Decolonizing Dialogues

By Nancy Garín (Barcelona)

This text written as a preliminary study, seeks to articulate a series of examples of artistic and curatorial activation, and of art research regarding issues related to immigration and social spaces of political debate in the context of the Spanish State in recent years.

This approach stems from my own experience as part of the collective Península.

Procesos coloniales y prácticas artísticas y curatoriales, a space of articulation for decolonial issues formed in 2012 and where various projects, some of which will be presented here, converge and reflect from their own practices around the common axis of trying to articulate new forms of addressing collective working relations, as well as the content and readings of their works and research, from a decolonized and dialogued gesture.

The moments of economic and political crises naturally generate all kinds of destabilizing effects and, as a result, the proceses of questioning and debate, creating space for all types of initiatives and opportunities from a critical standpoint. This process expands collective thought and prompts production spaces, creation and discussion in all fields, including art and intangible cultural production.

The economic crisis that erupted in Spain in 2008 and the series of rebounds across southern Europe, has led to the questioning of configurations not only at the geopolitical and economic level, but also at the social and cultural.

These drastic changes suffered in the economy also manifest old specters such as discrimination, xenophobia and racism; the same way that the numbers of displacements and migratory flows are altered significantly.[1]

The decades previous to the crisis constituted the consolidation of large economic blocs and the new global architecture preceded by “globalization”, and the promise to “end borders.” From 2008, under the argument of the crisis, the logic is reversed dramatically, strengthening forms of control, immigration laws and even covertly forcing the return of large shares of foreigners to their countries of origin.[2]

The Crisis as Opportunity to Rethink Reality and Art

The numerous crises produced critical initiatives that began to appear in the context of the Spanish State, arriving at the clearest and most collective expression with 15M,[3] a space that tried to group all possible axes of debate in a proactive and refoundational spirit of the falling regime. From economic and cultural themes, like the debates on migration or sexual identity, education, work and health; they monopolized the streets in a collective transformation forgotten in the years of high consumption and state of comfort. The square is newly transformed into a space of meeting and production of collective subjectivity.

In the spaces of artistic and cultural production, the need to regroup, debate, and meet also arises; opening new opportunities for participation, discussion, critical production and political activation, both of autonomous and institutional agents.

The year 2012, as a result of all this and within the Reina Sofía National Museum (MNRS), a panel discussion and reflection was formed around art, coloniality and curating in relation to the history of Spain and Portugal, colonial processes and latency of their power relations in the present.

“Peninsula”, as this initiative was baptized; was born out of a need to reflect on the fictitious image or self-image formed in the last decades of the Iberian Peninsula with respect to Europe. This idea of the “Europeanization” ushered in during the ’90s with the mandatory entry to the EEC (European Economic Community), will be affected dramatically due to the crisis.

As the first document introduces in the collective notes, “Peninsula is an attempt to articulate a thorough discussion of the role of the Iberian peninsula in the colonial processes, the visibility of the representations and narratives from different institutional spheres in the past and present, as well as the responses of artists, curators and researchers, to some of the problems from which these narratives are derived. Understanding that the colonial processes occurring in the Iberian Peninsula remain open conflicts with relevance in the present.”

The processes of “decolonization” or the gesture of “decolonizing” are fundamental to the practices and ways of development and addressing of each research area, which enhance this diverse space formed by almost 50 researchers of different disciplines in the social sciences, artists and curators.

Within Peninsula, various projects grouped into six subgroups circulate and move through readings of internal colonialism present in legal regimes, the image as an agent of colonialism, the musealization and critical strategies (around 1992), disobedience and sexual radicalism, and cultural industries.

It should be noted that a number of the participants are agents from Latin America, or of internal geographies from Spain with historical claims on conflicts of internal colonial character (Basque Country, Galicia and Catalonia).

A brief recounting as an introduction, through the work of two participants, that use artistic production and curating to activate the gesture of dislocation that we wanted to call “decolonization.”

Decolonizing Curating

The year 1992 will be viewed as a pivotal indicator of the paradigm shift in the evolution of the Spanish State. The democratic transition process starting with the death of Francisco Franco will reach its culminating point this year, which paradoxically will have a double celebratory status. On one hand the final entry of Spain into the European Economic Community, turning Madrid into the Cultural Capital that year, which brings with it the promise of Spain being the hinge country between Europe and Latin America; on the other hand, the celebrations of the 500 years since the conquest of America.[4]

The year 1992 will be the turning point of the path of the Spanish State to the new modernity, drawn by the markets, postmodernism and neoliberalism. The new configuration of the post-Fordist capitalism, where culture and art undergo a fundamental shift, determined by the emergence of new centers of art, a ‘new institutionalism’, local actors with some autonomy (curators and producers) and identity debates within the framework of the commemoration of the Fifth Centenary of the “Conquest.”

The curators Francisco Godoy[5] and Carolina Bustamante, both from Latin America (Chile and Colombia respectively); they take this turning point of ’92 as a hub for their project “Critique of Migrant Reason” that was held at La Casa Encendida in Madrid[6] and that the next year was presented in the network of cultural centers in Spain.

For both curators, the project stems from a double drive. On the one hand, make relevant a series of artistic practices that “call into question and act in relation to the migrant problem in the Spanish territory during the last twenty years”[7] and a personal drive of its own vital relationship to his status as migrant subjects.

As Godoy notes, “the exhibition responds to that everyday racism that had colored my own experience and one which he shared with Carolina. It also responded to knowledge and life experience of internal colonialism as explicated by the Bolivian sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui since 2009.”[8]

The exhibition makes a journey from the recent past (1992-2000) to present activations of dialogical works on display, critically activating the problem of immigration and xenophobia since ’92 with artists who have practiced immigration as an “insurgent” practice. To Godoy, this trajectory finds reason in life experience, everyday racism, invisible for many years, begins to take on that “identity” given from the outside. Remembering Fanon, “the blackness granted by the white” in this case is the “identity” of the immigrant as a single entity, homogeneous.[9]

Sudaca Enterprise, Crítica a la Razón Migrante, Madrid 2014

Crítica a la Razón Migrante, Sudaca Enterprise, Madrid 2014

Precisely this drive will bring the curators to break the usual pattern of curatorial role to maneuver the exercise of “putting the body” embodied in one of the works recovered for the show, “Sudaca Enterprises” of Cuban artists Coco Fusco and Juan Pablo Ballester. This work done in the context of ARCO ’97,[10] replied in an ironic tone the gesture of the “sale” of works by Latin American artists at the fair, while Latino immigrants within the Spanish state were pursued with increasingly restrictive laws. The action of guerrillas used the same “aesthetic” fair selling T-shirts with texts reflecting these contrasts. In the gesture of appropriation of Godoy and Bustamante, there is a drive to “decolonize” in the sense of displacement in their status as curator, and not just selector and organizer. Conversely, they proposed as active subjects affected by what is being investigated and carried to an exhibitionary status.

Ferrocarril Clandestino Acción por el cierre de los CIES, Madrid, 2014

Ferrocarril Clandestino, Acción por el cierre de los CIES, Madrid 2014

In the same way that curators seek to exceed their scope, the expository configuration will be overwhelmed by a series of actions, by those who are part of the show. Actions outside the exhibition space as performed by the collective Underground Railroad, against the Centers for the Detention of Foreigners, reusing the work of artists and Daniela Ortiz Quiroga Xose, “Tribute to the Fallen” (2012)1, or the action of the companions of the collective “Domestic Territory”, reappropriate art strategies (Performance), as a method of re-articulation of their struggle.[11]

Internal Colonialism / Decolonize, Disrobe

Among those participating in the Peninsula group is the artist Daniela Ortiz (Cuzco, 1985), Peruvian artist residing in Spain for 7 years who focuses her work on migration policies and migration control structures, and concepts such as citizenship, the nation state and integration. Central issues of internal colonialism analyzed within Peninsula are, among others, identifying intermediate gaps in (re)legal definition, beginning with border regulation, migration and neocolonial discourses.

As noted by Ortiz, the displacement produced in her and in her work have an effect of “disrobing” with respect to her own aesthetic future and artistic production.[12] If well before her arrival to Spain, her work contained reflections of social nature, it will be her own experience against immigration control processes, through the partial loss of her “legal” status of resident that will lead her to deepen and address such issues in her work.

Estado Nación, Daniela Ortiz (2013-2014)

Daniela Ortiz, Estado Nación, 2013-2014

This “shift / disrobing” that would steer the work of Ortiz towards a decolonization process can be registered for the first time in the work “N-T” (2010).[13] Her life experience as a worker in a luxury chocolate shop in the center of Barcelona (chocolates plated in 24 Ct. gold) will make you reflect on these forms of subjectivity in relationship to work, migration, precariousness and legality.

Using the date 12 October as contextualization (a festival date in Spain, but one which she must work), it speaks to us about the conditions of contemporary work, inherited from colonial constructions. The metaphor of chocolate and gold, both brought to Spain from the colonies more than 500 years, which shows the continuity of contemporary forms of exploitation, will be the raw material for this work in a gesture of “decolonizer.”

The road from this first act to the last works of Ortiz, will continue to delve into the depths of the forms of control and subjectivity, seeking to create spaces of tension, concerning concepts like class, race, nationality and gender, for evidence of social behavior based on inclusion and exclusion.

This radicalism and deepening in her work will have a new record in “FDTD Sedation forced to deport” (2012, duration: 5′ 55″), a video piece in which her own body will be the communicating vehicle.

The piece records the artist during sedation through the same product used by the immigration authorities at the time of deportation. Ortiz will bring two situations paradoxically at odds: economic logic and migration control. On the one hand, this includes the drastic measures of control over the movement of bodies (in this case of the government of the United States) and on the other, the new economic partnerships with the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), that suppose the “elimination of boundaries or limitations” for products between member countries.[14]

Daniela Ortiz & Xose Quiroga, Homenaje a los Caídos (Copia captura de video), Madrid (2012)

Daniela Ortiz & Xose Quiroga, Homenaje a los Caídos (Copia captura de video), Madrid 2012

That same year, she would realize in collaboration with Xose Quiroga “Tribute to the Fallen”, calling into question the reasons for celebration of 12 October and the conditions to which the immigration control system subjected foreigners. Taking on the tour a poster with the image of Samba Martine,[15] a Congolese woman who died from lack of care in the Center for the Detention of Foreigners, will complicate the celebratory context of “Columbus Day” or “Hispanic Day” in Madrid.[16] Daniela Ortiz started the tour at the hospital where Samba died and that was named paradoxically after 12 October. Her path would draw a series of spaces and symbols scattered around the city that illustrate not only the features of the colonial past, but also those related to the recent past of institutional violence. Monuments, official buildings, avenues with names of conquerors and slaver traders; served as the stage for this tour which ended outside the Immigrant Detention Center Aluche.

Interesting is the process that this work will live a posteriori, as the poster with the image of Samba will be reappropriated by the spaces of activism around the end of the CIES (Internment Centers for Foreigners). The same shift is present in the work by Francisco Godoy and Carolina Bustamante within “Critique of Migrant Reason.” Similarly Ortiz situated herself in continuous inside and outside spaces in respect to activism as mentioned in constant and mutual collaboration.

Crítica a la Razón Migrante, Territorio Doméstico, Madrid 2014

Crítica a la Razón Migrante, Territorio Doméstico,
Madrid 2014

Their work in dialogue with spaces of struggle of migrants and immigration laws will be permanent, actively participating in spaces like Tanquem els CIEs or Espacio del Inmigrante de Barcelona; or more indirectly with similar areas in other provinces of the Spanish state. Their participation is always from a non-paternalistic or utilitarian look; but also a mutual coming together, accompaniment, collaborative and dialogical manner with these spaces.

This is what will happen to the poster of “Tribute to the Fallen.” Retaken as a tool within the collective spaces of struggle, the poster will be reused repeatedly in demonstrations against the closure of the Cies, against deportations, and other series of actions of these groups and activist spaces.

The materials produced by Ortiz are elaborated in dialogue and cooperation with various actors involved, which as pointed out by Ortiz, “are part of the largest network of complicity and joint activation from the field of art, activism, etc.[17] “I do not work with ‘immigrant groups’ if not with colleagues, friends with whom we are finding and working together on these and other issues.”[18]

The experience of the ongoing process of “decolonization” of the forms of production, through dialogical, collective processes; that are generated internally within Peninsula and also in the relationship established with other areas of production and enunciation (students, educators, activists, etc.), is what the works as those presented and all the works realized as part of this group, we consider central to the birth of the practice and its potency from the deconstruction of our practices, our discussions and our view of the world.

[1]   Data indicates the rise of migratory flows have occurred between 2000 and 2007, a product of the boom areas such as construction which required cheap labor. On 2010, as a product of the onset of the crisis and the end of “housing bubble”, the process is reversed dramatically.

[2]   The Spanish state conducted a “campaign of voluntary return” during the year 2008, seeking to incentize unemployed non-EU immigrants to return to their countries of origin.

[3]   The 15M was an intense grassroots movement as a result or response to the growing economic, political and social crisis that the Spanish state experienced beginning in 2008. On 15 May 2011, after the call for a general strike, a large group convened spontaneously, from different social sectors, and decided to camp at Plaza del Sol, the nerve center of Madrid. This gesture is replicated in different cities, such as Barcelona… The plaza is the metaphor of a participatory democracy, and alternatively it is dominating. The emerging assemblies of 15M gave life to new forms of horizontal organization, groups and networks that give life to the current social movement in the Spanish state.

[4]   As additional background, it is only in this year that the state officially recognizes the first case of homicide due to xenophobia.

[5]   Francisco Godoy is a writer, art researcher and curator. He is a founding member of Peninsula and within the same subgroup is part of “The memory of the colonial. Musealization, exhibitions and critical strategies (around 1992)” like the author of this article.

[6]   The show was part of the call for “Unpublished” exhibition projects of the Caja Madrid Foundation, 2014.

[7]   Bustamente, Carolina and Francisco Godoy. “Critique of Migrant Reason.” Madrid. La Casa Encendida, 2014.

[8]   Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui is a sociologist, activist, historian and Aymara theoretician. She has worked on the concept of “internal colonialism.”

[9]   Interview / conversation with the author held in the month of September 2014.

[10] For the version of Arco ’97 the “guest country” will be “Latin America”, a “colonial” gesture by those who think and organize the event.

[11] Domestic Territory is a collective born of a collaborative workshop between SEDOC (Active Domestic Service), Women’s Meeting of Lavapiés, Precarious Affairs Agency and the German artists Konstanze Schmitt and Stephan Dillemuth, in the context of the exhibition “The Potosí Principle.” Siekman, Creischer and Hinderer. Museo Nacional Reina Sofía, 2010.

[12] Interview / conversation with the author held in the month of September 2014.


[14] In the action, Ortiz will read part of the new Free Trade Agreement between the US and Peru while being sedated via injection, like the people deported by the US government.

[15] Samba Martine was detained 38 days in the Center for Detention in Aluche awaiting deportation following her detainment in Melilla. The investigation into her death was closed without result.

[16] On 12 October, the day in which Columbus came ashore, is celebrated as “Hispanic Day” or National Day of Spain, this being a clear colonial reaffirmation. In some Latin American countries, it is still called “Día de le Raza.”

[17] In her latest work, Nation State II, “Ortiz presents a critical analysis of the structures of immigration control by developing a manual to overcome the test of integration required for migrants trying to obtain Spanish nationality. The project also presents a test aimed at visitors of the exhibition as well as the recording of a class of Castilian in which a person learns to correctly pronounce migrant language based on various discourses on immigration of Spanish politicians.” Text for the exhibition A Really Useful Knowledge, Museo Nacional Reina Sofía, October 2014.

[18] Interview / conversation with the author in September 2014.