it sometimes seems as if there is no linear, straightforward logic of time as one would expect in Europe. But it is definitely a slow time. Honestly, can we really talk about conviviality if we do not practice it, consciously experience it, take care of each other, pay attention to others, and to our own ethics in the process?
20.1. – 23.1.2022
STUDIO FOR CONCEPTUAL ART (POST-CONCEPTUAL ART PRACTICES)
Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien
Lehárgasse 8, 1060 Wien, 1. OG Atelier Süd
Exhibition by the Studio for conceptual art (Post-conceptual art practices) featuring works by:
Laura Hvidtfeldt Andersen
Betül Seyma Küpeli
Grace Marta Latigo
Kyra Sophie Wilhelmseder
Recording and editing by the project team Conviviality as Potentiality [FWF AR 679]
20.1.2022 – 23.1.2022
STUDIO FOR CONCEPTUAL ART (POST-CONCEPTUAL ART PRACTICES)
Screenings & Events
Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien
Lehárgasse 8, 1060 Wien, 1. OG Atelier Süd
Screenings & events by the Studio for conceptual art (Post-conceptual art practices) feature works by:
Frederika Nelly Arndorf [Nathalie Ann Köbli, Arno Gitschthaler, Felix Huber]
Conviviality as Potentiality (FWF AR 679) project team [Marina Gržinić, Jovita Pristovšek, Sophie Uitz]
Taske pop kollektiv [Saro Gottstein, Tereza Klčova et al.]
Recording and editing by the project team Conviviality as Potentiality [FWF AR 679]
ZAPATISTA JOURNEY FOR LIFE
It was a historical swing, affective and a process of learning and unlearning. On October 6, 2021 in Vienna at the Studio for Post-conceptual art practices at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna we had an immense privilege that a group of wo/men* from National Indigenous Congress (CNI, Congreso Nacional Indígena), then of the Indigenous Government Council (CIG, Concejo Indígena de Gobierno), and representatives of the Peoples’ Front in Defense of the Land and Water of Puebla, Morelos and Tlaxcala (FPDTA, Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra y el Agua de Puebla, Morelos y Tlaxcala), accepted our invitation to come and talk to us.
For three hours, the strong group of women* told an oral history not commonly known. We may have read mostly about the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN), often referred to as the Zapatistas since 1994. When the Zapatista Army went public on January 1, 1994, it released its declaration on the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The declaration amounted to a declaration of war against the Mexican government, which they considered illegitimate.
The narratives that the representatives of the Zapatista women and men shared with us went back decades before that historic date. We listened and were asked not to take notes, to record in our memory the genealogy of the period from 1984 to 1994 in translation from Spanish to English. They told us about the history, the emotions, the material, the years, the places, the facts, the learning and unlearning, the history and story of education, the struggles of the insurgents and the good government. They delved even deeper into the violent history of the Chiapas region and told of the dispossession and exploitation of the men, women and children of the indigenous and colonized populations in the region.
The narrative was detailed to frame the actions of the insurgent Zapatista groups with a method of empowerment. In 2021, it has been 37 years of insurgent resistance that is still ongoing. We were fortunate to learn a lot, and I hope we can use that at least a little bit for our communities and societies in rotten colonial capitalist and imperialist Europe.
The stories ended with the principle of good government of cooperation and direct democracy, with levels of good government based on principles, organization and distribution of power. The emphasis of co-existence is on relationships and trust, on the distribution of power to create structures of sociability. One of the most remarkable points that still remains in my mind is that the process of learning and unlearning requires to persuade and not to defeat, so that everyone can maintain their dignity and enter into a cycle of dialog.
Thanks to Zoraida, Tina, Lorena, Zapatour, Miguel and Gerardo, the organization of this historic event was possible. (M. Gržinić)
ZAPATISTA JOURNEY FOR LIFE
Today, we have had the opportunity to meet with a group of six delegates from Chiapas, who accepted our invitation to the PCAP class at the Academy of Fine Arts. The Zapatista delegation of almost 200 people had landed on September 14 in Vienna. Instead of their iconic balaclavas or red kerchiefs they protect their identities with FFP2 masks. The pandemic is far from over, and yet they travelled to Europe to engage on a long-planned “Journey for Life” through the continent.
An accompanying journalist from the “medios libres”, a group of independent journalists that covers the entire journey on behalf of the Zapatistas, tells us, that they are a “movimento performativo”, and that we need to understand their visit today in this light. They are aware of the power of performance, hence the strict conditions under which they agreed to meet: that we listen to each other, escuchar, with no interference, no audio or video documentation other than our memory and recollection.
In the classroom the six delegates speak for almost two hours during which they are only interrupted by our two translators. It seems improvised at first. Who will start? What to say? How long to speak? Frequently they whisper to each other, while one by one they tell us the story of their suffering, their resistance and their still ongoing struggle. But it is not improvised at all. Each of them covers a chapter, in a seemingly linear and chronological fashion, but without making it a historic account of past events. They speak of their history as their present and their future – as our future even. And, they speak of their story collectively, adding words here and there, completing each other’s sentences at times, passing the word on and taking it back.
They tell us about the fierce oppression, violence and exploitation that their ancestors had to endure under colonial rule. The finceros, who have become an emblematic figure of colonial power, abused, raped, and enslaved them and became the immediate target of the first sparks of Zapatista resistance. When they spoke about the finceros and their regime of henchman and how they systematically dehumanised, raped, tortured and killed the native people, their eyes and voice filled up with a kind of rage that stems from memory that is not distant, but very much alive in the present. They tell us about how desperate their ancestors’ situation was, how every attempt of organizing some sort of resistance was punished severely. When a handful of people managed to clandestinely form what would later become the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, hidden in the depth of the Lacandonian jungle in Chiapas, security and the need to stay unrecognised was a major concern – and has remained so until today.
This shows also in what they describe as their core values: fellowship, criticism, self-criticism/self-reflexitivity, mutual aid, but most importantly: security. As they walk us through the events of their uprisal, the building of their self-government, their idea of a new democracy, I begin to understand how much of their work is still very much a work in progress – not just to the founding generation, but especially to the younger ones. Some of the delegates that we are meeting here must have been quite young when the Caracoles were founded in 2003. They tell us about the seven core Zapatista principles:
Obedecer y No Mandar (To Obey, Not Command)
Proponer y No Imponer (To Propose, Not Impose)
Representar y No Suplantar (To Represent, Not Supplant)
Convencer y No Vencer (To Convince, Not Conquer)
Construir y No Destruir (To Construct, Not Destroy)
Servir y No Servirse (To Serve Others, Not Serve Oneself)
Bajar y No Subir (To Work From Below, Not Seek To Rise)
It feels, as if the narration of Zapatista-ruled Chiapas was not just for us, as it was also for themselves, for their young generation in particular, of whom so many have joined this “Journey to Life”, to practice the performative power of sharing, telling, narrating to others the importance of continuing the fight. One of the more senior delegates says at one point: We have not put our weapons down. We have put them aside for now. Today, the finceros might be gone, but the oppression and the struggle against coloniality have never seized. Not in Europe, and not in Chiapas. La lucha sigue. Infrastructure projects like dams, train lines, streets are built in ways that threaten the coherence of Chiapas; paramilitary groups continue to operate against members of the EZLN, assassinate, kidnap, threaten them. Ultimately, the status of self-declared autonomy comes at a high cost when one thinks of connecting to the outside world. The delegates that came to Europe call themselves La Extemporánea, the ones without time, a title they have been given by the Mexican authorities who were reluctant to give them passports for their journey to Europe. The Zapatista government Chiapas runs their own birth registers, which the Mexican government did not want to recognise at first.
In the end they thank us for our invitation. The say they know that not all of their struggle can simply be transferred and applied elsewhere, but that we should take and use whatever part of their story works for us, empowers us, supports us in our own struggle.
Just before they leave I get the chance to talk to one of the delegates about the situation people find themselves in Europe. We talk about how life in the Western capitalist world is becoming unbearable for a lot of people, how exploitation keeps deepening, how access to basic needs such as housing, food, health care, education has become precarious or is even purposefully eroded by means of privatisation and austerity – and how, despite it all, I see no organised form of resistance forming on the horizon of our lifetime. The western centre gives people too much to die, but not enough to live. She responds, that it is better to die standing up right then to live in a crouched way.
They have to go, and I would have liked to continue the conversation. There lies a truth in what she said, a very important revolutionary sentiment that is fundamental to true solidarity and collective ways of living: that there is a future for which it is worth to die. Yet, what the oppressed and exploited people of the western centres are lacking is not the willingness to die for a better future; it is the idea of that better future itself, that has been lost. This is what we need to find again (S. Uitz).
ZAPATISTA JOURNEY FOR LIFE
A historical momentum: Zapatistas* and representatives* from mexican autonomous indigenous groups are in Europe
On September 22, 2021, we were in Vienna for a historic event. A delegation from Mexico landed at the Vienna airport at 19:00. The delegation, composed mainly of women, represent the indigenous autonomous government structure in Mexico.
The group consisted of wo/men* from National Indigenous Congress (CNI, Congreso Nacional Indígena), then Indigenous Government Council (CIG, Concejo Indígena de Gobierno ) and representatives of the Peoples’ Front in Defense of the Land and Water of Puebla, Morelos and Tlaxcala (FPDTA, Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra y el Agua de Puebla, Morelos y Tlaxcala).
The Zapatista representatives*, who had landed in Vienna a week earlier with supporters and alternative media, awaited the delegation with posters and banners (“The Tour for Life welcomes you!”) and also chanted. The group waiting for the delegation also included independent journalists who had traveled to Europe with the Zapatistas, as well as insiders from the Zapatista movement who streamed the entire event.
A delegation of Zapatista Army from National Liberation on their now incessant “Tour for Life” decided a few months ago, despite Covid-19, to reverse the colonial journey of old imperial Europe to Latin America. From Mexico they set out for Europe.
The discovery of Latin America is a colonial myth and that is why the indigenous people who lived there and did not need to be discovered called the continent Abya Yala, because Latin America is a colonial name. The tour reclaims life. Abya Yala means “land in its full maturity” in the Kuna language. The Kuna believe that there are four life cycles that have developed planet Earth and that we are now living in the last life cycle. This is a prophetic view because death as murderous destruction of the environment is closely linked to the genocidal policies, suppression of basic human rights and proxy wars of imperial and colonial neoliberal capitalist states. Death sits at many kitchen tables as precarity, racism, discrimination, deportation, it is very close, but not equally for each of us.
The delegation that landed on September 22, 2021 came to Europe to join the Zapatista “Tour for Life.” The delegates, as they state in their communiqué, belong to the Mayan people of Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo; Popoluca from Veracruz; Biniza from Oaxaca; Purépecha from Michoacán; Rarámuri from Chihuahua, Otomí from Mexico City and Nahua from Jalisco, Puebla, Michoacán and Morelos. They see themselves “in this historic march of the Zapatista peoples, in which they recognize perhaps the last opportunity to propose a new course of humanity, which is the struggle for life.”
The delegation will travel across the European continent in support of and alongside the Zapatistas, as they explain in the communiqué, “to communicate to the world what is happening in their territories and in their country through the capitalist system and its deep-rooted corruption and within the system that serves money and sows death where it stands.” In contrast, the Zapatista* and indigenous delegates* want to connect with the European grassroots movement, the people and groups operating from below and to the left.
And that is why the “Tour for Life” and the representatives who have come to Europe from Mexico, as the communiqué states, “call on the peoples, the groups, the students, the workers and the organizations to listen to us in the common language in which we understand each other, without fear, without giving up and determined not to take a single step back. In other words: We fight for life.” (text and images: M. Gržinić)
KOLEKA PUTUMA IN VIENNA
Koleka Putuma‘s new performative presentation of her book of words and thoughts is an impressive work. The references are powerful and even more so her thoughts, she speaks out pages of text in the book, words and thoughts, in between calling out from graves and histories, names of powerful African women who revolutionized the African and World space.
They changed the coordinates, frames, tissues and spaces of life in South Africa. Apartheid is scrutinized, and the post-apartheid period as well put under a forensic eye. The word of Putuma is powerful, words are negotiated, we want to say something, but then we seek a word, an approach. The most powerful tool is the backspace, listening to what we have already put on paper and readjusting the meaning of the words. From abstract they become more and more historical, political, geographical, not precise at all, because words are not transparent, although we can understand and also reject their political meaning depending on where we stand. Returning to words, power is reinvention, the black queer body of Koleka Putuma, her queerness is exalted, her body defiant, and the enunciation performative, brutal, sometimes painfully direct and then soft and humorous.
Both projects of research and learning and unlearning are the basis for the in process podcast that centers on a WORLD or WORDS. (M. Gržinić)
A long table is set besides a small breakfast buffet. A dozen people are having coffee and bread rolls, starting their day together, catching up on the events of the previous days during the exhibition “the visibility of the invisible”, talking about todays and tomorrows program at the summercamp. While the pandemic is still going on, covid restrictions had just been reduced. The rate of infection was dropping – for now at least. I am finally vaccinated. For me, this is the first time since many months that I am joining a larger group that is not my “covid-bubble”. I have missed it so much.
My colleagues and I set up our two bags of recording equipment under a large tree at the farm-like venue and return to join the breakfast table. By the time Marissa and Marina officially start the event and welcome everyone to two days of “Smashing Wor(l)ds” it had become a hot summer day. For a whole weekend we were going to listen and talk, share and engage with fellow artists and activists on queer and anti-racist resistance in language and translation. We were going to think and learn together, listen to our stories, share moments of sadness, of rage, of laughter. We shared meals and small talk, we sat, stood and danced together. Time flew by in the company of all the many people who had come to join in this performative lab.
Everyone seemed starved for this time together. Time that was so consciously spent in the physical presence of others, not just next to each other, but with each other, recognising, negotiating, sharing and practicing our collective presence in this space. Such a moment might be a glimpse into conviviality, into the act of convivial living and learning, which is more than just being part of a group, but takes a certain intensity of encounter, one from which we can laugh away repression and discrimination, while being dead serious at the same time. (S. Uitz)
The perfomative camp lab Smashing Wor(l)ds was a three-day event with a variety of Austrian grassroots groups, ARA, Queer base, Silent University Grazworkshop on Gender and Education, and the students of the studio for Postconceptual Art at IBK, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (in conjunction with their Rundgang 2021) , which opened up the possibility to talk and listen after a long distance zoom process of doing and living.
The whole camp was a process of empowerment, learning, communication, focusing on the art and performative power of words, doing with words, building empathy on the one hand and listing the adjectives and names, pronouns and conditions that separate, disrupt, sicken and discriminate those who are produced as “the others.” (M. Gržinić)
VISIBILITY OF THE INVISIBLE
The Visibility of the Invisible. Exhibition opening, Schillerplatz in the front of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, by the Studio for Post-conceptual Art /IBK/ Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Atelierhaus.
When installing the works created by the students of the Studio for Post-Conceptual Art /IBK/ Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in a public park, the materiality of ignorance, hatred, and racist violence was visible from the beginning. We experienced a lot, some pieces were stolen, others damaged or destroyed, people protested that we were ruining the lawn and polluting the public park, and so on. A white woman with a dog openly attacked a student. It was an anti-Muslim racist attack.
We went to the police station. The officers asked if her dog had bitten us or if she had stolen anything from us while we were there to report this racist attack. No, we said, we are here to report an anti-Muslim racist attack.
Nevertheless, the exhibition was a form of coming together, a gathering of bodies with different backgrounds and experiences, practices and responses to the times we live in, that engaged with the materiality of discrimination, exclusion, exploitation, prejudice, and racialization through various artistic means with a common goal: to make this structural violence visible. Each of these works literally materialized the shift from digital captivity to the digital agency by bringing this digital violence (statistics, maps, apps, artificial language, podcasts, QR codes, and so on) into the open, transparent, into the center of public space, reclaiming the power of representation, the power to make visible the bodies subjected to this violence. It may be invisible to or internalized by the bodies that fit into the pure mold of a nation-state, but for the “others” it is always already there, packaged in public spaces, institutions, in laws, or in our daily encounters. (J. Pristovsek)