Languages

On 12 October this year, Evo Morales won the presidential elections in Bolivia for the third time, with more than 60% of the vote. The date chosen by the indigenous leader was clearly intentional: 'Día de la Raza', Spanish National Day, Columbus Day or Day of Indigenous Resistance, depending on where we are speaking from. On 12 October Columbus supposedly touched American soil for the first time, sparking off the symbolic reconfiguration of a global world characterised by new forms of modern imperialism.

On 12 October this year I travelled from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro with the artist Lucas Simoes. In Sao Paulo we had visited the 31st Biennial How to (...) things that don't exist, which I had already written about in a post entitled Things that do Exist published on the biennale's blog. For the fourth time in its history, the Sao Paulo Biennale, which was first held in 1951, has been placed in the hands of a non-Brazilian curatorial team: Charles Esche, Galit Eilat, Nuria Enguita, Pablo Lafuente and Oren Sagiv. Their project sought to resist exclusively Western or Westernising ways of understanding 'existence'. Most – although not all – of the works by the selected artists set out to recover other epistemologies and ways of life based on community, conflict, the notion of the journey and the political imagination. The entrance to the exhibition is marked by Espacio para abortar by Mujeres Creando, which clearly shows the subversive drive that underlies the event.

Once Lucas and I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, I suggested doing something to un-commemorate a date that has been so often reclaimed by symbolic imperialism: the exhibition for the 400th anniversary of the conquest in 1892, and the monumental public sculpture of Columbus that still presides over the site, was inaugurated on 12 October in Madrid. Exactly 100 years later, the 1992 World Expo in Seville came to an end. On my first visit to Brazil, I was surprised to 'discover' that there is no social memory of 12 October there. Perhaps as an effect of the infantilising unconscious of the colonial, the date commemorates the dia das crianças, in defense of the rights of children. Many Brazilians consider that Columbus' 'discovery' is not a milestone in their history – or in 'universal' history – and that the significant year in this sense is 1500, when the Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral reached what is now Brazil. The only former American colony that had its own monarchy in the nineteenth century has generated its national identity based on a hierarchical reversal in relation to the old metropolis, and the living presence of the colonial unconscious in relation to African, and in particular indigenous cultures.

On 13 October Lucas and I went to the Confeitaria Colombo in Rio, founded a few years after the Império do Brasil became a republic, even though the Imperial Family remains active and is recognised as the true moral reserve of the Nation. In a anthropophagous parody, at the Confeitariria I ate a cake called 'Columbus': I felt the need to at least eat the discoverer. When I posted the photo on Facebook my cousin, the Argentinean anthropologist Leonor Gallardo, commented: 'on 12 October we pay homage to the Resistance of the Original Peoples and we Celebrate the Cultural Diversity of America - We Don't Forget, We Don't Forgive, We Don't Seek Reconciliation.'

The cake brought to mind a work by Daniela Ortiz called N – T. At the time, the Peruvian artist was working in an exclusive Spanish cake shop in Barcelona. On 12 October 2009, Daniela stole three sheets of gold leaf and a chocolate from Guanaja island in Honduras. She coated the chocolate in gold and ate it, celebrating the day of the start of the conquest. On 12 October the following year, Ortiz and Xose Quiroga made a video entitled CP12, capturing imperial symbols and actions in the area immediately surrounding the statue of Columbus on the esplanade in Barcelona. In 2011, Ortiz and Quiroga stole a floral arrangement in the colours of the Spanish flag that had been left at the foot of the Columbus monument, and took it to the entrance of the immigrant detention centre in Barcelona. In 2012, this time in Madrid, Daniela did a one-person 'Stations of the Cross' through a route with markers that told the story of Samba Martine, which was summed up in the banner she carried: 'After spending 38 days as an inmate of the immigrant detention centre at Aluche, Samba Martine died at Hospital 12 de Octubre.'

Lastly, on 12 October this year, Daniela Ortiz once again put her body on the line, this time in the action Réplica. Carrying a photograph of the sculpture of an anonymous indigenous kneeling at the feet of the Spanish monk Bernardo Boyl, which can be found at the base of the Columbus statue, she re-enacted the scene from the photograph. Daniela explained her Peruvian origins and the colonial meaning of the sculpture to passers-by, who carried Spanish flags commemorating Columbus Day. Through this gesture she rubbed salt into the wound of Spanish pride submerged in the colonial unconscious, sparking racist responses such as 'You're Peruvian? Well why don't you go back to Peru to spread the shit you're spreading.' The same necropolitical system of terror operates in online platforms such as the Facebook community 'I want them to electrify the border fence at Melilla too', which has more than 3,600 members. Also on 12 October, and at the same statue of Columbus, the collective Ira Sudaka carried out a series of actions and parodical pleas, such as 'Columbus, do you speak Catalan?' and 'Give us back the gold'.

The day after eating Columbus cake, I visited the Museum of Modern Art in Rio. To my surprise, in this big museum I found a small exhibition from the Museu Encantador, curated by Rita Natálio and Joana Levi. It was an attempt, as they put it, 'to develop a way of thinking about colonisation, decolonising thought'in relation to the colonial history of Portugal and Brazil. It was a gesture driven by the pressing need to think and act in relation to Portuguese and Brazilian colonial history, in particular its colonial ideas on the future lives of Afro-descendents, indigenous and migrants.

The date 12 October is simply a moment of density that commemoratively exacerbates a politics of imperialism and racism that operates at the everyday level, and, more importantly, in the wielding of power over life and death. If the Haitian constitution of 1808 put forward the provocative claim that 'we are all black', as recovered by Argentinean artist Juan Carlos Romero, we who are critical of the historical and contemporary consequences of the modern project can similarly proclaim that 'we are all 12 October'.

Translated by Nuria Rodríguez

Daniela Ortíz, N-T, 2009.
Daniela Ortíz and Xose Quiroga, Ofrenda, 2011.
Daniela Ortiz, Replica, 2014.
comments powered by Disqus